Well, today’s Valentines Day, and I know you’re all thinking: what does Valentines Day have to do with Judaism? First off, Jews are people too, and so it relates to us just as anyone else in the usual gift/card/lingerie kind of way.
But, it is also interesting to note that a lot of particularly traditional Jews are staunchly opposed to the holiday because of its Christian roots (its namesake is St. Valentine, after all), the idea that it might originate from the Roman holiday Lupercalia, and because many massacres of Jews occured on February 14 .
Rabbi Mike Umram takes apart these arguments against celebrating Valentine’s Day. He says that according to Rama, a 16th century Polish Rabbi, the qualifications for celebrating a secular holiday are as follows:
1) Does the debated activity have a secular origin or value?
2) Can one rationally explain the behavior or ritual apart from the gentile holiday or event?
3) If there are idolatrous origins, have they disappeared?
4) Are the activities actually consistent with Jewish tradition?
And according to Rabbi Umram, giving gifts and sending cards qualifies as a rational expression of love, separate from Christian roots. (He also mentions that scholars have questioned ties between the Church and Valentine’s Day, as well as between Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day.) Not only this, but he says that expressing love is very much a part of the Jewish tradition (we have our own version of Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av, an ancient matchmaking day), and so embracing the holiday for the sake of love is perfectly acceptable.
So take what you will from the two opinions. Personally, I find V-Day to be a bit overblown and kitsch, but I’m all for expressing love and affection to others. (Oh yeah, and as a Feminist, I say that there’s no problem with being doted on as long as reciprocity applies.)