By Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov
I’m a sucker for chocolate. I love stuffed animals. I’m crazy about jewelry. Sentimental cards mean a great deal to me, and I can always have more flowers! So, with all of that said, you’d think that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. However, to be honest, I’m quite conflicted. I vividly remember 12 years ago when I was teaching Religious School on Wednesday, February 14th, 2001. I was all prepared to tell my fifth grade students that Valentine’s Day is NOT a Jewish holiday and then have a discussion about Tu B’Av – the 15th of Av, which was an ancient Jewish holiday about love. So, just as I was getting ready, in walks Josh, one of my students holding a giant, pink heart-shaped box of chocolates…and he gave it to me! If that wasn’t enough to break my heart, one of my fellow teachers had baked me a cake, tied a “Happy Valentine’s Day Balloon” around it and left it on my desk in the classroom for everyone to see. So as not to hurt Josh’s feelings or seem hypocritical- with a giant balloon in the classroom, I decided to “soften” my approach. Instead, we discussed some of the reasons why, traditionally, Valentine’s Day may not have been a Jewish holiday and what Jewish connections there are to Valentine’s Day.
Over the years, this conversation has come up again and again. And now that it is Valentine’s Day, wherever you go you see hearts and messages of “I love you,” everywhere. So, I begin to ask myself, “Is it ok for us as Jews to celebrate a holiday named after a saint? The message of love and appreciation for those we love is undoubtedly a Jewish concept. Our most central prayer, of the Shema and V’Ahavta implores us to love God. I am also a strong believer in the quote from “Les Miserables,” that, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” So, again, I wonder is it “Ok,” as a Jew to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
A very little-known Jewish holiday is the previously mentioned Talmudic holiday of “Tu B’Av,” which falls in the summertime, around the end of July or August. In ancient times this was a holiday in which single women would all dress in white (so no one would appear wealthier than anyone else) and they would go to the fields outside of Jerusalem. As they frolicked in the fields, the single men would be able to pick which woman they would like to claim for their wife. While this may seem a bit archaic, it isn’t so far from some of the “mix and mingle” events, like the annual “Matzah Ball” that occur today…but I digress. Therefore, if we have our own Jewish “Day of Love,” do we even need Valentine’s Day?
After doing some research as to the origin of Valentine’s Day (which is debated) and into whether or not Jews can celebrate holidays which do not have Jewish origins, I found a very interesting ruling. According Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, (Poland, 1520-1572) as explained by Rabbi Mike Uram in his article, “Valentine’s Day and Judaism”, a Jew can celebrate a holiday that was originated by a non-Jew as long as it meets the following criteria: “Does the debated activity have a secular origin or value? Can one rationally explain the behavior or ritual apart from the gentile holiday or event? If there are idolatrous origins, have they disappeared? And are the activities actually consistent with Jewish tradition?” Since the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day does in fact meet these criteria, there is no real problem with celebrating Valentine’s Day.
However, a few years ago, my husband and I decided to create our own holiday of love. We decided that we liked the concepts of Valentine’s Day, but it didn’t feel right for us to celebrate it. So, we decided to celebrate “ValenSTEIN’s Day.” We made up a story about a famous rabbi named Rabbi Mordechai Valenstein who was known as the “Love Rabbi.” He was great at match-making and always talking about the importance of loving God, loving your family, and of course, “loving your neighbor.” Rabbi Valenstein also loved a deal, so we decided to celebrate our new holiday on February 15th when all the chocolate was on sale!
So, whether you decide to celebrate Tu B’Av, or Valentine’s Day or even Valenstein’s Day- make sure you take time to tell the ones you care about that you love them. For every day is a day to say, “I love you!”
Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov is the rabbi at Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, NY. She loves to get flowers, chocolates, jewelry, etc all year round – not just on ValenSTEIN’s Day or even Valentine’s Day…(hint, hint to her husband).
Loved this idea and learned something too! Happy valen-stein day a day early! 🙂
Emily, this was so sweet and creative! Happy Valenstein Day tomorrow!
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Loooooved this. We aren’t militant anti-Valentine’s people, we just don’t feel we need it. It’s not something that carries much significance for us, and if we can so easily resist a holiday that puts pressure on you to be creative (not a strong point for either of us) and spend money. We met on Feb 15, so we prefer to celebrate that anyway! But Valentine’s is fun to be around and has good memories of coming down to the breakfast table to a Valentine’s card and chocolates from our parents. Love your spin on it!
Pingback: https://womensrabbinicnetwork.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/valentines-day/ | David Defranc
very cute , and I agree with you that everday you should tell those you care about that you love them.