Monday, January 30, 2006

What's Jewish About Valentine's Day?

Considering that "St." is part of the name of the holiday? Maybe nothing.

Or maybe something...

I've always liked Valentine's Day. I feel a certain affinity with this holiday due to its proximatey to my own birthday. [Actually, there is another holiday closer to my birthday but it involves a furry animal and for obvious reasons, it's not high on my list.] I still remember the first Valentine's Day gift I received from a boy. A pink elephant and a box of chocolate. I was about eleven and thought that it was the sweetest thing...

The most perfect Valentine's Day gift? TiVo (Valentine's Day 2004) was just about the sweetest gesture ever! I know how it sounds, but seriously...I love television and I'm a mother of two. With TiVo, I always have my kids' favourite shows on hand and can zip through my favourites any time of the night without having to remember to set the VCR.

But I digress...

I've never had a theological problem per se with Valentine's Day. It was never a big deal in my family of origin and we've never really made a big deal about it our relationship. It's been downplayed in our house simply because Beernut and Poppyseed have been at JCC preschools where it is not acknowledged.

This year, of course, will be Beernut's first exposure to Cupid and it's got me a-thinkin!

Is Valentine's Day an approprite celebration for Jews?

I feel certain that for most of my readership there is no question that Valentine's Day does not conflict with the tenets of our faith. In fact, I reckon that most of you can't even figure out why I'm even asking the question.

Christmas. That's the reason.

Stay with me here...

Valentine's Day is in no way a religious holiday. Yes, there is a saint distantly associated with the day, but we all know that it is a completely secular holiday. And it is one that celebrates love. Hey, Judaism is in favour of love. So not only should there be no conflict, maybe we should embrace it.

And lo and behold -- that's what the Orthodox have done! Ascribing to the "if you can't beat them, join them" philosophy, the Orthodox Union’s [national youth movement] National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) is “initiating a campaign timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day about the importance of dating and marrying Jewish.” Since kids are being inundated with hearts, valentines, plush animals, and (kosher!) chocolate anyway, NCSY will take this as an opportunity to reinforce the traditional views of dating and marriage.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, for generations, our Sages have taken behviours and practices of our people and given them a Jewish spin. Take the dreidel. Not exactly Jewish in origin, but definitely Jewish now.

But it's very easy for me to strip Valentine's Day of any religiosity it might have had in earlier times. And that's when I begin to worry. Because this is the same line of reasoning I hear today regarding Christmas.

"It's not a religious holiday, Rabbi, it's an American holiday." "We don't go to church or anything. It's just a family celebration." And so on. As Steven Bayme, director of Jewish Communal Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said, "When people contend Christmas is a secular holiday, they're missing the historical framework here. Christmas is a holiday of another faith, rooted in historical events in which Jews reject their theological significance." Not just historical events, but religious ones as well. And we don't have the right to secularize someone else's holiday just because we are experiencing an acute case of tinsel-envy.

Are we not venturing too far on this slippery slope by observing a seemingly secular holiday simply because it's what our neighbours are doing and it doesn't seem to detract in any way from the authentic practice of Judaism?

Probably not. But I think we need to have the discussion. We need to consider our actions and decide where we draw our own lines. Because if we don't, we might find ourselves slipping down that slope...


RobSPetri said...

How about Halloween?

Rivster said...

Don't even get me started! I'm saving my thoughts on this one for next September.