Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no greater days of joy in Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments in order not to shame anyone who had none… and the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards”.
This quote from Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, featured in Tractate Taanit 4:8, is the earliest source that refers to Tu B’av (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av). The nature of this holiday was unclear and the Gemara features various different explanations for the existence of Tu B’av.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Taanit 31a), the scholars chose to focus on the motif of equality among different parts of society and they emphasized the fact that the daughters of Jerusalem wore only borrowed clothes to avoid being boastful or shaming those whose clothes were less beautiful. In other places in the Babylonian Talmud (Taanit 30b, Bava Batra 121a) the scholars tried to link this day to happy historical events in the history of the People of Israel which would justify declaring Tu B’Av to be a joyous day equivalent to Yom Kippur.
Whether commentators believe that this day marks historical events or that it was originally an agricultural holiday, everyone agrees that it focuses on matchmaking. On this day, the single girls dance in the vineyards wearing white and the unmarried boys go to the vineyards as well, to choose their brides. The Book of Judges (21: 17-21) describes the advice given to the Benjamin tribe: “The feast now being held at Shiloh… go and lie in wait in the vineyards. As soon as you see the girls of Shiloh coming out to join in the dances…” Although it does not specifically note that this day was Tu B’Av, this story attests to the custom of dancing in the vineyards.
The Gemara also emphasized the matchmaking motif by listing various claims made by the girls in order to increase their own value to potential husbands, with each highlighting her best characteristic: What would the beautiful women among them say? Set your eyes toward beauty, as a wife is only for her beauty. What would those of distinguished lineage among them say? Set your eyes toward family, as a wife is only for children. What would the ugly ones among them say? Acquire your purchase for the sake of heaven, provided that you adorn us with golden jewelry after our marriage to beautify us”.
In early 20th century Zionist Eretz Israel, an effort was made to re-establish historic holidays including Tu B’Av, which was characterized as an agricultural holiday and a holiday of love. In modern-day Israel, Tu B’Av is celebrated as the holiday of love, the Hebrew calendar’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day.
The two stamps in the series depict celebrating Tu B’Av over the years, from the girls wearing white and dancing in the vineyards to young modern-day suitors bearing gifts of love to their beloveds.