“I know that Valentine’s Day has its roots as a Catholic saint’s holiday, but is it OK for Jews to celebrate it too?”
Historically, the 14th of February has not been a great day for the Jews. There is good reason why we might choose to lessen our joy and celebration on that day out of respect for our medieval ancestors. For them, it was a day filled with dread, not love.
Nevertheless, the modern American celebration of Valentine’s Day has largely lost these historical associations and become instead an opportunity to show our love for that special someone in our lives. From that perspective, how could anyone say no to a day devoted to sharing our love with others? Love is one of the greatest Jewish values, one of the greatest human values. Ideally, it should be celebrated not just on Valentine’s Day, but 365 days a year! To the extent that Valentine’s Day reminds us to make the time to treat those we love to something special, it is good.
That said, we Jews have our own holiday to celebrate love. The Talmud tells us that Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar (which will fall on July 22 this year), was a day of matchmaking and great celebration. Talmud Ta’anit 26b records, “The daughters of Jerusalem would go out…and dance in the vineyards…and say, ‘Young man, raise your eyes and see whom you select for yourself…’.” Today, Tu B’Av is observed in many Jewish communities as an opportunity to find or to focus on a beloved partner—a Jewish Valentine’s Day.
So go ahead, celebrate your love for your partner on Tu B’Av, on Valentine’s Day, and every day in between!
For more on the Catholic (and Jewish?!) origins of Valentine’s Day, cupid, and what religion has to do with love, visit InterfaithFamily.