Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do Jews Celebrate Halloween?

Is it ethically right for a Jew to celebrate Halloween in America? My family thinks nothing of it, yet a person who I went to camp with may refuse to take part in the festivities of October 31. How far do we go? What is wrong with the holiday anyways? To understand the different opinions, I did some research on the topics. Using ten websites, reoccurring themes started to appear. Most started with the history of Halloween. Some even remarked how it is not even the religious elements that make Halloween displeasing to a Jew. However, Halloween presents "non-Jewish" values. Then, others talked about how Purim is an easy substitute. While adding up the verdict I got: seven no's, two yes's, and one website claimed it is up to personal opinion.

Historically, Halloween is a pagan holiday. Paganism is believing in a non-Abrahamic religion (ie Hinduism, Buddhism, polytheism). Halloween began in Ireland and Great Britain. The holiday was an official end to summer, a harvest festival. It was believed that the dead could rise up on this occasion. Beggars would be traded food to keep away the dead. Indeed, beggars were the first trick-or-treaters. However, paganism declined as Christians dominated the areas around the English channel. Halloween was a remaining element of Pagan culture. The Church decided to incorporate new holidays around the harvest festival. Halloween became the night before All Saint's Day. Like the pagans, Christians felt the dead rose on this holiday. Where do the Jews fall?

When immigration was huge in the early twentieth century, many of these cultures brought Halloween to the New World, particularly the Irish. Halloween became more and more Americanized. By the time the grandparents of today were born, Halloween was more commercial than religious at all. Jews saw the holiday no different than Thanksgiving or July 4th.

Jewish values are quite contrary to the values of Hallow's Eve. Jews value giving and tzedakah (charity). Halloween celebrates demanding and gluttony. Halloween represents death and ghosts. The Torah tells us that believing in magic is a sin against God. Do I sound one-sided? Think about Halloween. We dress up trying to scare people demanding "delights" that destroy our healthy state. Sounds great, right. On the other hand thousands of kids have smiles brought to their faces as candy fills their bags. Why exclude the Jews?

Many websites claimed Jews have a similar holiday. Purim is not the "Jewish Halloween" just as Hanukkah is not the "Jewish Christmas". However, Purim celebrates charity and unmasking ourselves. Esther is proud of who she is, yet we celebrate her triumph by wearing masks, indulging in treats, and watching the spiel. Jews have their fun in March. Does it replace October?

The Torah forbids the celebration of "gentile holidays". Fundamentalists would say that means everything from Halloween to Arbor Day to Boss' Day. Does that mean Jews have to sit out on Turkey Day or sit alone on New Year's Eve? In my opinion, not necessarily. Jews can celebrate the American holidays. We are American after all. Hence, I am going as Waldo this Halloween. To me, Halloween stops at the candy and has nothing to do with Paganism, All-Saints Day, or Death. However, I agree with the one website that said it up to personal opinion. As stated last week, Judaism is a hybrid of beliefs that have morphed over history. As a Jew living in America, I celebrate Halloween. (Share your opinion by voting on the side of the webpage!)

I was very careful about how I said that last sentence. A Jew living in America, not an American who happens to be Jewish. This is my balance. In the diaspora, we must decide where our allegiance belongs. Mine belongs first to God and the Torah, but also to the people of the United States. I am a citizen and a child of Israel. A man of two homelands. Unfortunately, Jews in the Holocaust forgot their religion. They became German or Polish, no Jew. I embrace America and its culture, but also Judaism and its richness.

To conclude, enjoy this weekend. Shabbat Shalom to all who observe the Sabbath and Happy Halloween to all who combine Americanism with their non-Pagan roots.

Works Cited:
"Halloween and Jews?" Being Jewish Web Site. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

"Jews and Halloween." Jewish Virtual Library - Homepage. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Pelaia, Ariela. "Ask the Rabbi: Is It OK for American Jews to Celebrate Halloween?" About Judaism. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Goldwasser, Rabbi Jeffery Wolfson. "Is It Okay for American Jews to Celebrate Halloween." About Judaism. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Chessin, Rabbi Judy. "Halloween Can Remind Jews to Hallow God's Prescence." S.F. Jewish Bay Area, 26 Oct. 2001. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Stahl, Rabbi Shmuel M. "Should Jews Celebrate Halloween?" Temple Beth-El, San Antonio, Texas. 27 Oct. 2006. Web. 24 Oct. 2010.

Freeman, Tzvi. "Do Jews Celebrate Halloween? - Miscellaneous." Chabad Lubavitch - Torah, Judaism and Jewish Info. Chabad Lubavitch. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

"Halloween Tradition? - Parenting & Family Issues." Chabad Lubavitch - Torah, Judaism and Jewish Info. Chabad Lubavitch. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Touger, By Malka. "Negative Commandment 30 - Negative - Jewish Kids." Chabad Lubavitch - Torah, Judaism and Jewish Info. Chabad Lubavitch. Web. 30 Oct. 2010. .

