What About Valentine's Day?

Like many secular or national holidays thought to have Christian or Pagan roots, Valentine's Day can be hard for anyone living in the western world to ignore, from the supermarket and schools to social media and more.
The historical origin of (St.) Valentine's Day has long been debated among academics. In 1969, The Vatican removed it from the Catholic church’s calendar due to uncertainty.
Still, the perennial question presents itself: Is it OK for Jews to "celebrate"?

A number of halachic rulings have been written as to whether Jewish law allows for the celebration of non-Jewish holidays such as Valentine’s Day. Rabbi Mike Uram, Chief Jewish Learning Officer for Jewish Federations of North America and previously with Pardes North America among other posts, offered his viewpoint in a recent article, “Valentine’s Day and Judaism.”

He referred to Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Poland, 1520-1572), who explains that there are four criteria that must be met in order to permit Jewish celebration of rituals initiated by non-Jews (Rama Y.D. 178:1 as interpreted by Rabbi Michael Broyde).

  1. Does the debated activity have a secular origin or value?
  2. Can one rationally explain the behavior or ritual apart from the gentile holiday or event?
  3. If there are idolatrous origins, have they disappeared?
  4. Are the activities actually consistent with Jewish tradition?

In the case of Valentine’s Day, Uram posits, one may argue that the rituals performed today do meet these criteria. Sending cards and chocolates and giving gifts can be explained as rational expressions of love and appreciation independent of possible Christian or Pagan roots. In addition, these roots have been questioned by scholars and the Catholic church.

Finally he notes, the desire to express love and to offer gifts as a symbol of those feeling is certainly in line with Jewish tradition and values. The idea of a special day set aside to encourage coupledom is also well rooted in the Jewish tradition: Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Av, was an ancient day of matchmaking that has experienced something of a revival in modern times.

While it does not represent every opinion in Jewish literature, the source from the Rama does provide a salient basis on which many rabbis allow Jewish participation in modern-day Valentine’s Day rituals.

We at Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ are cognizant of differing viewpoints that reflect various Jewish texts, traditions, and thought. Fundamentally, we can appreciate any reminder to express affection, appreciation, devotion, friendship, passion, respect, love, and support for whom and what we care about.

Some among us already do so through striving to adhere to the Jewish tradition of saying 100 blessings a day, each beginning with Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam - Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe...
Some reserve expressions of praise or gratitude for birthdays or holidays or, G-d forbid, funerals... or find them hard to say at all.
Allow us to take this opportunity to say we appreciate and we love this Jewish community. We love Israel. We love Jewish tradition and the seemingly infinite number of ways each Jew carries them out. We love contributing to the wellbeing of people and organizations who need help and we love what so many in this community do to make the world a better place. We love working with allies to push back on hate. And we love investing in a strong and beautiful Jewish future for our children and their children.    
The Jewish festival of Tu B'Av is six months away.
Let us not wait six months or six minutes to make sure we express love wherever and however we are inspired to do so. 
Reach out today to someone who's on your mind. Pass along a kind word. Perform an act of caring for someone you know - or don't know. Do a mitzvah in merit of a loved one who is no longer able or no longer here. Give tzedakah.  
This Valentine's Day, be grateful for the ability to love and be loved. Remember: together, we make up the Jewish heart of New Jersey that beats together, cares together, and thrives together.


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