Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. And although I stopped dressing up (and for the most part, going out) on Halloween, I still get a thrill out of carving a pumpkin and laughing at the ridiculous oversexed costumes that are on the market these days.
So what does Halloween have to do with Judaism? Simple: Purim.
Purim and Halloween have more than the obvious dressing-up-and-acting-out shtick in common. The real common denominator of the two holidays is that they came from somewhere else and were turned into something completely different than what they started as.
Halloween find its roots in the Celtic holiday Samhain, remixed with All Souls Day from the Roman Catholic world. Purim, some scholars believe, is actually a Babylonian holiday based around the stories of Ishtar and Marduk. Ishtar became Esther, Marduk became Mordechai and that’s that. You don’t have to believe it, of course
I like how Judaism is able to take what’s outside of itself and bring it in. That’s a good skill to have: it means survival, flexibility, openness. It also means that Judaism can have an impact on broader culture. Jewish people have taken part in the labor movement, feminism, civil and immigrant rights, environmentalism, and many other great movements in this country. Why? Because it’s tikkun olam…it’s part of our culture, whatever that word even means these days. Culture swapping is good, not because it means that we get to have more food filled holidays, but because we, the Jewish people, can export our goodness, our godliness, into the world, and make the world a better place.
So here’s my idea for Jew-ing up Halloween. Before you take your kids Trick or Treating, buy a bag of candy and some costumes and take it down to the local women and children shelter. Give them a little bit of fun. And then go Trick or Treating. It’s a mitzvah, so if you’re the type to worry about chillul HaShem because you are celebrating a “goyish” holiday, at least you’ve canceled your sins out a little bit (if that’s even possible).
Written by Rabbi Patrick