As we mentioned before, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, occurring today, is accompanied by a relaxation in fasting associated with the Dormition Fast. According to tradition, Georgian Christians may not eat grapes during the fast, and the grape harvest may not start before August 19.
It is an interesting coincidence that the Jewish feast of Tu B’Av ( ט”ו באב , the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av) also occurs today. Known as “the Jewish Valentine’s Day”, it is a holiday enjoying a resurgence in Israel today. Dating from the Second Temple era, it is first mentioned in the Mishna ;“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards”. During this period, Tu B’Av served as the official beginning of the grape harvest, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as the end of the grape harvest.
Traditionally betrothed women danced in Shilo, a village in Samaria (in the northern West Bank), which was the first capital of Israel. Since Jewish settlement in the West Bank resumed, Jews visit the vineyards of the Jewish community of Shilo on Tu B’Av, and dance and sing in the vineyards.
Jews have lived in Georgia since the 6th century BC, having migrated here during the Babylonian Exile, and many Jews settled in Persian-controlled parts of Georgia over the centuries as they found authorities more tolerant towards Jews than the Byzantine authorities. Coincidentally, eastern Georgia, long under Persian control, produces around 80% of Georgia’s wine.
While Transfiguration is a fixed feast, and Tu B’Av is a moveable feast based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, it is interesting that Georgia’s official grape harvest start date falls two weeks before anyone in Georgia starts the vintage…but exactly on the date that Jews in Israel begin their grape harvest. It would be interesting to discover to what extent Jews in Georgia, with their own ancient viticultural traditions and winemaking norms, influenced certain festivals and conventions in viticulture here.