This is a Guest Column by Rabbi David Locketz of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka.
A few years back when Rabbi Joe Black released the song, “Valentine’s Day Is Not a Holiday,” I have to admit I felt vindicated.
I have made this claim to every romantic interest in my life going back to High School. No doubt my wife Debbie can tell you I have stood by this for most Valentine’s Days going back to when we met in 1997. I have always stood behind the claim that, like Halloween, V-Day finds it origin in another religion.
In truth it is.
It can be traced back to the Pagan Roman Empire when February 14th marked the occasion on which worship was directed to Juno, the Queen of the Roman gods and goddesses. But Valentine’s Day truly took off as a modern festival in 496 of the Common Era when Pope Gelasius recast the day to honor the martyred Saint Valentine. The prevailing practice became one of celebrating love with flowers and candy. Fast forward to 1910 when Hallmark Corporation was created, and Cupid really got his wings.
If we lived in Israel, it would be clear that Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday.
In Judaism we have an altogether different day to demonstrate our love for our partners. It is called Tu B’Av, or the 15th of the Month of Av. It has become a rather obscure holiday, but the Rabbis of the Talmud, the first legal compendium of Jewish Law and Custom, wrote that there were no days more festive in Judaism than Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av. Rabban Gamliel made this claim because it was on these days that all the young unmarried women came out in flowing white dresses to say, “Young man consider who you choose as a wife.”
It was a post biblical, Jewish matchmaking day. It was jdate.com before the internet. While this day remained under the Jewish radar for centuries, it has seen a resurgence in recent decades amongst those who choose to ignore Valentine’s Day (yes me!) and in Israel where it has become a Jewish version of the American February 14th.
A true antivalentinian of course asks, “Do we need a special day to tell our loved ones how we feel anyway?” Of course not.
The imagery from our Prophets in our Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) provides us with so much passionate sentiment. Consider the words of Hosea, speaking of the relationship between God and Israel, but using the metaphor of love between two people:
“I betroth you to me forever; I betroth you to me with steadfast love and compassion; I betroth you to me in faithfulness.”
Or look to the Song of Songs, also a book in our Tanakh, which uses the same metaphor of humanly love:
“Oh, give me the kisses of your mouth, For your love is more delightful than wine…Rise up my love, my fair one and come away! Let me see your face, let me hear your voice. For your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. My beloved is mine and I am my beloved’s.”
Judaism loves love. Our tradition hopes for all people that they find in a partner the qualities of our matriarchs and patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, whose love and reference for each other made them into the loving creators of the Jewish People.
And can’t we honor these values and express our love each day that we are privileged to wake? Of course we can.
So what about Valentine’s Day?
I have become a realist. I have come to the personal determination that like Halloween, there is very little connecting the modern observance of Valentine’s Day to either its pagan origin or to the martyrdom of St. Valentine. So I suggest we observe both the Hallmark celebration of February 14 and our very own Jewish Tu B’Av when it comes around next July 25th.
And make every effort on everyday in-between to express your love to everyone in your life.