Parashat Chayei Sarah

Friday, October 29, 2021/23 Heshvan, 5782
Parashat Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:1−25:18

Dear Friends,

Today my children went to school with big smiles on their faces. Dressed up in Halloween costumes, they wondered out loud about what their friends would be wearing for the school’s Halloween parade. Their excitement was heartwarming. After a pandemic Halloween, they had been looking forward to this day for some time. While this Halloween won’t be a full-on celebration, it is a huge step forward from last year. This year, my kids are celebrating Halloween, and I couldn’t be more delighted.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Is it okay for Jews to celebrate Halloween?” Just about every year, someone asks me this question. Halloween does, after all, have pagan roots. It likely emerged from a Celtic tradition, which had a pagan religious holiday, Samhain, on October 31, marking the end of the harvest season. During Samhain, the Celts believed that spirits and ancestors could access their world and wreak havoc. The Church adapted this pagan holiday into All Souls Day, which takes place on November 1 each year. The Talmud is clear that Jews are forbidden from partaking in pagan holidays, so some Jews choose to sit this one out. Although the holiday does have pagan roots, Halloween has evolved into a completely secular occasion. Most people are unaware of any pagan or Christian roots at all. Since Halloween’s beginnings are no longer recognizable, I see no problem in celebrating Halloween. In fact, I’m delighted that my children can partake.

Halloween is a holiday filled with candy and costumes, frolicking, and fun. It is also a holiday filled with spooky stories about imaginary creatures. Whether you choose to celebrate Halloween or not (two Jews, three opinions), we can all enjoy stories from the Jewish tradition. Jewish lore happens to contain many spooky stories of its own, from the Golem monster manufactured from clay to evil spirits called dybbuks that wander the Earth. There are giants called Nefilim, a sea monster called the Leviathan, and even a demon named Lillith, said to be Adam’s first wife. There is even the story of the witch of Endor who speaks with ghosts.

Here are a few resources to learn more:

‘Spooktacularly’ good Jewish stories
Monsters, Demons, and Other Mythical Creatures in Jewish Lore
Monsters and Monstrosity in Jewish History: From the Middle Ages to Modernity by Iris Idelson-Shein and Christian Wiese

Happy discovering, and Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Cassi Kail
rabbikail@bethelsp.org