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The Mishna tells us (Taanis 26b) that on the 15th of Av, unmarried girls would borrow clothes, dance in the vineyard, and invite the unmarried men to choose them for marriage.

The Talmud (Taanis 30b) gives a list of historical reasons that make the 15th of Av a holiday on par with Yom Kippur.

One of the reasons given is that the Jewish people found a way around their vow not to give their daughters to Binyamin (Shoftim 21:1), after the story of the Pilegesh in Givah (Shoftim 19, 20, 21).

Their solution was to have the Benyaminite lie in wait in the vineyards, and when the daughters of Israel would dance in the vineyards, the Benyaminites would take them, without the fathers breaking their vow by giving their daughters to the Binyaminites. (See Shoftim 21:20 and on)

There are several parallels between the two reasons for the holiday. For example, In both cases (the unmarried girls dancing in the vineyards every 15th of Av, and the Binyaminites taking dancing girls in the vineyards):

  • The girls are dancing
  • They are in vineyards
  • Both stories happened where G-d's Temple was located. The Mishnah talks about the daughters of Yerushalaim (Where the Holy Temple was), and the story with the Binyaminites talks about the daughters of Shiloh dancing (Shiloh was where the Mishkan was at the time of the story)

Both of these stories seem very similar. Are there any sources that discuss the connection between the two? Was the story with the Binyaminites the start of the yearly custom? Did the custom precede the story with the Binyaminites?

I'm looking for sources that discuss this.

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Didn't they specifically go out there because the tribe of Benjamin was low in number so the othe tribes wanted to help them by giving them more women to mate with and expand? –  MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jul 17 '13 at 13:19
    
@Mor: But why were they so few in number? Because the rest of the jews almost wiped them out. Why didn't they just give their daughters to the Binyaminites? Because they swore not to. –  Menachem Jul 17 '13 at 15:19
    
Tribe of Benjamin was fewer in numbers to begin with. So that they wouldn't be exterminated fully they were given women. I forgot what exactly what happened. They swore not to give them women because the tribe did something wrong in the earlier chapter. –  MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jul 17 '13 at 16:07
    
@Mor: I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Read Shoftim Chapters 19,20,21 (linked above) and you can see what happened. –  Menachem Jul 18 '13 at 21:29

2 Answers 2

Josephus (An. 5:2) writes that the Benyaminite story happened on one of the three pilgrimage festivals. In his rendition, young women, like everyone else in the family, accompanied their fathers making the pilgrimage. They were commonly found playing in the fields, passing the time, but there was no matchmaking institution established then:

But when the senate were affrighted at the very name of perjury, a certain person told them that he could show them a way whereby they might procure the Benjamites wives enough, and yet keep their oath. They asked him what his proposal was. He said, "That three times in a year, when we meet in Shiloh, our wives and our daughters accompany us: let then the Benjamites be allowed to steal away, and marry such women as they can catch, while we will neither incite them nor forbid them; and when their parents take it ill, and desire us to inflict punishment upon them, we will tell them, that they were themselves the cause of what had happened, by neglecting to guard their daughters, and that they ought not to be over angry at the Benjamites, since that anger was permitted to rise too high already."

So when the festival was coming on, these two hundred Benjamites lay in ambush before the city, by two and three together, and waited for the coming of the virgins, in the vineyards and other places where they could lie concealed. Accordingly the virgins came along playing, and suspected nothing of what was coming upon them, and walked after an unguarded manner, so those that laid scattered in the road, rose up, and caught hold of them: by this means these Benjamites got them wives, and fell to agriculture, and took good care to recover their former happy state.

Even if playing implies dancing, there is no hint here that this was an established custom. But if the story took place on Tu B'Av, as Hazal write, it is noteworthy that this date marked the beginning of the grape harvest, and thus would be a time of rejoicing (and perhaps the start of gathering the grapes from the vineyards that night). But I'm unfamiliar with other sources that discuss this history. It was a common custom in other cultures, as Herodotus writes, to kidnap women specifically during holidays.

Finally, there is evidence that some kind of women-dancing festival took place before the Benyaminite story. The Tanakh details women dancing in a number of places (such as when leaving Egypt, Ex. 15:19-21, and in celebrating the death of the Philistines, 1 Sam. 18:6-7). Eariler, in Shoftim 7:22, there is mention of a town called Avel Meholah, the meadow of dancing. This is where Elisha would be born. The curious name might suggest an area where the women of Shiloh danced during their harvest rejoicing.

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Do you have a source or more information about the 15th of Av being the start of the grape harvest? –  Menachem 22 hours ago

Tu Ba'Av was the DATE they decided to engage in that particular form of dance-based matchmaking. It wasn't at random - that would be ineffectual in solving the, ahem, shidduch crisis plaguing the tribe of Binyamin. This was specifically arranged by Beis Din in order to circumvent the existing national neder against voluntarily marrying daughters off to the shevet of Binyamin.

The continuation of that practice after the situation had been resolved was in commemoration of their reunion within Klal Yisrael.

I thought you were asking the weirder question - that this dancing seems to ALSO have been an annual custom on Yom Kippur - the gemara states "shebahen" and not "shebah," which implies that both were celebrated the same way. The gemara on 30b seems to be stating that this celebration was a natural result of the joyousness of the day making it prime time to engage in creating zivugim - "Bishlama yom hakippurim de'is bay slichah umechilah yom shenitnah bo luchos achronos..." The giving of the Aseres HaDibros and, consequently, the actual reception luchos at Har Sinai is specifically analogized to a wedding canopy (and a wedding is considered a mini-yom kippur for the participants, and they wear white, etc.)

Which is why the gemara considers it entirely obvious that women would go dancing to find a husband on yom kippur. Times have changed, I suppose...

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the OP was looking for sources - maybe you can add some. –  Danny Schoemann Feb 15 at 15:35
    
OP already quoted all the sources necessary. I was explaining how those sources answered his question. –  Isaac Kotlicky Feb 15 at 16:25
    
@IsaacKotlicky: If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the source of the custom of dancing in the vinyards on the 15th of Av started when the story with the tribe of Binyamin happened. Do you have a source for this? –  Menachem Feb 16 at 17:12
    
Correct. It's right there in Ta'anis 30b at the bottom: R. Joseph in the name of R. Na'hman said: On that day the members of the tribe of Benjamin were permitted to intermarry with the other tribes, as it is written [Judges, xxi. 1]: "Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah, saying: Not any one of us shall give his daughter unto Benjamin for wife." Whence was it deduced that subsequently permission might be given to intermarry with the tribe of Benjamin? Because the quoted passage says "Any one of us," and Rabh said that their descendants were not included in the vow. –  Isaac Kotlicky Feb 17 at 1:02

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