By April Akiva, MAJE
As a child I grew up with special dinners, pretty valentines and, lots of great chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Valentines Day reached a new peak in the 8th grade when I received roses from three different admirers (yes, I still gloat with that memory). To my disappointment, Valentines Day 2004 seemed to skip over Jerusalem, the city that I called home that year. The same thing happened again when October 31st came around. No costumes, no candy, no spookiness. Not in Jerusalem.
These “secular” holidays, while a part of the American fabric, actually have grown from religious, non-Judaic roots. Saint Valentines Day was established to honor the early Christian martyr named Valentinus and was first established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 of the Common Era. While the Christian holiday was removed from the General Roman Calendar of saints in 1969, the day continued to be celebrated in many parts of the world (including the USA). While the origins of Valentine’s Day are religious, it somehow evolved into a day of romantic love during the middle ages. It has remained this way ever since that time.
In this week’s parashah, Mishpatim (“laws”) we are instructed in 53 of the 613 Mitzvot. The Israelites receive these words of God as they remain at the foot of Mount Sinai. At the parashah’s conclusion, God talks about the inhabitants of the land of Israel and commands them:
You shall not form a covenant for them or for their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me, that you will worship their gods, which will be a snare for you.
So logically, being in Jerusalem, the center of Eretz Yisrael’s universe, Saint Valentine’s Day cannot be celebrated. With its Christian roots the holiday goes against this command to create relationships with other gods. God mentions to not let the “other” dwell in the land of Israel, lest the Israelites be tempted to adapt foreign religious rites.
But what about the Israelites who dwell in the land of the non-Jew? As Americans, are we persuaded by the observances of our non-Jewish neighbors? For the most part. . . yes.
I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I enjoy dressing up on Halloween and taking Adina trick-or-treating. I do “dream” of a “white Christmas” and enjoy the lights and festive atmosphere surrounding an important Christian holiday. It’s what I’m used to—I don’t live in Israel. I’m not worshipping other gods by these actions, but I do need to realize their religious foundations when making choices.
I will not be having a fancy dinner tonight or spending any time with my husband. I am running Religious School and spending my evening at the synagogue. I love hearts, and chocolate, and fancy steak dinners. But tonight, I have an even greater love for involving myself in the traditions of my own religion.