I’ve never had a theological problem with Valentine’s Day. It was never a big deal in my family and my husband and I never really made a big deal about it in our relationship (though on Valentine’s Day 2004 he did give me TiVo. Best present ever!). And since our kids all attended JCC preschools where it was not acknowledged, we didn’t even have to deal with it until our oldest started kindergarten at a public school.
And that is what got me thinking: is Valentine’s Day an appropriate celebration for Jews?
Valentine’s Day isn’t really a religious holiday. Yes, there is a saint distantly associated with it, but we all know that it’s a secular holiday. And it is one that celebrates love. Hey, Judaism is in favor of love. So not only should there be no conflict, but maybe we should embrace it.
But why is it so easy for me to strip Valentine’s Day of any religiosity? And should I begin to worry because this is the same line of reasoning I hear today regarding Christmas?
“It’s not a religious holiday, Rabbi, it’s an American holiday.” “We don’t go to church or anything. It’s just a family celebration.” And so on. As Steven Bayme at the American Jewish Committee said,“When people contend Christmas is a secular holiday, they’re missing the historical framework here. Christmas is a holiday of another faith, rooted in historical events in which Jews reject their theological significance.” Not just historical events, but religious ones as well. And we don’t have the right to secularize someone else’s holiday just because we are experiencing an acute case of tinsel-envy.
Are we not venturing too far on this slippery slope by observing a seemingly secular holiday simply because it’s what our neighbors are doing and it doesn’t seem to detract in any way from the authentic practice of Judaism?
Probably not. But I think we need to have the discussion. We need to consider our actions and decide where we draw our own lines. Because if we don’t, we might find ourselves slipping down that slope… In other words, do what you want, but make certain that it’s a thoughtful decision.
As for me, I’ve had a change-of-heart. Not due to fear of missing out, but because I have considered all the points I raised and feel comfortable bringing some of the celebration into our home. A home where Judaism is the pulse that animates each one of us. Because of the way our Jewishness is manifested in our family, it cannot be diminished by embracing something new. And I guess what draws me to adding Valentine’s Day to our already-full holiday schedule is that there is something just so lovely about celebrating love. Especially in a world that often feels devoid of it. Yes, there is Tu B’av, a day of love in Modern Israel that finds its roots in the Talmud. But it falls during the summer and has never really caught on here. So this year, for the first time, we will embrace Valentine’s Day as a day of family love. With heart waffles and homemade cards and declarations of love for each family member. Wish me luck.
Happy Valentine’s Day!