Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Jewish Valentine??

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
Do I celebrate 'Valentine's' 
If I'm a Jew???

I like Chocolate.  I love Fresh Flowers.  Isn't it Fun to get a Valentine??

After all,  there is nothing about the contemporary traditions of Valentine's Day ~ cards, flowers, chocolate ~ that seems distasteful or overtly religious.   Isn't it really a secular holiday nowadays?? .....  In the United States, the marketing of 'Valentine's Day' has tagged it as a "Hallmark holiday".   In Ireland,  it's an evening to dine with the love of your life.  Or pine to dine with them while crying at the tv 'Rom Com'.   Although the recent trend towards political correctness has begun to refer to February 14th as "Singles Awareness Day".   At least in California,    the holiday's full name of 'St. Valentine's Day' certainly implies that it has Christian roots.  Thus, there is a  question of whether it's appropriate for Jews to celebrate Valentine's Day.  The answer would seem to be tied to the true origins of the holiday and the history of the 'saint' for whom it's named.  Who was St. Valentine?  What about how it historically has been celebrated??  Are there Answers there???

Valentine's Day was first instituted by Pope Gelasius I in 496 C.E. to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Valentine. Yet scholars know almost nothing about this St. Valentine. Most believe that Valentine lived in the late 3rd century C.E. However, the name Valentine (derived from the Latin word valeo meaning strong) was common in the ancient world. There are at least 30 mentions of the name in historical documents from this time period.

The stories associated with St. Valentine are not historical, but rather originate in a number of polemical legends written during the 6th and 7th centuries. According to these legends, Valentine was a priest who was arrested by the Emperor Claudius. Following a theological debate about the merits of Christianity, Valentine was sentenced to live with a noble by the name of Asterius in a form of house arrest. With the help of G-d and "true faith", Valentine miraculously restores the sight of his master's adopted daughter and, in doing so, converts Asterius and the 24 members of his house. When Emperor Claudius hears of this "miracle" and the subsequent conversions, he has Valentine killed.

Another legend from roughly the same time period, The Passion of the Bishop Valentine of Terni, is a longer and more complex version of the same story. These two renditions of the Valentine legend have a number of factual and stylistic problems that have led scholars to agree that they are not reliable sources of historical information. The clearest example of this is the identity of the emperor, as there is no documentation of persecution by Claudius. In this and other ways, these legends must be understood as part of a literary genre focused on imparting specific values.

In the case of the legends of St. Valentine, the message highlights the miraculous power and importance of true and unwavering faith even when facing persecution or martyrdom. The fact that these legends do not connect the martyrdom of St. Valentine and the themes of love and fertility have raised questions about the origins of the themes of Valentine's Day.

Some have suggested that Valentine's Day is a Christian reconstruction of a pagan holiday known as Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival described by Plutarch, the Greek biographer and neo-Platonist philosopher, as a time when noble youths ran through the city naked for sport, striking those they met with loin cloths. It was widely believed that getting struck with one of these loin cloths could help a pregnant woman deliver and a barren woman conceive.  So is Valentine's really an ancient post-winter-early-spring Roman fertility and purification festival that was observed on February 15th in which boys slapped women with bloody goat's hides & Jews with soiled loin cloths??

The amourously-charged Carnivale celebrations and its American variant known as Mardi Gras also take place at this time.   There is some evidence too that Valentine's Day's themes of love and romance were actually a creation of Geoffrey Chaucer and a number of his contemporaries in late 14th century England. In fact, the first literary reference to Valentine’s Day in this context is Chaucer's "Parlement of Foules" published in 1382 in honour of the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne Bohemia.  This was a time when courtly 'love'  in literature was coming into vogue!

The ritual of sending formal greetings seems to have appeared in the 1500's. Today, the custom has grown so widespread that the Greeting Card Association of America estimates that roughly one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide. Despite this popularity, the source for the custom seems to have evolved out of an embellishment to the apocryphal legend of St. Valentine. In this telling, Valentine falls in love with the daughter of his jailer and on the night before his execution, he writes her a parting note signed "from your Valentine."

Academics aren't the only ones who have recognized the dubious historical basis for Valentine’s Day. Vatican II, the set of reforms adopted by the Catholic Church in 1969, removed Valentine's Day from the Catholic church's calendar, asserting that "though the memorial of St. Valentine is ancient… apart from his name nothing is known…. Except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on 14th February."  

Not to be a romantic spoiler, there is a grim, long forgotten reason for Jews not to rush out to invest in lingerie or make dinner reservations.  According to Cecil Roth in his classic 'The Jewish Book of Days', it was on this day in 1349 that the Massacre of Strasbourg took place,  perhaps the worst of the many anti-Jewish outrages that occurred during the Black Death.  It was alleged that Jews were suffering and dying from the Black Plague at a much lower rate than Christians. It is not clear if this was actually true, but there are several theories explaining the apparent phenomenon. One theory suggests that Jews buried their dead much more quickly than Christians and in separate cemeteries, thus making their deaths less visible. Another theory speculates that Passover was responsible for saving a great portion of the Jewish population. According to Dr. Martin Blaser, as reported by The New York Times,  has suggested that the clearing of hametz (leavened bread) from homes ahead of Passover deprived rats of food and shelter, helping to stymie the disease’s spread. He adds that the plague peaked in the spring, around the time that Passover would have fallen.

When the plague struck Europe, panic got the better of the population and its religious, civil and economic leaders. Considering that upwards of 40 percent of Europe’s population was wiped out by this mystery pandemic known only at the time as the “Black Plague,” and so a scapegoat was sought and made to pay. Considering the prejudice and persecution that Europe’s Jews were already suffering, it's not a huge stretch of imagination to see why we became the scapegoat for the Black Plague.