Miller, Mark. "Things Jews Find Far Scarier than Halloween." 22 Oct. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. .

Friday, October 22, 2010

Genesis Vayera Verse 18:1-22:24

Vayera is the portion usually read on Rosh Hashanah. Abraham is in the land. Now, God puts Abraham to his most trying test. God commands Abraham to bring his son, Isaac to the altar. Abraham then must slay and sacrifice Isaac for God. Isaac is Abraham's child. His own skin. Just as Abraham takes up his knife, God sends an angel to stop the madness. Abraham passed the challenge. A ram appears and is sacrificed in place of the boy. God promises Abraham a plentiful and fruitful nation bestowed upon his descendants. In fact, we hear about Rebecca's line at the very end of the chapter. Rebecca will be Isaac's wife.

What a contrast from last week! Last week, Abraham is father of the year. He saves Sodom. He is blessed with his pride, Isaac. This week Isaac is nearly killed! We can only imagine how much tension was between Abraham and Isaac. Especially Abraham! Abraham does not even tell his son what is going on. Luckily, the sacrifice did not go through.

Abraham is a father. Abraham is a man of God. Is it righteous or sinful to sacrifice a child? Abraham believes, like I, that religion trumps all. God is almighty. God knows what is right. Would I sacrifice my son or daughter if I had one? Who knows? We are more modern. Sacrifice is not a daily practice. Family is our support system. Religion is our quest for meaning. Family is our love. Religion is our hope. Family is always there for us. Religion is somewhat there, yet not visible. Genesis has many chaotic families, but religion is keen and clean. Think about what we have had so far with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his sons(Genesis 9:22 or so), and now Abraham and Isaac. Religion has solved every conflict to this point in the Torah.

It makes us think. Which is more important: Judaism at home or Judaism at synagogue? Is it more important to have mezzuzah or a rabbi to go to? Shabbat dinner or services? Should every Jewish family build a Sukkah or can we meet at Shul? It is possibly the very conundrum Abraham faces before heading up the mountain.

In my opinion, Jews must rely on their Jewish homes to have a pleasant experience with the Temple. It is not a mezzuzah or rabbi. The choice does not have to be made. Judaism is not slay Abraham or be sworn evil by God. Jews are a religion. Jews are also a culture. Secular Jews can be expert Israeli dancers and falafel makers. They are Jewish. Orthodox Jews can never take off a yarmulke until the day they die. They too, are Jewish. Jews vary. We are a hybrids of our history. Whether we are in Spain eating chicken by the pyranees en nuestras casas or lighting candles at Congregation B'Nai Shalom in Massachusetts. Jews are dispersed. We like it that way. It allows us to be a people of home, family, synagogue, religion, and culture. A people of God.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Genesis Lech Lecha Verses 12:1-17:27

Lech Lecha means "You Go" in Hebrew. That is genuinely the main idea of this parshat. The Torah introduces us to Abram, the patriarch of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic people. In order to be the patriarch, God puts Abram through 4 challenges. Almost as if God is the fraternity president of "Avot V'Emihot" (Fathers and Mothers). To get your name in the prayer, you must do this, this, this, and matter how out there the tasks seem. This week we explore if Abram is ready for House Aleph Bet.

At first, Abram is asked to pack everything up from his home in Haran, and move out to Canaan. Canaan is across the desert, but Abram just says okay. He brings his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. After that, Abram and Sarai head to Egypt to escape brief famine in their land. Abram must think fast. His wife is beautiful and he will be killed if he tells the Pharaoh they are married. Thinking on his toes, Abram claims Sarai is his sister. When the Pharaoh finds out this is false, he is not even mad In facts, he applauds Abram and sends him back to Canaan with people helping him and his wife at his side. Next, our patriarch can not take his nephew any longer. Lot is everything Abram is not. In short, Abram says, "You can go anywhere in the land, but you can't stay here." Lot settles in Sodom, the original sin city. When they are under attack, everybody is caught off guard in their own selfishness. Being self-centered nearly destroys the city and its residents. Suddenly, Abram comes to the rescue. HAVE NO FEAR ABRAM IS HERE! Abram triumphantly saves the city. For his accomplishment, the people offer him all their riches. Wise Abram turns them down! Finally, Abram is put to the test of carrying on his name. He goes to God hoping to have children with Sarai. Unfortunately, Sarai is not able to bare Abram's first child, Ishmael. God appears before Abram. Making a covenant, God promises the land of Canaan to Abram's people and his numerous offspring. Then, God blesses Abraham and Sarah with a beautiful, second child, Isaac. Abraham has passed his way through God's obstacle course.

Abraham, father of fathers, what a great guy! When I imagine raising my children, I will probably refer to my father, of course, but what about Abraham. He is sort of my father. God is my parent, but Abraham is a role model. He is determined to go to Canaan, clever in Egypt, modest in Sodom, and faithful with Sarah. Much like my dad, Abraham supports his wife, is good to other people, and seems to usuallly have an answer. Abraham is not just the leader of our people, but truly our parent.

