2.14.2007

Is Valentine's Day for the Jews?

Three posts in one day is really a bit excessive, but I can't help myself. This blogging thing may really be getting out of control. Someone may need to wrest the keyboard from me before I keep posting and posting and posting...

I always assumed that Valentine's Day was one of those things that observant Jews got a pass on, like Halloween. What I mean by that is that I can safely escape the craziness of it all without feeling guilty. It's just not my holiday, so I don't need to deal with it or feel bad about not having someone to observe it with (with whom to observe it, whatever). I don't need to dress up on Halloween or give out candy and I don't need to feel sad on Valentine's Day if nobody tells me that they love me or if nobody buys me chocolate or flowers. Because, you know, since I'm Jewish, it's just like any other day when nobody does those things! Furthermore, I already know I'm loved and who needs a special day just to find that out? And isn't that what birthdays are for?

But then I read JT's post (of DaBoysof905) and that got me wondering what the deal is with Valentine's Day, anyway. Like Halloween, I feel fairly secure in the knowledge that I am better off not observing it, but what if I actually wanted to for some reason? Could I?

A-googling I went!

WhyDateJewish.com
, a project of NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union, claims that Valentine's Day is:
  • Catholic (despite the fact that it was removed from the Catholic calendar in 1969)
  • pagan (says that the Church got it from Lupercalia, "a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.")
  • assur [forbidden]
  • and, anyway, we have Tu B'Av instead!
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, in a post on mail-jewish from last year, explains why he thinks that it is not assur to celebrate Valentine's Day, just as it is not assur to celebrate (secular) New Year's, although Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that pious people may want to be strict and not celebrate New Year's (see Iggerot Moshe, Even Haezer 2:13). (As far as I know, Rav Feinstein does not touch Valentine's Day.) Rabbi Broyde's reasons are that "Valentine's Day is no longer celebrated even by Christians as a Christian holiday. It is a day of love, friendship and candy, each of which is independently explainable," and there are independent-of-religion reasons for celebrating Valentine's Day (i.e., it's a nice thing to do). This is different from the current state of Halloween, which he thinks is still assur. Even if you want to make the dubious claim that there is no longer anything religious about it, there are no independent reasons for dressing up and scaring people (or throwing eggs at their houses) on October 31. He adds his own sort of "da'as Torah" opinion, too, that pious people may not want to celebrate Valentine's Day. His final word?
I think it is the conduct of the pious to avoid explicitly celebrating
Valentine's day with a Valentine's day card, although bringing home
chocolate, flowers or even jewelry to one's beloved is always a nice
idea all year around, including on February 14.
In later posts on mail-Jewish, many people vehemently disagree with Rabbi Broyde and call celebrating Valentine's Day "the worst kind of avodah zara [idol worship]." A few people agree with Rabbi Broyde or at least disagree about Valentine's Day being "the worst kind of avodah zara" (say, worse than passing your children through fire to worship molech). One even thought that even "ba'alei nefesh" (pious folks) could happily celebrate Valentine's Day.

This comment on Daniel Pipes' blog points out that "In 1349, one of the largest single pre-Holocaust massacres of Jews took place on Valentine's Day in Strasbourg, France, where Jews, blamed for the spread of the plague, were burned alive en masse by the citizenry: 2,000 men, women, and children died on the feast of love." This is given as a reason (among others) for Jews not celebrating Valentine's Day. I sort of think that's neither here nor there. Not very convincing, although it is, of course, sad. It's not really nice to purposely go out and celebrate on a day when 2,000 Jews were burned, but, really, are there any days that many Jews have not died? (The page I just linked to is terribly sad.) There must be a lot of days between, I dunno, 1939 and 1945 when 2,000 Jews died in one day. Is that any less sad because we don't know who they were or when they died?

Arthur Magida from Beliefnet also weighs in when someone asks him an etiquette question about celebrating Valentine's Day in a Jewish nursing home. He also mentions the 1349 Strasbourg massacre, which I had never heard of. Now I'm beginning to be more convinced.

The upshot? It looks like I can keep feeling great about not caring about Valentine's Day and not feel like I should be doing something special tonight. (So far, tonight, I mopped one wet floor at work to prevent some people from slipping. Honestly, I feel pretty good about that.)

-----------------------------------

Bonus link! On IslamWeb.net, there is an article warning Muslim youths, in particular, against celebrating Valentine's Day. And Fatwa #627, from this past January, forbids the same thing. Here's another note about that, this time from a Jewish source.

Bonus link #2! This church warns "true Christians" against observing Valentine's Day, because it is pagan. (The church says that it is the successor to the Worldwide Church of God, which, well, you can read about it here. I once worked with someone who had been raised in the church, and he had less-than-kind words to say about it.)

5 comments:

Passionate Life said...

What is Valentines Day? Basically a day that celebrates love and expressions of love. How can that not be a Jewish concept? Hey, we invented love. ;-)

I love when super frum Muslims and super frum Yeshivish people are completely on the same page. I find it hilarious! Each would be appalled to know how much they have in common. lol!

Heck even those of us who haven't yet found the loves of our lives can celebrate Valentines Day.

Here's wishing you a very happy Valentines day!

P-Life ;-)

Anniegetyour said...

No matter how you slice it, it just isn't our holiday, although whether or not it is someone elses' is up for debate.

So yeah, you get a free pass.

JT said...

Thanks for doing the research! Really comprehensive. Now instead of justifying my observance with the assertion that the contemporary observance of the holiday no longer has religious significance, I have YU ordained Rabbinical authority to back me up. Might be the minority opinion, and only applicable to those who are not "pious" but hey Ill take what I can get.

ALG said...

Thank you for all of your comments!

P-Life, I also find it interesting when religious people of different faiths have things in common. In this case, it is three monotheistic religions having issues with holidays that are pagan in origin (in addition to two of them having an issue with the Christian nature of the holiday).

There are also similarities in the areas of modest dress for women and keeping adolescent boys and girls apart from each other. There was an interesting scuffle at some point in the past few years about an "underground" prom at a Muslim school that reminded me of similar "underground" proms in Jewish day schools. Maybe I'll write something about it at some point.

Mel Balsamo said...

Well, in my point of view, Valentines and Halloween have become more of a social occasion rather than religious. It's like another reason for everyone to enjoy and have fun, for the sake of celebrating. No one is actually obliged to observe them.

Mel Balsamo
JRomances.com