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orion Second-Temple holidays: 15 of Av

At 09:00 AM 12/28/98 -0800, Martin Jaffee wrote:
>There are indeed "solemn convocations" (miqraei qodesh) and other
>days that are almost carnivalistic in character (such as the Mishnah's
>description of the 15 of Av as a kind of "Sadie Hawkins Day")--but the
>distinction between "religious" and "civil" implies that ancient Judeans
>recognized a sphere of political identity untainted by "Judaism" that
>would permit one to celebrate a "civic" holiday without participating as
>well in the larger "religious" community.

Regarding the current discussion about 'civil' vs. 'religious' holidays in
the Second-Temple period, it is precisely that final mishna in Tractate
Ta`anit which shows that, at least in the mind of Rabban Shimeon ben
Gamaliel (the second - but this Tanna is known to relay old traditions
about the Second Temple period itself, no doubt known and transmitted
through his family traditions), both the very sacred and biblically
attested Day of Atonement AS WELL as the totally unattested 15 of Av
holiday were considered 'yamim tovim le-yisrael', without a major
distinction made between them.

However, despite many modern references to the contrary, the 15th of Av was
not any more 'carnivalistic' than other holidays, and was not, in essence,
a "Sadie Hawkins Day":  The only references to this day in early,
pre-Amoraic times (besides the final mishna in Ta`anit, also: Mishna
Ta'anit 4, 5; Megillat Ta`anit; and Josephus, Wars 2, 17, 6 [425]) all
point to the major aspect of this day as being the main day for 'korban
eitzim' - the Wood Offering (also attested - albeit in a different form, in
the Temple Scroll, cols. 23-25, and col. 43, ll. 3-4). [See J.N. Epstein,
'Die Zeiten des Holzopfers', MGWJ 78 (1934), 97-103; reprinted in Hebrew
translation in the first volume of his collected (non-Hebrew) essays,
Mehkarim be-sifrut ha-talmud uveleshonot shemiot, I (Jerusalem 1984), pp.
This offering was a particularly 'folk' offering (being easily affordable),
and was, indeed, accompanied by joyfullness, much like the 'Bikkurim'
(First Fruits; and in fact both offerings are often mentioned together in
the sources - as early as Nehemia 10, 35-36).  The celebrations of boys and
girls in Jerusalem mentioned in connection with this day (and on the Day of
Atonement) should not be seen as the SOURCE of the holiday, but rather as
examples given of popular joy on these days.  (The marriage traditions
relating to this day are of later date, and are most probably not
historically attested.)
[For details, I refer to my article on this mishna in Teuda 11 (Tel-Aviv
1996), pp. 147-178.]

It is noteworthy that both festivals are connected strongly to the Temple;
perhaps it is this connection which promoted and allowed for the continued
memory of these (holi-)days.

I hope this may contribute to the discussion.


Paul (Pinchas) Mandel
University of Haifa / Bar-Ilan University