Thursday, August 11, 2022

Dancing Women

Illustration of women dancing on Tu B'Av (OU)
Tomorrow is Tu B’Av (15th day of the Hebrew month of Av). The modern day observance of this day seems to have evolved into singing and praying for Shiduchim. There was an ad for an event like that at VIN.)

But that is not how Tu B’Av was observed in Talmudic times. The Gemarah (Taanis 26b) tells us that there was no greater celebration than that day. Young single women would go out and dance in the field in front of young men asking them to pick one of them for marriage.

The obvious question is why we don’t do that today. Which leads to the classic ‘copout’ answer that we are not on the level of our ancestors of that era.  Doing so today would be considered a gross violation of modesty. 

I never liked that answer. The truth is that our ancestors had the same libidos we do. It is simple human nature. The Gemarah is filled with descriptions of sexual behavior about which Chazal felt laws needed to be enacted to prevent biblically forbidden sexual relationships that in some cases carried the death penalty. ‘Ein Chosheshen L’Miyut.’ Chazal were generally not concerned with infrequent behavior and did not legislate preventative measures around them. Halachic fences need to be built only when such behavior is commonly found. 

But, OK. I get that we live in a different era where even publishing a picture of the face of a woman is ridiculously considered a violation of modesty codes. So I understand why we don’t have dancing women today. Not because it’s wrong, God forbid. But because of the constantly increasing artificial Tznius standards that have been insinuated into our lives. It’s almost as if there were contest between various Charedi groups to see who can be the strictest in this regard.

So what do we do instead of dancing on Tu B’Av? We sing and pray. We cry out to the heavens for all the poor young women who have been passed over for marriage by the time they reach the ‘ripe old  age’  of 23. 

Now I do not have an issue with prayer. That is something I do three times every day. And there is certainly nothing wrong with praying for something specific in times of need. When it comes to making Shiduchim (getting married) these days, there definitely is a need. But it just bothers me that song and prayer is the modern day substitute for women dancing in front of men. As though on Tu B’av - it is the stand alone option aside from the usual Shadchan (matchmaker) approach.  

Does anyone seriously think that prayer was not done on behalf of young women seeking marriage then? Does anyone think that it was all about dancing women?

Why did the rabbis of the Talmudic era not rely on prayer alone? Why the dance routine? Because of something I have mentioned in the past called Hishtadlus. We do not rely on prayer alone. We do whatever humanly possible to reach a goal. That’s when God takes over and does the rest. 

This does not mean we need to reestablish dancing young women on Tu B’Av. Which I believe would be very demeaning in our day. But it does mean doing more than relying on a Shadchan and desperate prayer. 

True a lot of people have gotten married through a Shadchan. Most of those marriages have been very successful. A good Shadchan will do the research and know his ‘customers’ well. He/she will put together young men and women who are compatible - having the same values, goals, and outlook on life. But that has obviously not been enough based on what seems like a desperation tactic on the part of those behind - or participating in - this song and prayer event.  

Although those are legitimate ways of finding a mate, They are not the only ways. Furthermore, the reliance on a Shadchan to the exclusion of all else has led to scams that convince desperate parents to part with their money in exchange for variety of ancient Segulos (ritualistic formulae) unearthed by unscrupulous people for these purposes. 

Limiting options for young people to meet falls short of the Hishtadlus obligation. I am not going to go into details about what else should be done. Been there and done that many times.  But crying out for the ‘left over’  23 year olds (and up) is an act of desperation based on the false notion that we have done everything we could. Which of course we have not. 

Desperation is a poor substitute for action.  If ‘Kosher’ opportunities for men and women to meet would open up, I think it is safe to say that fewer people will be left out in the cold.  We need to return to a time where men and women were more able to be directly involved in their own fate. As was the case with the dancing young women on Tu B’Av. 

There was a time when common sense meant something. Instead of fearing that our sons and daughters will be consumed by their Yetzer HaRa (evil inclination) if they meet outside the context of a Shadchan, we need to have a little more faith that the values we – as parents and teachers - have instilled in them will guide them. True we live in promiscuous times and we need to take more precautions. But going from one extreme to the other is not the way to accomplish that. 

Not that things are going to change. But after reading about this song and prayer session on the eve of Tu B’Av, I felt the urge tell it like it is - even if they don’t.