Columns - 2006

    A Valentine's Day massacre

    In this week's exciting episode of Ask the Rabbit, we consult our resident rabbitical scholar about an area of his expertise that no one has ever dared to challenge.

    Lettuce begin.

    Is it true that February 14th actually started out as a Jewish holiday?

    No. February 14th started out as a day on the Roman calendar just like any other. But eventually it became the secularized, previously long-forgotten Jewish holiday for romance.

    But isn't the well-known February 14th holiday named after a Saint? There have never been any Jewish Saints.

    Not true. Four Jews have played for New Orleans*. And the Saints better return there for 2006 and beyond so more can in the future.

    (* according to

    But you probably want to know the true origins of the original February 14th event, Reb Wallenstein's Day.

    Reb Wallenstein lived in the age of Rabbi Akiva, the first century of the Roman calendar. He was recognized as the officiator of more weddings than any other rabbi in his time.

    The day in his honor has been forgotten. Could he have been that well recognized?

    Sure. He officiated so many weddings that people recognized him on the street all the time.

    Weddings back then were not always on weekends. In some weeks he would marry three couples a day! On Lag B'Omer, when the moratorium on weddings during the Omer is lifted, he would do as many as ten ceremonies.

    This was actually the origin of the popularity of June weddings.

    Sadly, he was one of the many rabbis who was martyred in that time for failing to denounce his faith.

    He was killed for not denouncing Judaism?

    No. That was the other rabbis. He was killed for not denouncing the chicken dance.

    How did St. Valentine's Day become the norm instead?

    Who knows? Valentine's martyrdom is well documented, so it could be just coincidence.

    But you have to wonder. King James did a pretty good job, but with names he wasn't always so hot. He turned Chava into Eve, Ya'akov into Jacob, Yechezkel into Ezekiel, Yirmiyahu into Jeremiah, and Mitzrayim into Egypt. Maybe time allowed Wallenstein to become Valentine. Who knows?

    Some speculate that the King outsourced transliterating all the names, to meet a print deadline. There's only empirical evidence, but it could explain a lot.

    Aside from the holiday, is there anything else people might know about Reb Wallenstein?

    He's the originator of the phrase, "no chupah, no sht*p*h."

    So Jews don't have to shy away from this holiday?

    No. February 14th is the over-hyped, over-commercialized annual event that we actually can comfortably enjoy beyond the post-event bargains.

    Thanks to modern innovations like customizable and online greeting cards, you can even make your own cards to proudly reflect Reb Wallenstein's Day.

    Did your wife put you up to all this just to get you to take her someplace special on February 14th?

    You're confusing Reb Wallenstein's Day with the Hanukkah Bush.

    The Hanukkah Bush?

    Yes. The mythical plant some people put in their houses in late December and finally drag out to the curb around mid-February, the same week as most Christmas trees.

    Was there a Reb Wallenstein's Day Massacre?

    Definitely. On a single day, three different brides fled the chupah. Today, that's a sitcom pilot. Back then, it was unheard of.


    Three brides fleeing? Unheard of. Sitcom pilots we had. The Jews have always been comedy writers.

    Even all those centuries ago?

    They say we're good comedians because of all our suffering. We've suffered by the boatload all the way since Noah.

    But writing wasn't common two thousand years ago.

    Have you ever sat down with friends and read some Talmud? NBC should do so well next season.

    You must be kidding.

    Who do you think came up with "Two Jews walk into a bar...?" Presbyterians?

    What do you see as the future of Reb Wallenstein's Day?

    I don't expect miracles. As the Big G said through His contemporary, George Burns, His last miracle was the 1969 Mets.

    But if I could offer a dream for the future, I'd pray that every year a few more Jews do the little things to remember Reb Wallenstein and his great efforts toward the Jewish family. Many of the greatest Jewish traditions start at home, even if it means going out so nobody has to cook.

    And if their observance does include going out to dinner, hopefully they'll remember to order their chicken parmessan with a pareve chicken.

    How do you manage to have a successful Wallenstein's Day every year?

    If I do anything hare-brained, it's expected.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley who is also expected to be hare-brained, but without the good excuse. For more information, past columns, and other writings, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.