About a decade ago, I went to a synagogue where someone had passed out red, photocopied cards that said something like: “Rabbi Valenstein wishes you a Happy Valenstein’s Day.”
Cute, but this prank raises the question: Is Valentine’s Day… Jewish? Can it be, even if it wasn’t to begin with?
One argument against Jews celebrating Valentine’s Day is that “every day is Valentine’s Day.” In other words, we are supposed to show appreciation to our sweethearts and spouses every day of the year, not just on February 14. In Hebrew school, I heard the same reasoning applied to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, with a Ten Commandments twist— “Honor thy father and mother” does not only apply in May and June, we were told.
I think that Judaism itself gives lie to that idea. We only have Yom Kippur one day a year— does that mean we don’t apologize or atone any other day? We “remember the Exodus from Egypt” in prayers all year long, but we still have Seders. And we wouldn’t be able to celebrate religious freedom on Chanukah if we didn’t have it the rest of the year.
I asked around last week, to see if my friends— including Jewish ones— were doing anything for the occasion; most were. Some demurred; they felt it was a “Hallmark holiday,” like Grandparents’ Day or Sweetest Day. But one said that she does not celebrate Valentine’s Day at all, she explained, “because I’m Jewish.”
True, Judaism doesn’t celebrate Easter or Christmas, because we don’t celebrate what— or, more accurately, whom— those holidays honor. And unless we are compatriots of Robert Briscoe (the first Jewish mayor of Dublin), we don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which honors Irish heritage.
But we do honor love, which is what Valentine’s Day celebrates. From “Love your neighbor as yourself” to “Arise, my love, my fair one,” love is a deep and central value of Judaism and the Jewish people. And there is nothing wrong with a day to especially exalt a value we cherish all year.
So, I understand and respect those Jews who do not wish to celebrate Valentine’s Day due to a religious objection.
But I urge them to make sure their significant others share this view… before they have to Talmudically debate their way out of the doghouse on February 15.