The Jewish Valentine’s Day


 Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Probably most of us remember that this Sunday, February 14 is Valentine’s Day, or rather Saint Valentine’s Day. More than just a holiday celebrating love, it has become an economic powerhouse, a day eagerly awaited by retailers. Despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it, this year consumers are expected to add 27 billion dollars, that’s correct, BILLION dollars, to the economy through Valentine’s Day purchases.  In other words, in our times, this holiday has become highly commercialized.   One of my teachers at the Rabbinic Seminary told us he and his spouse wanted to celebrate the day but were uncomfortable with the apparently Christian associations of Saint Valentine’s Day. Therefore, they exchanged gifts the following day, February 15, on, as they called it, “Ain’t Valentine’s Day”!

We don’t know for certain who Saint Valentine was or how his name came to be associated with romantic love. Prior to 1375 there is no record of Valentine’s Day being observed as a holiday of love. In that year renowned poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a famous poem called “Parliament of Fowls” in which he links the Saint Valentine’s Day Feast with the day that both birds and humans come together to find mates. This then, may have been the beginning of Valentine’s Day as we know it.

The Jewish tradition has a day analogous to Valentine’s Day, but far more ancient. It is called Tu B’Av because it falls on the 15thday of the month of Av. The holiday would always fall in mid-summer. It is no longer officially celebrated. In Biblical times, however, the young eligible women of Jerusalem would dress in white and dance in the vineyards before the eligible bachelors of Jerusalem. They would sing, “Young man, consider who you choose to be your wife.” The day, as all Jewish holidays, began at sunset. Being on the 15th day of the lunar month, there would always be a full moon shining over the fields and vineyards where the dancing took place. This would serve to further enhance the atmosphere of romance and love.

I find it interesting that Tu B’Av, the holiday of love, the holiday where the young at heart imagined their future, fell just 6 days after Tisha B’av, the holiday in which we remember all of the disasters that have befallen the Jewish people in the past. It seems to fit a pattern. Consider that we break a glass at a wedding to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem just before we begin the music and feasting to celebrate the wedding. In Israel, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s day to remember those who fell defending the State, come just before Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. It is as if we want to remind ourselves that we should never lose sight of hope, even in our darkest moments. We may experience sickness, destruction and even death, but we must have faith that healing can take place, that life will renew itself. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, writes, “The Jewish way is to rescue hope from tragedy. However dark the world, love still heals……”

Shabbat Shalom