A New Jewish Love Day to Replace St. Valentine's
This past Valentine's Day, I was invited by Princess Cruise Lines as one of a panel of five "Relationship Experts." The premise of the February voyage was this: Fifty couples who had been corresponding for a period of time via the internet were now to meet in person for the first time, and we (Relationship Experts, that is) would be close at hand to advise and guide these "HTML Connections" toward becoming actual "Love Connections."
Now, a number of things surprised me as the days progressed. For one, I was taken aback by the number of Jewish singles on board who came to me asking why I was playing a lead role in celebrating a holiday named after a Christian saint. I quickly formulated a rationale: Anything that enhances love, regardless of source and origin, is to be encouraged by Jews everywhere, and especially by Relationship Experts like me. Thus my involvement in such an occasion was not only natural, but necessary. Besides, Valentine's Day had been thoroughly secularized anyway, right?
But upon my return to shore, I gave the subject further thought. And, upon intense retrospection, I came to realize that Valentine's Day is as Christian as Christmas. For a Jew to celebrate this sugarcoated, chocolate-frosted, cherub-infested holiday is the equivalent of noshing away on a bacon double cheeseburger and then drinking the wine out of the communion cup to wash it down.
Why this such sudden and extreme change of heart? Why have I become an opponent of Valentine's Day? Let's look a bit closer at this Saint Valentine. The setting is third-century Rome, and Emperor Claudius the Goth rules the land. Claudius' army is too small. Seems that young men are not eager to join the army and leave their beloved ladies behind. Go figure. So Claudius--reasoning that fewer nuptials means more soldiers--issues a decree that no more marriages can be officiated, and anyone caught doing so will be put to death. Meanwhile, back in the Roman churches is a guy named Valentine, who persists in marrying young couples despite the decree. Eventually, his luck runs out, and Valentine is sent to prison to await his fate. While there, he meets the young daughter of a prison guard, with whom he falls in love. So when at last the henchmen come for Valentine, he leaves her a simple note reading: "Love from your Valentine." And the rest, as they say, is history.
Awwwww. Sure, it's a sweet story, though more apt for a Wes Craven film than a day to honor love. I mean--dungeons and henchmen? And even if one insists that this story is really one of commitment to ideals and romance, how do we now choose to honor it? By overdrawing our credit cards? Really, what lovely traditions or rites have we borrowed from third-century Rome? Nothing! Rome didn't have Hallmark. Rome didn't have balloon-o-grams. So this is to be the day that we honor with talk of love and romance? I say no. Join the ranks. Revolt! Abandon Valentine's Day. I think I can hear your impassioned cries of outrage: "But Shmuley! I'll never get roses or dinner at Aureole again! Do away with Valentine's Day, and I'm relegated to a lifetime of all-you-can-eat Indian Buffet Nights!" Fear not, you watchers of Merchant-Ivory films and quoters of Shakespeare! I have not stolen your day of love but rather replaced it--and much improved upon it, I might add. In lieu of Valentine's Day, I encourage the repossession of our own Jewish Day of Love: Tu B'Av.