Photo for Israel365 by Yehoshua Halevi
If you have young kids attending a secular school, then you know the rituals: make valentines for the whole class; attend a Heart Hop at school, or a party celebrating friendship with painted cookies and the like. Even I, whose children have always attended Jewish Day Schools, have always marked the day with chocolates and little tokens for my kids. But in the back of my mind I’ve often wondered, is Valentine’s Day in keeping with my Jew-ish roots?
Orthodox Judaism discourages us from celebrating Valentine’s Day, due to the Catholic or Pagan origins of the holiday. But, in truth, nothing regarding the modern traditions of Valentine’s Day is overtly religious.
Little is known regarding St. Valentine. It is widely believed that the traditions tying love themes to February 14th have little to do with the life of St. Valentine himself. Some believe that Valentine’s Day is a Christian reconstruction of the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. 20th-century literary scholar Jack B. Oruch attributes the themes of love and romance on Valentine’s Day to Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th-Century England. The oldest formal greeting can be traced to the 1500s.
So what’s a Jew-ish girl to do?? There are apparently Jewish laws to help me decide!
We first need to answer if the debated activity has a secular origin or value, and whether the ritual can be rationally explained outside of the event. In the case of Valentine’s Day, today’s rituals of gifting chocolates and corny Hallmark card are logical expression of love, friendship, and appreciation independent of the holiday. Also, the Church doesn’t recognize it as a Christian holiday, and there is plenty of evidence refuting its pagan origins. Next, we need to question if there are idolatrous origins that still exist and whether there are activities that contradict Jewish tradition. We answered the first part, as popular opinion is that Valentine’s Day does not have pagan roots. As for the final question, the desire to express love and offer tokens of love and affection are consistent with Jewish values. So much so, that there is a Valentine’s Day equivalent on the Jewish calendar! Tu B’Av (in 2018 on July 27th), which when said aloud is Tu-Av and very similar to Toe-Av, or the command love, is a day dedicated to matchmaking and fertility.
I’m convinced! I will shower my children and my husband with chocolates, silly cards, and tokens of affection that will make them roll their eyes. Because, after all, how can anyone be against a day that celebrates love?
Wishing you all, today and every day, love and gratitude.