Tag Archives: Halloween

A Very Jewish Halloween

by Sala Levin

Hey, Bette Midler's Jewish, too!

Halloween approacheth, and with it the opportunity to impress your friends with the wittiness and originality of your costume. Or–if you’re like this blogger–the opportunity to take a look in your closet, decide you’re not nearly clever enough for this particular holiday, and celebrate instead with reruns of Hocus Pocus and a pumpkin beer.

But don’t despair yet, costume-less readers, because, when it comes to Halloween, we take our cues from Theodor Herzl: If you will it, it is no dream. So with that determination in mind, here are some last-minute costume ideas inspired by news about Jews. (Because, really, what is Halloween if not secular Purim?)

  • The Bluth Family: Pop-culture snobs rejoiced when Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of the late, much-lauded Arrested Development, announced earlier this month that the television show would likely return to airwaves for new episodes and even a movie. So grab some friends, stash some bananas in the freezer before Monday night and dress up as the gotta-be-Jewish Bluths (or as most-certainly-Jewish cast members David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter).
  • Tavi Gevinson: We admit it: We will never be as cool as Tavi, and, well, we’re jealous. When we wear crocheted cardigans and patterned leggings we look like Nana circa 1983; Tavi does it and she gets introduced to Karl Lagerfeld (not to mention a profile in The New Yorker). The Jewish 15-year-old fashion blogger from the Chicago suburbs even found biblical fashion inspiration in her bat mitzvah: “The Nazirites wore just enough to keep them warm.” But did they wear sweaters with balls of fluff? We may never know, but we’re willing to bet Nana has one of those hiding in her closet somewhere; she might be willing to part with it for a night.
  • Natalie Portman’s baby: Little Aleph broke the hearts of Jewish men and their mothers everywhere when he was born in June. Tiny tutus and black feathers are essential for this costume.
  • Anthony Weiner: Wear gray boxer-briefs and carry an iPhone. Poor decision-making optional, but encouraged.
  • John Galliano: Paint on a thin mustache, wear a gray hat, smoke cigarettes and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Try not to tell people how you feel about Hitler.
  • Hipster Henry Kissinger: Because you already own the glasses.

Kosher for Halloween

By Daniel Kieval

It’s Halloween in the suburbs. For a couple of weeks, already, the neighborhood decorations have been out in full force: pumpkins, black cats, spiders, ghosts. Then there are the houses that hold nothing back, turning lawns into graveyards complete with tombstones, skeletons, and back-from-the-dead monsters, such as mummies and zombies.

With kids and parents across the country designing costumes, planning parties, and fortifying candy supplies, Halloween may seem an unlikely time to start pondering Judaism.  After all, the chaos of the fall holidays has passed, and Jews are supposed to be enjoying a well-deserved break, not starting in on more holidays. Yet, surrounded as we are by the Halloween culture, it may be worthwhile to ask the question: Does Halloween’s glorification of blood and gore, of demons and the living dead have any relation to Jewish values? Can Jews learn from zombies?

Jewish tradition has its fair share of monsters, spirits, and dead bodies coming to life. Folktales are one classic source. Stories tell of the giant clay Golem who saved the Jews of Prague; the young bride possessed by a malicious spirit known as the Dybbuk; and departed ancestors popping out of their graves in Tevye’s dream in Fiddler on the Roof. The Talmud, too, contains references to the dark and supernatural – one striking passage tells us that one can see demons by burning a part of a black cat and rubbing the ashes in one’s eye, while anotherwarns that the demon Shabiri will strike blind anyone who drinks water at night. Even the Amidah prayer, recited daily by Jews for centuries, contains a wish for the resurrection of the dead, t’chiyat ha-meitim, that some associate with the coming of the Messiah.

So yes, in our written tradition we’ve got spirits, we’ve got monsters, we’ve got dead bodies coming to life. But in our day-to-day practice we have a concept called kavod ha-met, respect and care for the dead. It is for kavod ha-met that Jews do not display a dead body before burial, nor do we cremate or embalm them (sorry, mummies). In fact, Jewish tradition considers caring for a dead body the greatest deed one can perform, since there is no way for the recipient to return the favor. Those who engage in this practice are called the chevra kadisha, the holy community. Halloween associates dead things with gore, decay, and terror. The chevra kadisha clean, purify, and dress the body and then sit with it until it can be buried. Where Halloween wants to make us feel repulsed by the dead, Jewish ritual seeks to bring us close to them in loving care.

Perhaps, then, the more worthwhile question is: Can zombies learn from Jews? Halloween can be an occasion to think about our own relationship to death. Is it something creepy, disgusting and scary, something that we avoid except in the context of horror movies and media violence? Or is it a natural, if difficult, part of existence, something that reminds us to glorify life and appreciate what we have while we have it? Judaism reminds us that it’s not wrong to enjoy a good monster story on occasion, but it also reminds us that in real life dead people are not monsters, and may even be pathways to holiness.