The Jewish and cinematic musings of the Rabbi of The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Is Valentine's Day Jewish?
Valentine's Day is a day dedicated to a Saint Valentinus, a Roman saint from the third century. Little is known about him except that he died on February 14th. February 14th is also known as the Feast of St. Valentine. According to at least one tradition he was caught by Roman authorities helping to marry Christian couples. These couples were, at that time, persecuted under the rule of Emperor Claudius in Rome.
Valentine was subsequently condemned to death after trying to convert Claudius. He was beaten with clubs. He was then stoned. And when those failed to kill him, he was beheaded near the Flaminian Gate in Rome by the ruling authorities.
Since little is known of Valentinus, there are a number of disputes as to who this person actually may have been along with the date of his death. Various dates have been given including 269, 270 and 273 C.E.
Aside from being a liturgical celebration in a number of Christian denominations including the Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox Church, it is now also a day associated with romantic love.
Chaucer wrote about it, and by the 15th century, Valentine's Day become a celebration we are now familiar with. It is a celebration of love with cards, candy, and flowers all being favorite means for expressing one's feelings. Something which many companies including Hallmark have capitalized on.
However like Saint Sylvester, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Patrick, Valentine's Day is tied heavily to Christian tradition. Therefore it is not really part of the Jewish calendar or of Jewish tradition. Yet, we do have a traditional day similar to express our love.
Tu B'Av is an observance that arose during the Second Temple Period. According to the Mishnah, Rabbi Gamliel is quoted as saying, "There were not happier days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av (Tu B'Av) and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards... What were they saying? 'Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife.'" (Mishnah Tanaait 4:8)
Tu B'Av has found a reemergence of celebration, especially in Israel with the its founding in 1948. It is now a popular holiday for singing and dancing in Israel. It is also an important holiday for the entertainment and beauty industries in Israel just as Valentine's Day is so important for Hallmark back here in the States.
So no it is not exactly equivalent to Valentine's Day, but at least it occurs during bathing suit season as opposed to winter coat season, and at least no one had to be killed for its observance to come to fruition.
So I say, everyday should be a celebration of one's love. Don't hold back in telling your loved ones you love them. Don't wait for a special occasion. And if you didn't already make reservations, just tell your loved one, you're waiting to celebrate Tu B'Av.
Rabbi Sharff is the Senior Rabbi for The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. He was raised in Houston, Texas where he discovered the acoustic and electric guitar while sitting in his dorm room one day. Rabbi Sharff graduated from the University of Texas and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Rabbi Sharff is the rhythm guitarist for RTR's in House Band, and he also served as the editor for Howard Salmon's z"l Comic Book Siddur.