Tonight, at Kabbalat Shabbat Services, many of you will be renewing your vows. Sure, I admit it, this is good schtick to get you to come to services. And, yes, we did it during the same month as Valentine’s Day! But, let me be clear, there’s nothing Jewish about Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 CE. One legend teaches that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When the Roman Emperor decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied the Emperor and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, the Emperor ordered that he be put to death. According to another legend, Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting himself. While in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it’s alleged that he wrote her a letter that he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France and Valentine’s Day still remains a popular holiday.
Despite the non-Jewish origins of this holiday, many Jews celebrate Valentine’s Day in some fashion. I certainly have no problem with this given that expressing our love and affection for our spouses, partners and other important people in our lives is very Jewish. What does trouble me is that most Jews don’t know that we have our own Jewish “Day of Love”- known as Tu B’Av. It falls on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Av, which this year falls on August 16th.
Tu B’Av began during the second Temple period, before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. It was a matchmaking day for unmarried women who would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards while saying: “Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)!”
Tu B’Av begins as the sunsets on the 14th of Av and continues until the sunsets on the and the 15th day of Av. On this day/night, there is a full moon. Linking the night of a full moon with romance, love, and fertility was not uncommon in ancient cultures and clearly embraced by Judaism.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the only way Tu B’Av was celebrated was that the morning prayer service on that day didn’t include any penitence prayers, stressing that this was a day of joy. With the re-establishment of Israel in 1948, Tu B’Av began to make a comeback. Modern Israeli culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu B’Av. Israelis give cards and flowers to their loved ones on Tu B’Av and the date is popular for weddings. A few years ago, the Israeli homepage for Google featured hearts placed in the Google icon.
So for those of you who can’t get enough of Valentine’s Day, mark your calendars – Tu B’Av 2019 is August 16th!!!