When God put Abraham to the test, it made me ponder over whether our lives are just a test. There is no answer key or perfect score, but imagine every moment as a question. Should I go to school in shorts or jeans? Should I go for a run today or eat myself silly? Life throws itself at us. God does not always appear to us and say go to the Promised Land. As my dad taught me, some of God is inside all of us. To find God, we must look deep in our hearts and minds. Faith is from a positive attitude and persistence. Faith is the SAT course in life.

So having faith is important, but Abraham found his happiness from being a parent. Abraham wants nothing more, but to be a father. We were all kids, so it is certain that parenting brings us back to youth. I am sure that almost nine out of ten parents would say their children are their pride and joy. Through good or bad times, God will guide us from within. Abraham and Sarah are the young parents who move from hustling,bustling New York, let's call it Haran, to New Jersey, let's call it Israel.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Genesis Noah Verses 6:9-11:32

Most of us know the story of Noah's ark. In the beginning, God is frustrated with the world, so Noah is ordered to build an ark for the great flood God has prepared. Two of each animal gather onto the boat and it rains for forty days and forty nights. Noah sends a dove to see if the land is dry. The dove brings back an olive branch when peace come over the land. God promises that the world will never again be destroyed entirely in all eternity. It is a lovely story, but what happens next is utterly whack.

Over in Babylon, every person on Earth has been brought together. They speak the same language. In fact, every person is equal and in the same domain. As a human race, we built a great city. Our great achievement is the remarkable Tower of Babel. The masterpiece in construction reaches up to God and the heavens. Then, God decides to pop in. Pleased with the progress of the new human race, God mixes everybody's speech up and disperses us across the world.

What is up with God? We were a unified people. Humans helped each other. Is this not what God wanted after the flood wiped out Earth's rough draft? Is this not the real deal? Personal beliefs of mine are that God knows all past, present, and future to the moment. Were humans put on this Earth as a challenge? Are we meant to be a happy people?

We all struggle for happiness. Think about this: no matter where we live, how much money we have, how large our house is, or how much we hate or love one another, we are one people. Go a step further in think about The Lion King II song "We Are One". Every germ, human, animal, and tree is the same. God created us from one person, Adam. (What a great name for the first dude!) God already wiped us out with a flood, once. Adonai promised never to do it again.

Why are we so dispersed then? God shows us that humans succeed together. Obviously, all six billion of us can not fit in the city of Babylon. Well, what if we all tried to achieve a goal?

We just dropped all our guns and ambitions and jealousy to the Earth. It's for sure that God promised not to destroy the Earth. Even if Adonai wanted to, we are doing a pretty nice job screwing the eco-systems ourselves. We built towers to the heavens. The oil rigs are nice and tall, but all that smog is destroying God's sky. The sky was said to be a reflection of the sea. Thanks to greedy oil companies this April the waters are just as gray as the sky is. God does not even need to destroy the human race. No ark is going to save the trees and the air we have destroyed. But if we all came together....the world could be saved.

Did you know a rainbow is the symbol God chose to shows us that we have a covenant with the Lord? A rainbow. Every color coming together as one. After the worst of storms, the sun shines and a bridge from heaven to Earth appears in the sky. Even though it has poured, God knows that there is a promise that no rain will ever destroy our planet again. God shows us that it is possible to have everything come together. After the storms of centuries, where is the human rainbow?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Genesis Bereshit Verses 1:1-6:8

I have now been a Jewish adult for one year. Last year, at this time, Bereshit was being uttered with myself on the Bima. We studied the seven days of creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and the Tower of Babel. The story has not changed, but boy has my world.

From 13 to 14, I see the world. I see how God created a beautiful world. With light, so simple, the ocean and sky, the land, the sun and moon, fish and birds, animals and humans. Most of all God created this wonderful day named Shabbat. I think back to my summer on the Moshava. Every star lit the sky and all of God's wonders were present.

Everything God made contains an ineffable beauty. God made us in the Lord's divine image, but we screwed it up. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. They were tempted by sin and could not resist. Humans fault is and has always been self-control. As I started my path of being a man, I got to see the situation. I learned that self-control is hard, but being banished from the garden is harder.

Back in the time of Adam and Eve, their kids were not the best of friends. Cain kills Abel out of jealousy. Not only have I matured, but my adulthood has restored my family values. My sister is my best friend and my parents are very closely tied for second. Also, through Torah I have learned the dangers of jealousy. I resist jealousy so that I never throw that stone.

As for the Tower of Babel, I believe I gained a new intelligence and teamwork this year. I started down my trilingual path to repair the Tower of Babel, but as I learn English, Hebrew, and Spanish I can not help but think why the Tower of Babel could be a punishment. From their mistake, I learned to take at least some responsibility. I take part in housework, so that we can understand each other and not come tumbling down.

Bereshit means creation. I knew that last year too. The difference is I now created my own world.