The Jewish debate over Valentine’s Day

Rabbis have a range of views on celebrating the holiday.
(Photo: Getty Images)

There has been some controversy over whether Jews should celebrate Valentine’s Day due to the holiday’s Christian and pagan roots.

The holiday is named for the Christian saint Valentine and many historians believe it began as a brutal festival called Lupercalia in ancient Rome. Read more about the holiday’s origins.

So, are Jews allowed to celebrate it? What’s the problem with saying the simple words, “Will you be my Valentine?”

Rabbis have a range of views on the issue. Rabbi Moses Isserles (known as the Rema) addressed the general question of whether Jews are allowed to participate in non-Jewish customs (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 178:1).

According to Rabbi Michael Broyde’s interpretation, the Rema provided us with four conditions that must be met for Jews to celebrate non-Jewish holidays:

  1. The debated activity has a secular origin or value.
  2. The behavior or ritual can be rationally explained, separate from the religious element.
  3. The idolatrous origins are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared.
  4. The activities are actually consistent with the Jewish tradition. 

He concluded that “the technical halacha permits Valentine’s Day observances as the day has completely lost its religious overtones and can be rationally explained as a celebration of love. Valentine’s Day is no longer celebrated even by Christians as a Christian holiday. It is a day of love, friendship, and candy, each of which is independently explainable,” he added.

However, Rabbi Broyde noted, “I think it is the conduct of the pious to avoid explicitly celebrating Valentine’s Day with a Valentine’s day card.” But bringing home chocolate, flowers, or jewelry to one’s beloved is permitted since they are “intrinsically of value,” he added.

Orthodox Union’s Rabbi Jack Abramowitz disagreed. He wrote that Jews should not observe Valentine’s Day, emphasizing its supposed pagan origins and superficial nature.

“Valentine’s Day is marked by several features, not the least of which is materialism and conspicuous consumption,” he wrote. “For a day ostensibly dedicated to love, there is a tremendous emphasis on candy, flowers, stuffed animals, greeting cards, and lingerie.”

Valentine’s Day is “not for Jews,” he concluded. “That’s for ancient Romans, Catholics, and greeting card companies. If you want a holiday that celebrates authentic Jewish concepts of love, learn more about Tu B’Av — part of your authentic Jewish heritage!”

However, Orthodox Sephardic Rabbi Albert Gabbai is more open to the idea of Jews celebrating love on Valentine’s Day. He acknowledged that “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, he continued, “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.”

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