I read this article on Arutz Sheva this morning (someone in our shul prints out their daily reports and sets them out for people to read - the news is a day or so old, so sue me) and it really made me think. I began to wonder: why did these women decide to make the festival of Tu B'Av into a big dance lesson instead of truly "renewing" the "ancient tradition of dance" as Chazal recorded it in the Mishna in Ta'anis?
The Mishna in question, found on daf 26B reads (from the Soncino translation available here):
"R. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: THERE NEVER WERE IN ISRAEL GREATER DAYS OF JOY THAN THE FIFTEENTH OF AB AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT. ON THESE DAYS THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM USED TO WALK OUT IN WHITE GARMENTS WHICH THEY BORROWED IN ORDER NOT TO PUT TO SHAME ANY ONE WHO HAD NONE. ALL THESE GARMENTS REQUIRED RITUAL DIPPING. THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS EXCLAIMING AT THE SAME TIME, YOUNG MAN, LIFT UP THINE EYES AND SEE WHAT THOU CHOOSESTH FOR THYSELF. DO NOT SET THINE EYES ON BEAUTY BUT SET THINE EYES ON [GOOD] FAMILY. GRACE IS DECEITFUL, AND BEAUTY IS VAIN; BUT A WOMAN THAT FEARETH THE LORD, SHE SHALL BE PRAISED. AND IT FURTHER SAYS, GIVE HER OF THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS; AND LET HER WORKS PRAISE HER IN THE GATES."
Basically, these rhythmically inclined women missed the point of the whole toe-tapping experience, which was to find a husband for all the single girls out there. Strangely enough (at least according to our standards), the women would approach the men and provoke their interest in marrying them instead of our unfairly male-dominated shidduch system.
In case you thought this was only one little venue for matchmaking that wasn't such a big deal, check out what a Tanna states later on (31B) when explaining a section of that Mishna:
"THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL CAME OUT AND DANCED IN THE VINEYARDS. A Tanna taught: Whoever was unmarried repaired thither."
Interesting indeed, "whoever was unmarried" would borrow their friend's white dress and go running out to the vineyard to catch herself a husband.
And guess what? No one was worried about all the stigmas that taint our overly complicated and much often misguided our search for spouses these days:
"THOSE OF THEM WHO CAME OF NOBLE FAMILIES EXCLAIMED, ‘YOUNG MAN etc.’ Our Rabbis have taught: The beautiful amongst them called out, Set your eyes on beauty for the quality most to be prized in woman is beauty; those of them who came of noble families called out, Look for [a good] family for woman has been created to bring up a family; the ugly ones amongst them called out, Carry off your purchase in the name of Heaven, only on one condition that you adorn us with jewels of gold."
So yes, while men still had certain things they looked for such as a gorgeous wife, a wife with impeccable rabbinic fore bearers, etc - even those who were "ugly" (though I've typically translated that as the "not-so-pretty" ones) were able to find husbands. I don't know if adorning them with gold (to enhance their appearance) would carry over to today's concept plastic surgery, but perhaps it would...
At any rate, it seems like this whole vineyard dance party was a pretty efficient means to marry off all the single daughters of Israel, and presumably each girl would "enter into the parsha" or in this case, the dance-off, whenever she was ready to get married (though I suspect it was a little more standardized than today) and would then find her husband without too much trouble. I doubt even the rhythmically challenged girls out there had a problem, since the dancing seemed to be a mere means of attracting the boys' attention, rather than determining who was really worth marrying. After calling attention to herself, she would give her little shpiel (a verbal profile?) and find her man.
Now to my point: So, why can't we do this?
Seriously, stop laughing for a moment. Think of it as one of these big annual conventions, like Comic-Con, except less geeky and more tachlis based. The main even would obviously be the dance off, but there would be other things going on as well - perhaps if we made it a several day affair, Taz B'Av could feature a convention center full of wedding planners, jewelers, dress makers, caterers, representatives from halls and bands, etc so the newly engaged couples could pick out the girl's ring and get a head start on the wedding plans. As long as we made sure the event didn't become cost prohibitive - this is for everyone, after all, regardless of the status of their personal bank account - such as providing cheap transportation (maybe commandeered/donated chassidic buses?) and accommodations at nearby hotels, I think this could be a big hit.
I wonder if this shindig should occur in more than one country, such as America and Israel, or if flights etc could be arranged, to have it in Shiloh as our ancestors did?
Granted, there would have to be an enormous amount of preparation beforehand (months of work, to be sure) registering participants, posting their profiles in advance so the guys could find out about the women who are going to be there (can't just marry someone because she can do the Macarena, after all). The whole system would create a large number of jobs, thus helping the economic status of many forelorn Jews who unfortunately don't have them at the moment, groups like Only Simchas and various caterers could serve as sponsors - and we'd have hundreds, if not thousands, of happily married couples each year.
No more worrying about the age gap problem that we've brough upon ourselves that has induced the current "shidduch crisis" - by bringing together the available young men and women, we'd be doing our hishtadlus to then allow HaShem to take over in His role as Master Shadchan to bring the appropriate couples together. No more wondering if you're going to bump into your bashert in shul, happen to meet him/her through some expensive shadchan, or wonder if you'll sit next to him/her on a flight to Israel. As we've heard many times in recent discussions regarding how the Gemara says it is "difficult" for HaShem to make shidduchim, I think it's time we put more effort in on our end to "help" however we can.
Ok, now that all the readers think I'm totally off my rocker, what do y'all think? Is there some merit to this idea, or am I certifiably crazy?
P.S. Did any of the female readership go dancing in the local vineyard on Monday? Any luck? :p