Tu B’Av – from the desert

Tu B’av is the 15th day of the month of Av and is a Jewish festival of love.

Tu B’Av was considered to be the hottest day of the year and one opinion, in the Gemara, calls it Yom Tavar Megel – the day of the broken axe – alluding to the end of the wood chopping season. The wood in question was required to feed the insatiable fires of the temple; wood chopped after Tu B’Av would not dry in time to be burned that year. Having laid down their axes, the woodsmen might then turn their attention to matters of the heart.

There were also various decrees revoked on Tu B’Av permitting certain tribes to marry each other. The custom was that the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance among the grape vines and borrow white dresses from each other, so that no woman would be ashamed of her status; a colourful dress was a sign of wealth. The daughter of the king would borrow from the daughter of the high priest, the daughter of the high priest would borrow from the daughter of the deputy high priest, and so on, until nobody knew who anybody was.

My picture depicts a Tzadekess – a holy Jewish woman – praying on Tu B’Av by the light of the full moon, and the shadow cast behind her is a Hebrew letter. The scene is set on the edge of the crater in Mitzvah Ramon, where I now live and work, and is part of a new body of work inspired by the desert. Because of the custom of women borrowing each others white dresses, you can never be sure who she is, but she prays for her beloved.

Single men were instructed on Tu B’Av to go to the grape vines. To these men, the beautiful women would say “incline your eyes to beauty, for a woman is for beauty”; the less beautiful women would say “incline your eyes to family for a woman is for children”; and the women who did not belong to either of these two categories would say “marry me for heaven’s sake! And crown me with gold.”

Josh Baum is a British-born artist who trained as a scribe in Jerusalem and Tzfat.


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