Making Halloween Jewish

Transforming the October holiday into a Jewish celebration.

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The mitzvah of this holiday, in keeping with the increasingly apparent change of seasons, is the collection and distribution of warm clothes, coats, and blankets for those in need. The mitzvah requires a berakhah. The most likely candidate is "Blessed are You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, malbish arumim--who clothes the naked." Awareness of homelessness and the need to respond to the homeless would certainly be a related part of the day.

An important element of the celebration would be the custom of having children go from house to house to be given candy by householders who thus symbolically express their wish that the season of darkness and cold be a sweet one. If the holiday catches on, there will no doubt be special foods (perhaps pumpkin pie, apple cider, and "comfort foods"), songs, and so on.

The holiday needs a name, and here I am not sure where to go. My best thought so far is Chag Or Habayit-- the holiday of the light of home.

Note that such a celebration is rooted in American seasons and weather (unlike Tu Bishvat, for example, which celebrates trees in the dead of winter because spring is on the horizon in the Land of Israel). This would be a quintessentially American Jewish observance. Note too that the holiday, as I have described it, leaves out some crucial elements of Halloween, including witches, goblins, ghosts, and pranks. But our Jewish cultural borrowing has always been piece-meal. We adopt those elements that we can use, leaving others behind. If the holiday catches on, there may come a time when it is linked to some event in Jewish history, and when its connection to Halloween is largely forgotten.

These suggestions may sound tongue-in-cheek, but I intend them as a challenge. We who live in an open society, who no longer must fear the Evil Others among whom we live, must now begin to think through what elements of the ambient culture can enrich us. I am honestly not sure if I'm ready to carve a Ya'akov lantern, but I'm certainly willing to consider it. Are you?

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Rabbi David Nelson

Rabbi David Nelson's rabbinic experience includes five years in a small congregation, fifteen years at CLAL, a think-tank and center for leadership education, five years in a community center, and three years as the primary writer and teacher for the Reform Movement's Israel organization. He is now the campus rabbi and faculty member in Religion at Bard College in upstate New York.