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Leap of Faith: Do Valentine’s Gifts Make Sense for Us – or Anyone?

Dare we allude to Valentine’s and love!

Every year I make the same joke on Tu B’Av (the 15th of the month of Av) – it’s another opportunity for my husband to forget to buy me flowers. During the time of the Second Temple Tu B’Av, only a few days after the blackest day in our year (Tisha b’av when we mourn the destruction of the Temples), was a match-making opportunity for single women. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, though, it has been reimagined as the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s day.

Plenty of folk in the Jewish community will be excitedly looking forward to Valentines, ready to lavish gifts and treats on their loved ones. But like Christmas trees, pancake day, and Easter Eggs, there is a tension around how non-Christians engage in these celebrations. There are a number of St Valentine’s that the feast might be named after, but all of them were martyred for their faith and devotion in Christ. When Jews embrace these now largely secular customs, are we taking away from our Christian friends customs and practices – would we be ok if they started lighting a Chanukiah because it’s nice to bring light to a dark time of year, or if non Jews celebrated a Pesach Seder in order to reflect on freedom for all?

Part of me likes the idea that we might universalise the beautiful rituals of our ancient traditions. And part of me treasures each faiths distinctive way of finding meaning in the world. It is a complicated part of being a Christian that particular rituals and dates have been universalised to such an extent that they now seem totally separated from their Christian origins.

Perhaps it isn’t really about where these things come from though, but about how we meaningfully show love. The great sage Tevye (of Fiddler fame) is confused when his wife asks if he loves her! He lists all the things he does for her, the years of devotion and support. Whether it is Valentines or Tu B’Av, annual expressions of affection are all well and good, but it is the more regular acts of love that really make a difference. Whether we embrace our own traditions, or fall in step with more secular days, making expressions of love a regular part of life feels like a better way to create lasting connection, than occasion extravagances.

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is Rabbi at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagaogue.

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