Culture, Religion

Religious puzzle

Is it possible to move to the Jewish State and feel less Jewish?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Even when you’re acting a lot more Jewish than you did when you lived in the Non-Jewish Jewish state. (Not, no the Vatican. New Jersey.)

Even though I moved to Israel and live in a community that is considered (by secular and pluralistic Jews here, at least) to be religious, I still often feel as goyish as a ham sandwich on white.

Take my Halloween post on the Times of Israel yesterday, for instance.

Of course, I knew I might ruffle a feather or two. Religious Jews don’t celebrate Halloween, not even in America. And I knew the Times of Israel attracts readers that tend to be a little on the, let’s just say, fervent side.

But I didn’t expect the commenters to go all Esmerelda on me.

(c) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Edward Scissorhands

On the one hand, I’m curious about it. In the same way I might be curious about a colorful school of clownfish swimming in a tank at the pet store.

I knew that observant Jews in America didn’t let their kids participate in Halloween festivities, though I never really understood why. Not the historical reason why; but the “why is it still relevant today” kinda why.

Halloween in America today is far, far away from idol worshipping. Unless, of course, you consider Smarties to be idolic. Why be so vigilant about keeping your kids off the streets and out of costume on October 31?

But of course, I fall into the camp that thinks kashrut as a means of humane slaughter is also outdated…especially when you take into consideration inhumane mass slaughterhouses like agriprocessor. Tells you what kind of Jew I am, and also shows you very clearly my stand on taking a more modern approach to tradition.

So, naturally, I wasn’t really prepared for the harsh admonishment on the first run of commenting on my post.

Yikes! I just wanted my kids to enjoy some cake and candy. I just wanted them to be amused and impressed by my polished witch cackle.

Heck, I just wanted a reason to be able to work my polished witch cackle into a sentence.

Is that so wrong?

Look: Halloween has nothing to do with my “traditions or values or way of life.”

Kids get dressed up and go beg for candy. When they get older, they throw eggs at my house.

Who would claim that this “holiday” has anything to do with their “traditions or values or way of life?”

Not even satan worshippers or pagans, I imagine.

And yet, somehow in her tone, this commenter implies that by recognizing a secularized American tradition I am somehow passing on bad values to my Jewish children. My Jewish children who go to Beit Knesset every Friday night for kabbalat Shabbat; my children who go to a Tali school and learn Tanakh; my children who — during play amongst themselves — will sometimes sit on the couch and daven with their dolls.

I’m not kidding.

I have video to prove it.

Maybe, the commenter is right. Maybe someday my kids will grow up to be idol worshipping pagans who dance naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge.

Personally, I think Halloween is more likely to turn kids into toothless fat old people than pagans.

And dancing naked in the moonlight at Stonehenge? Sounds fun.

But then again, I’m that kinda Jew.

7 thoughts on “Religious puzzle”

    1. Even still, I live in Israel. And I think living here has made me more susceptible to judgment and more sensitive to it. Seriously. In my insular little Jewish New jersey bubble, I hardly ever felt “less than” and even when I did, it came mostly from me, not from the mouths (or keyboards) of others. Not saying those judgy Jews don’t exist in the States, just that I wasn’t exposed to them.


  1. Many people nowadays also say that Christmas is just a secualr, legal holiday for them. I had someone say that to me just last night. Would you allow your children to participate in Christmas celebrations? Or would you teach them to make distinctions? I think you demean the beliefs of those for whom Halloween is rooted in their religious culture. I have known such individuals. They are out there. You clearly don’t know about such people; but I do. Dressing up on Halloween is like dressing up like Santa Claus or an elf. It means nothing to you; but it is rooted in a sincere and old religious culture – one that has strong adherents today. Just because you are ignorant of them and can’t be bothered to find out before you state you opinion, does not render them irrelevant. So whether you view Halloween as an ancient pagan celebration, or a newer celebration coopted by the colonializing Spanish Catholics, Jews have no more business with it than they do with Christmas.

    And it isn’t about ‘turning kids into pagans’, or Christians for that matter. It is about giving respect and credence to an idolatrous culture – the antithesis of Judaism. If you’re going to brush off people’s concerns, you should learn the sources of that concern. Even moreso because you live in Israel and are shaping the future of the Jewish people.


    1. Hi Mordechai: Thanks for reading and sharing your point of view. I don’t take it likely and spent a few minutes thinking about the questions you ask.

      Personally, I know almost as many people who think (out loud) that Christmas is secular as I do who think Halloween is idolatrous. Zero. I know that doesn’t make it an official poll or survey, but it influences my opinion. I think if we ever reached the tipping point that enough Christians considered Christmas secular, then maybe I might feel differently. But right now as I see it, Christmas is still very much about baby Jesus and about miracles. Commercially so even. You see Baby Jesus in a manger in commercial outlets, on greeting cards. The religious element is woven into TV specials and movies. All of this is to say, I don’t feel as if your Halloween – Christmas comparison is a good analogy.

      For Halloween, on the other hand, I wouldn’t even know what to say to someone who is truly idol worshipping on that day. What’s the proper greeting? How would I acknowledge them? Of course, maybe I’m ignorant. Maybe you know what to say to be polite to idol worshippers on Halloween. Maybe they teach that somewhere, but nowhere I’ve ever lived or studied or spent time. Wikiepedia is no Encyclopedia Brittannica, but i rely on it for basic understandings of things I don’t know. And they seem to think Halloween has been about trick or treating for a good 700 or so years years (with the occasional human sacrifice thrown in for good measure) I have known a few Wiccans — maybe I’m insulting them by dressing my kids up, but considering they go around most days of the year in black clothing and black make up, I’m not sure they have much to be offended by. But the way i understand it, what they celebrate on October 31 is not Halloween, it’s Samhain. And i imagine, they recognize the difference.


      1. One more thing: I would add that therein lies the twist to the experience I am having here in Israel. I am meeting many Jews who are very different to the Jews I’ve known my whole life living (mostly) in New Jersey. It’s redefining my Jewish experience — for good and for bad.


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