by Rabbi Elizabeth Wood
A lot of people talk about the “December Dilemma” of Christmas and Chanukah. Some interfaith families struggle with how to celebrate both, how to respect both traditions, or how to appropriately integrate both holidays under one roof. Other Jewish families struggle simply with the proximity of Chanukah to Christmas – constantly having to defend Chanukah as not being “the Jewish Christmas” or with trying to lessen the emphasis on the gift-giving and increase awareness of the tradition and history of the holiday. Whatever category you fit into, the December Dilemma is a reality of being a Reform Jew in the 21st century.
Some of us might also feel a little bit of strain when it comes to Halloween. Although it is not viewed as a “religious holiday” its origins have a religious background and the tradition deals with things like spirits, the devil, and pagan Celtic festivals in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, Halloween is taken much more lightly by the general American public and is meant to be fun (I think). But, it can often result in dangerous situations and an unnecessary amount of candy and treats, for no good reason. Some people argue that celebrating Halloween is antithetical to Judaism. Others believe that you can do the same things on Halloween as you can do on Purim, and that is makes much more sense for us Jews, religiously. You want to wear costumes, go around visiting neighbors, eat sugary treats and celebrate by being silly? Wait for Purim!
But is that really the answer? Perhaps, as modern Jews, we don’t completely abandon a secular holiday, and try to justify it with a religious one. Perhaps we don’t want to give up a day that is fun or silly, or that the rest of the world enjoys, simply because it doesn’t speak to the religious aspect of our lives that is used to creating meaning from holidays. Perhaps, the solution is to infuse that day with some meaning of our own.
On Halloween day, the junior youth group at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills will be reading stories about the Dybbuk (Jewish spirit), the Golem, and other tales of spirits within Jewish tradition. We want to teach our children that it’s okay to engage in activities on Halloween, but that there are also Jewish perspectives to be considered. Perhaps you and your family can make costumes that have a funny Jewish theme to them. And then, you can reuse them when Purim rolls around a few months later.
Or, if you’re really stuck, the URJ has a great resource on ways to make Halloween feel more Jewish as a family, without completely abandoning this day altogether.
Is Halloween good for the Jews? Is it against everything we believe in? Is it just another dilemma for us to work through in our modern world? Or, is it perhaps another chance for us to get creative, think outside the box, and continue to build meaningful Jewish lives in our modern world? You decide.
Rabbi Elizabeth Wood is the associate rabbi educator at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in Forest Hills, N.Y.
This piece was originally posted on Sects and the City and published on this blog in October 201o. The original comments are included below. Please add your own and continue this ongoing conversation!