The WORD – 10/30/08

This week’s Torah portion is named after the gentleman who built an ark and brought the world’s animals on board with him during the Flood.  As we are introduced to Noah, the Torah tells that he was “Tzadik tamim…b’dorotav – righteous and blameless in his generation.”


For centuries, readers of the Bible have wondered why that extra word “b’dorotav – in his generation” was added.  Couldn’t Noah simply be righteous and blameless?  Why the qualifier?

Ultimately, the rabbis decided that this was meant as a compliment, because it takes incredible strength to follow your faith when it seems as though everyone else is going in a different direction.


Noah may have been the first to discover this reality, but he was certainly not the last.


Tomorrow evening, every young Jewish person – your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews included! – will get a taste of this dilemma that we all face as American Jews.  As we all know, tomorrow is October 31st – better known as Halloween.  It is probably one of the top three days of the year for any kid – rivaling the first night of Hanukkah and one’s birthday.  Yet, tomorrow is also Friday, which means that we also welcome in Shabbat at sundown.  Is there a way to acknowledge both of these events?  Is there a way to have one foot in the Jewish world and one foot in the secular world?  I think that there is.


While much is made of Halloween’s pagan origins, the truth is that the Halloween celebrated today by Americans bears little or no resemblance to the harvest festival celebrated by the ancient Celts and Gaels.  It has become a secular holiday with two major customs associated with it: dressing up in costume and trick-or-treating.  It seems to me that we can infuse these customs with Jewish values.


For example, when choosing costumes with our children, hopefully we can take the opportunity to talk about modesty.  In particular, some of the costumes available for girls are incredibly inappropriate.  Further, when choosing what to give out for Halloween and in assessing the night’s “haul” it is an opportunity to discuss Kashrut – what may we eat and what is not permissible.


However, there is an additional layer.  We can “Juda-ize” this holiday and make it better.  Instead of focusing on getting as much candy as possible, give kids a chance to give out the candy and feel the pleasure of sharing with others.  Or, when our kids come home with enough candy to last until 2010, take them over to a hospital and donate the candy to the pediatric unit for children who were not able to go trick-or-treating.


Finally, when Halloween falls on a Friday night as it does this year, we have another opportunity.  No matter how quick your dinner is going to be tomorrow night, you can still add candles, challah and grape juice in order to make your dinner a Shabbat dinner.  Plus, here at the SJCC, we will also be celebrating as Gabby Zepnick becomes a Bat Mitzvah.  She will be making a public declaration about her intention to be a contributing member of our community.  It would be a shame if no one from the community were present to hear that declaration.  


Services start at 7PM.  I know that in my neighborhood most of the Trick-or-Treating will be done by then.  So, I won’t feel so uncomfortable leaving my house unattended at that time.  It sure would be a great statement to Gabby – and to all of our kids! – if we could figure out a way to juggle a secular American holiday with our observance of Shabbat.


In today’s world, it is not reasonable or necessary to ignore Halloween because of our Judaism.  However, I would like to suggest that we should not ignore our Judaism in order to celebrate Halloween.






About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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