Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. For many people, this holiday is about grand romantic gestures and loving sentiments for significant others: a day filled with flowers, balloons, chocolate, Hallmark cards, home-cooked meals, and love. However, this holiday is full of opinions and controversies within the Jewish community.
The most obvious reason is the holiday’s namesake: “Saint Valentine.” Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who was beheaded by the emperor for NOT? participating in misogynistic, bloody pagan rituals in the year of 270 A.D. on February 14. Many Roman men were imprisoned for refusing to join Emperor Claudius’s army because their attachment to their wives was too strong. So, the emperor banned all marriages in hope of increasing the willingness of the men to join the army. Valentine was infuriated by this and decided to secretly help lovers get married without the emperor knowing. When the emperor discovered him, he ordered Valentine’s imprisonment and execution. While in prison, there is a legend that a letter was discovered from Valentine to the jailor’s daughter that was signed, “from your Valentine.”
Some of the first commandments in the Torah prohibit worshipping or idolizing a figure other than G-d. The Torah and the Talmud go into what is considered idolatry, and how Jewish people should interact with non-Jewish people so that it is clear that they are not actively worshipping other gods or helping others worship other deities. It can be argued that celebrating Saint Valentine, a non-Jewish figure, could be a form of idolatry.
However, while this holiday may be named after a non-Jewish religious figure or a saint, it is not typically considered a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter, even in the Christian faith. It is what many people like to call a “Hallmark holiday” because corporations make millions off of Valentine’s day themed products and movies. The commercialization of the “holiday” is a pretty understandable reason on its own to resent the existence and celebration of Valentine’s Day.
In addition, February 14 has historically bloody roots for Jewish people. February 14 has been a date of recurring violence and opposition towards the Jewish community. One of the earliest examples of this was on February 14, 1349, when anywhere from a few hundred to over 2,000 Jewish citizens of the Alsace city of Strasbourg were burned to death by the Christian residents of the city. What’s worse is that this massacre was only one in a centuries-long line of bloody murders of Jewish people in Europe.
Not all Jewish people are against the holiday. However, many Americans rightfully reason that Valentine’s Day should not be just one day of chocolates, flowers, balloons, and Hallmark cards to show your love to your friends and loved ones. It is important to recognize the darker truths behind the date and the holiday of Valentine’s Day, but it is undoubtedly the values of love and appreciation that Valentine’s Day celebrates, which should be present year-round.