Valentine’s Day: A Jewish Perspective

posted in: March 2013, Opinion, Relationships | 0
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By Laura Shaposhnikova

It was a Thursday like any other. I woke up, ate my bowl of Cheerios and made my way to class. What started off as an ordinary day turned into an inexplicable maze of “PDA” and roses. Confused, I held the door ajar for an eager fellow with an overflowing bouquet of flowers. Good luck, big guy. Scenes like these repeated themselves all day. Hand- holding seemed to be trending all over campus. It was like a never ending déjà vu.

Ah, St. Valentine had arrived. Finally it clicked. Campus cuddlers abound on the eve of celebrating love. But who is actually celebrating?

Jews, surely, don’t believe in a saint matching up lovers for an evening, do they?

“Not particularly. If a relationship is strong enough it doesn’t need a ritualized holiday to affirm its strength,” said freshman Liora Miller.

Sophomore Esther Nehrer agrees.

“I don’t think the holiday itself is important, but I think the purpose of the holiday is important,” said Nehrer. “You need to find time for the people who you care about and make sure to show them how much you care about them.”

Historically speaking, St. Valentine’s origins are blurry and backed by two stories that allegedly date back to ancient Rome. Valentine possibly rose to saint status when he refused to accept the emperor’s decree outlawing marriage, according to common legend (as told by the History channel).

Emperor Claudius II, of 3rd century Rome, wanted strong, able-bodied young soldiers to keep their heads in the game during war, so he figured outlawing marriage would effectively cancel his soldiers’ ability to daydream about their lovers while fighting to the death against some dangerous foreign enemy.

If legends are to be believed, the plan backfired slightly when Valentine decided he’d rather risk his life and continue officiating weddings between young soldiers and eligible bachelorettes than listen to the emperor’s command. The emperor reportedly found out and imprisoned and executed Valentine, who was later canonized.

To account for the practice of sending valentines, we have to contend with another saintly legend and a whole team of commercialization that Hallmark and other such companies have perfected throughout the years.

The History Channel also considers the circulating legend that perhaps Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and sent her a love letter, which later became known as the very first valentine. Conversely, the Christian church uses these legends to Christianize the pagan springtime ritual of Lupercalia, a time ancient Romans believed belonged to cleaning and increased fertility. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

So where does that bring us ladies, gentlemen, Jews of every flavor?

“I think that Jews shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day but take lessons out of what the day should stand for, not what it stands for now-a-days,” said junior Jeremy Lefkovich.

Whether you’re in favor of the spirit of Valentine’s Day or not, Jews have their own day of celebrating love, and lucky for us, it doesn’t originate from a Pagan ritual.

Tu b’Av, or the 15th day of the Jewish month of Av, is a Jewish day to celebrate love.

Tu b’Av was an agricultural holiday back in the times of the Torah. All the single ladies would wear simple white dresses so no one could distinguish between the wealthy or poor, while the men, laden with warnings to consider a woman’s character before her beauty, chose themselves a bride. Celebration would ensue.

“I think that on Valentine’s Day there’s too much focus on who can outdo the other person in material displays of love. Tu b’Av is much more about finding your soulmate without all the trappings,” Miller said.

Somehow, greeting card companies haven’t caught on to the spirit of Tu b’Av. Save your flowers and chocolates and try showing your loved ones some heartfelt appreciation.

“Put on white dresses and dance in a field,” Miller said.

Perhaps we’ll save that suggestion for another time.

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