Halloween is just around the corner, and I cannot tell you how excited I am. As a horror movie fan, a former special effects makeup artist, and someone who loves demanding free candy from strangers, this holiday has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Yet, it’s a pretty Un-Jewish holiday. Its origins date back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was altered by Roman occupation and then by Christianty, turning it into a celebration of saints. So if we’re keeping track of that, Halloween originated in polytheism, was further altered by another polytheistic group, and was finally impacted by a religion that fundamentally differs with Judaism.
Beyond all of that, so much of Halloween centers on the dead (ghosts are out and about, the line between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest, and all that), which is antithetical to Judaism. Judaism speaks very little on death in our texts. Like all things in Judaism, different denominations will differ on specific philosophies and practices, but a general lack of fixation on death is very common across all denominations. In fact, Judaism’s mourning traditions function to ensure that the dead get their respect while ensuring the living don’t experience an excess of grief, gradually enabling them to move forward.
Along with these themes, Halloween also has a familiar cast of characters: The Vampire, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Werewolf, and The Mummy to name a few. For me however, the most iconic halloween cast member is the classic witch. Green skin, a wart on her nose, and the trademark hat among other traits make the witch The Witch. Even beyond Halloween, my favorite characters in any movie or tv show have always been the witches. However, you may be shocked to learn that the common portrayal of witches is an antisemetic caricature of Jewish Women. The Green skin (indicating a general otherness), the hooked nose, modest clothing (associated with orthodox women), the cackle (showing loudness and rudeness), and use of magic are all common stereotypes Jewish people have dealt with for centuries. This is not the most comfortable feeling, knowing that some of my favorite characters are sexist and antisemetic stereotypes played out at the expense of my culture.
In conclusion, I have none. The only thing I can leave you with is this: dissonance between my secular and Jewish identities is common, not just on October 31st. It leads to me feeling a need to sacrifice my Jewish or non-Jewish joy; thus far I have never achieved true peace in either identity. Maybe it’s a cop out, but in Judaism, there is a belief that if you are born Jewish or convert to Judaism, you are and have always been Jewish forever. Meaning you cannot convert from Judaism, nor act in such a way that would take away your Jewish identity. It’s a bit of a loophole, but I find some sort of peace in knowing that no matter how I choose to act, I am still Jewish, I may be considered a bad Jew, but I am Jewish nonetheless and that is fine by me.
Do you find there to be an internal struggle between your religious and secular identities? Do you have ways to get a level of inner peace?