Friday, August 25, 2006

Weddings During Wartime

There is a time for everything. Even emotions must follow an etiquette of proper timing. As Ecclesiastes says: “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”.

This summer, I had a full slate of summer weddings at the same time that the war in Israel was going on. At times, I’d enter a celebration right after hearing bad news on the radio. I wondered whether this was the right time to rejoice.

It’s insensitive to ignore communal suffering. Jewish tradition obligates everyone to reduce frivolous activities during a time of crisis. (One view even requires couples to diminish marital relations). This tradition added to my difficulty: how can we celebrate when Israel is suffering?

The Jewish calendar offers a solution to this dilemma. In Talmudic times, a singles holiday was held on Tu b’Av, the fifteenth day of Av. Young men and women would gather at celebrations to find a match. It was the most joyous of holidays in the Jewish calendar.

However, the Tu b’Av tradition is strange. Just six days earlier is the ninth of Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the two Temples. Isn’t it deeply inappropriate to have a single’s holiday right after a day of mourning?

The answer is that joy plays many functions. Joy can be a diversion, a frivolous distraction. In times of tragedy, such a celebration is insensitive because it ignores the suffering of others. However, joy is also a genuine response to tragedy.

After a tragedy, we can remain frozen, unable to continue on. Unfortunately, by refusing to live life to the fullest, we will have allowed the tragedy to claim a new victim, and enlarged the scope of destruction. Mourning can collaborate with death, allowing death to overtake the living. In these moments, one must celebrate to assert that life goes on.

Tu b’Av teaches us that a good wedding is a genuine response to tragedy. The Talmud says that when a bride and groom rejoice, it is as if a section of Jerusalem has been rebuilt. By marrying, the young couple have reversed the tide of tragedy, and have taken a step on the road to redemption.

In the first week of the war, Shlomi Boskila and Maya Lugasi got married in northern Israel. Because of Kaytusha attacks, they couldn’t use the hall they had booked, so they got married in a bomb shelter. Their new venue may have been cramped and the crowd small, yet their wedding made a huge statement. As Boskilla put it: "This shows … that not even 20,000 missiles can destroy the happiness of the bride and groom". In times of tragedy, a wedding like this that expresses courage and affirms life is exactly what is needed.

There is a time for everything. Sometimes, wartime is the right time for a wedding too.

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