Celebrate | 23. Juli 2021

A Jewish Valentine’s Day in summer

by Hannah Landsmann
© Jüdisches Museum Wien
On the 15th of Av, in Hebrew “Tu B’Av,” love is celebrated in the Jewish calendar. The holiday is originally linked to nature because the grape harvest begins in July or August in the Holy Land. Known also as the “Festival of the Vineyards,” the cheerful holiday is exuberantly celebrated, this year on July 24th.
With its descriptions of the liturgical customs, the Talmud recorded the memory of the time before the destruction of the temple for us. At the “Festival of the Vineyards,” unmarried women in white garments attracted attention to themselves by dancing and singing loudly in the vineyards. In modern Israel, this custom is accompanied by elements of Valentine’s Day; flowers are received, and marriage proposals are made.
Immediately before this joyous festival is the day of mourning, “Tisha B’Av” (July 18, 2021), the ninth day of the month of Av. On this date a whole series of terrible events befell the people of Israel: God’s decree that the Israelites had to wander through the desert for 40 years before they could see the Holy Land, the destruction of the two temples or the suppression of the Bar Kokhba uprising in the year 135 CE. Along with Yom Kippur in autumn, Tisha B’Av is the second long fast day on the calendar, lasting 25 hours. In the three weeks before the 9th of Av, those who follow the Halakha, the Jewish religious law, should not cut their hair, celebrate weddings, buy or wear new clothes, and move into a new apartment.
The fact that joy regains the upper hand just a week after Tisha B’Av makes it clear that life counts more than suffering and that it can’t hurt to take happiness into one’s own hands, naturally when choosing a partner as well. According to the Talmud, however, there is not so much to choose, because whether she or he is the right one has already been determined in heaven and 40 days before her or his birth. In any case, those chosen in this way are soul mates; the rest is then determined by their earthly existence.

On the day of the wedding, in Hebrew “chuppah,” the bride wears a ring with a house atop it, which symbolizes the common household and living under one roof. The wedding canopy, also known as the “chuppah” – a piece of cloth supported by four poles, also signifies with its four open sides that guests are always welcome in the shared household. After the blessing under the chuppah, the groom crushes a glass. Broken glass not only brings luck, but also commemorates the destruction of the temple. The festivals of life between birth and death are presented in our atelier (Museum Dorotheergasse). Everyday items and museum objects are combined in a showcase duo for each station. We are often asked whether the wedding is still valid if the groom doesn’t smash the glass.

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© Jüdisches Museum Wien
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© Jüdisches Museum Wien
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© Jüdisches Museum Wien
Margit Dobronyi, the chronicler of the Vienna Jewish community, photographed countless weddings. She came to Vienna from Budapest with her children in 1956 and had a great business idea. She purchased a camera, attended almost every Jewish festival, and took pictures. In her likeably familiar way, she sold the developed photos to those pictured at high prices. In 2004, the museum acquired the majority of the photos in the form of negatives and thus has the largest archive of images on the history of Vienna’s Jewish community after 1945. Many of the early photos from the 1960s, just a few years after the Shoah, show people laughing heartily and celebrating, confirming their lust for life. They make it clear that one can only come to grips with death through life.