Differing Jewish Views on Valentine’s Day

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Dancing girls on Tu B’Av. Photo by Sonya Kolodny via PikiWiki

For many Jews, Valentine’s Day is a day for cards, chocolate, gifts and maybe a romantic dinner.

However, in some Jewish families, Valentine’s Day — which has roots as a Western, Christian holiday — is a day that has been met with consternation and non-recognition.

“It is not a Jewish holiday,’’ Center City resident Rhona Gerber said. “And my son was uncomfortable with it in public school, being raised in an observant Jewish home, and that made me feel badly. Also, we have our own Jewish romantic holiday, Tu B’Av.”

Tu B’Av, the 15th day in the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar, less than a week after Tisha B’Av, is mentioned in the Mishna and several other sources as a “day of love” in the era of the temples.

On that day, the unmarried girls in Jerusalem dressed in white garments and went to dance in the vineyards hoping to find husbands. This was also done, according to the Talmud, each Yom Kippur, with both Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur labeled “the two happiest days of the year.”

Between the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Tu B’Av got lost in the shuffle. The minor holiday never had any liturgy attached to it, just love and romance.

With Israel’s establishment, came a re-establishment of Tu B’Av which, in turn, has become a desired day to schedule your wedding. It also offers a lift after the austere Bein had-Metzarim, the three weeks that lead up to Tisha B’Av.

Tu B’Av is Aug. 15-16 in 2019.

“That we look forward to celebrating,” Gerber said. “It is the Jewish holiday of love, similar to Valentine’s Day.”

Area rabbis offer differing viewpoints on Valentine’s Day and Tu B’Av.

Rabbi Lance Susssman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel leaves the observance of either — or both — to his congregants.

“Valentine’s Day is good for cards and flowers, and Tu B’Av is in the middle of the summer,” Sussman said. “In our synagogue, we don’t pay attention to either. It’s up to the family or individual.”

Rabbi Albert Gabbai of Orthodox Sephardic Congregation Mikveh Israel in Center City, had an interesting take on both holidays.

“Tu B’Av is our holiday and has a beautiful tradition of girls all dancing in the same white, so the character is judged, not the looks or attire. But if Valentine’s Day brings out the tradition of love between a husband and wife, and gives a chance to look at our Jewish traditions, I have no issue with it. Love is important.”

As far as where Valentine’s Day sits with some additional rabbinical opinion, it seems to check out all right with the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, Poland, 1520-1572), who explained that there are four criteria that must be met in order to permit Jewish celebration of rituals initiated by non-Jews:

Does the debated activity have a secular origin or value?

Can one rationally explain the behavior or ritual apart from the non-Jewish holiday or event?

If there are idolatrous origins, have they disappeared?

Are the activities actually consistent with Jewish tradition? l

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