Despite a papal bull by Pope Clement VI in the second half of 1348 clearing the Jews of responsibility for the plague, the blaming, burning and banishing of the Jews did not stop.  The Strasbourg locals had blamed fluctuations in the price of corn on the Jews, whom they suspected of being protected by the city council.  And it was on February 14th, 1349 that a mob barricaded the Judenstrasse (Street of the Jews) and drove & dragged the whole Jewish community into the cemetery where they built a huge pyre. About two thousand Jewish men, women and children were burned to death.  Only those who accepted Christianity ~ and proved it by 'being baptised' ~ were allowed to live.

A new council was installed shortly after, and officially barred Jews from the city for a century. As it happens, this ban was eased 20 years later.  Among the spoils of that day was a shofar the mob had found in the main synagogue. This find confirmed the suspicions of the townsfolk: it was, they said, prepared by the Jews in order to betray the city. By blowing it, the Jews would be able to signal their unnamed allies lurking outside the city walls.  For many years after, the so-called 'Judenblos' was blown each evening on a 'grusselhorn', an imitation shofar, as a warning to any Jews within the city limits to depart before nightfall, and also as a reminder to the townspeople of their 'miraculous' rescue from the machinations of the 'devious Jews'.

 And that is not all .... On February 14th in

1667 ~ The end of the practice known as “Black Monday.” Prior to this date, the Jews of Rome had been subjected to a humiliating medieval practice of running a race in the Roman carnivals, scantily clad, amid insults and blows. This practice of "Black Monday" named for the day of the week during the Carnival Season on which it took place was not practiced after 1667.

1670:  ~ Leopold I ordered Jews to be expelled from Vienna within a few months. Although Leopold was reluctant to lose the large amount of taxes (50,000 Florins) paid by the Jews, he was persuaded to do so by his wife Margaret, the daughter of the Phillip IV Spanish Regent, and a strong follower of the Jesuits Margaret blamed the death of her firstborn on the tolerance shown to the Jews. 

1727: ~  Benedict XIII issuesd Emanavit nuper, a Papal Bull, dealing with “the necessary conditions for imposing baptism on a Jew.” 

Fast forward to 1910 when the Hallmark Corporation was created and Cupid really got his wings.  But, given all of the above (& much more that could be cited) .... Should we Celebrate today as a feasting festival??  It is not a day when much love has been shown to Jews!!

In Judaism we have an altogether different day to demonstrate our love for our partners,  or desire for a potential partner!  It is called Tu B’Av,  or the 15th day of the Month of Av.  It has become a rather obscure holiday, but the Rabbis of the Talmud,  the first legal compendium of Jewish Law and Custom, wrote that there were no days more festive in Judaism than Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av.  Rabban Gamliel made this claim because it was on these days that all the young unmarried women came out in flowing white dresses to say, “Young man consider who you choose as a wife.”

It was like a Jewish matchmaking day.  It was 'jdate.com' before the internet. While this day has remained under the Jewish radar for centuries, it has seen a resurgence in recent decades amongst those who choose to ignore Valentine’s Day,  and in Israel where it has become a Jewish version of the 'Valentine's' February 14th. 

1 comment:

  1. There is so much to comment upon. Where do we begin?

    First of all, it stands to reason that some character named Valentine either existed or at MINIMUM was invented. I consider it more likely that he existed in my opinion. Further, the idea of yet another Christian being martyred by Rome is perfectly consistent with what we know about Ancient Rome. It's impossible to prove without evidence, but it RINGS TRUE.

    Second, he appears to be a minor figure. Were it otherwise, we would have more success establishing a locus in history.

    Third, I favor the theory of the "Hijacked Pagan Holiday" myself, even though most academics eschew this idea. My thinking is as follows: The early Christian church originally hijacked Easter & Christmas from the pagans, so why not Lupercalia too?

    This much is fairly well established FACT- Christmas & Easter were originally PAGAN. Nowhere in ANY of the scripture sacred to Christians and Jews will anybody anywhere at any time find even a oblique reference to any such holiday- let alone to "Valentine's Day." It just doesn't exist, plain and simple. The only holidays ordained and sanctified are the ones mentioned in the Torah. If we Christians truly wish to do a proper job of manufacturing a celebration of Yeshua's key event, then we ought to just DO IT, divorce it from the pagan Easter nonsense, and nevermore be guilty of the pagan cultural contamination. (Surely making this error isn't going to be heart warming to G-d.) At present, a few Christian churches make an effort to clean up the mess, and I applaud them for it. But then, most Christians aren't interested in this level of minutiae fundamentalism. So as a practical matter, let's just skip it. (And BTW, It's usually my Jewish friends who are calling me to account for the pagan stuff which is imbued in Christian culture.)

    So, what should a Jew do about Valentine's Day? In my humble, subjective opinion, ANYTHING that he or she LIKES. If he or she is devout, observant, and truly a fundamentalist, then by NO MEANS should they ever touch Valentine's Day with a 10 foot pole. And if they are not, then it seems fairly innocuous. Is it just another step on the road to assimilation? Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not. If the person is thoughtful and contemplative, then he or she can think their OWN thoughts and come to their OWN conclusions without Thought Control or Group-Think being imposed upon them by their peers. In the world of Christianity, thinking for oneself often comes at the price of ostracization. (Historically, thinking for yourself could cost you your life at certain times.) And I know enough Jews to know that they too could Pay the Price if they fail to Toe the Line.

    Is it a stumbling block or a step towards assimilation (for Christians and Jews respectively)? Maybe.

    Is it harmless fun? Maybe.

    So what IS the Bottom Line?

    In my view, everyone should put their Big Boy and Big Girl pants on and figure it out for themselves. Maybe they should study scripture for some guidance if scripture is important to them.