Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween: Treif or Treat?

It's that time of the year again. The Jack-o-lanterns, pumpkins, goblins and ghouls gave it away. My least favourite goyish holiday is here again. Halloween is celebrated in Anglo-Saxon countries worldwide and is considered a national holiday. Many Jews unfortunately participate in the Halloween festivities: trick-or-treating, decorating the house and dressing up. So is Halloween kosher?

While many Jews today prefer to focus on the universal aspect of Judaism, tikkun olam, morality, ethics, etc., Judaism demands that Jews remain a separate people. God tells Moses to teach the people:

"I am the Lord, your God. Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan to where I am bringing you. Do not follow their customs (be-hukotehem lo teileichu)" (Leviticus 18:1-3, cf. also, 20:23).

Deuteronomy suggests that this prohibition is intended to prevent idolatry:

"Take heed to yourself lest you be trapped by following them, after they are destroyed from before you; and lest you inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?' that I may also do likewise" (Deuteronomy 12:30).

While many halakhic authorities understand these injunctions to be limited to the customs of the Canaanites and Egyptians, the Rambam understands it to be a prohibition of following any non-Jewish rite or ritual. The Torah is warning us against adopting chukat hagoy, gentile customs which will lead us to assimilate. He writes:

"We do not walk after the ways of the idolaters. We do not assimilate ourselves to them; not in our clothing and not in other things like this, as it says, 'do not walk after the ways of the gentiles' (Leviticus 20:23)…Rather, a Jew should be distinct from them and recognizable through one's clothing and one's other actions, just as one is distinct from them in one's thoughts and characteristics" (Laws concerning Idolatry, 11:1).

Halloween, although today it is mostly devoid of religious significance, has pagan and Christian roots. The philosophy behind the festival is idolatrous and antithetical to the Jewish worldview. According to Wikipedia:

"Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (Irish pronunciation: [ˈsˠaunʲ]; from the Old Irish samain). The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year". Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, now known as Halloween, the boundary between the alive and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them."

The Catholic Church celebrates Halloween as All Saint's Day and special services are held in churches worldwide. Why would any Jew celebrate a holiday even remotely connected to the Roman Catholic Church? Historically, many pogroms occurred on Halloween. Jews would be kidnapped, murdered or brutalized as part of the celebration, since Jews were associated with evil, the devil and witches.

The pagan worldview in which Halloween took root is completely contrary to Judaism's teachings. There are no ghosts and goblins, heavenly families, satanic adversaries or demons. There is only Him, the One and Only. Halloween, or Samhain, was a worship of nature and the spirits which rules it. Judaism, however, is insistent that all of nature is subservient to Him.

In short, there is nothing kosher about Halloween. It originates in pagan adoration of nature and was eventually appropriated by the Church as a day to celebrate all of their saints, many of whom were virulent anti-semites. In Eastern Europe, Halloween was a time when pogroms usually broke out. Jews weren't able to celebrate the holiday because they were hiding in cellars for their lives. Tainted with paganism, christianity and a bloody history of anti-semitism, Halloween is treif, treif, treif. This year, Halloween falls on erev shabbos, which makes it all the more unkosher. Instead of dressing up to commemorate pagan worship of nature, Jews should celebrate the day which is testimony to G-d's Creation. Ditch the ghosts and pumpkins and switch them for shabbos candles and kiddush.

I certainly won't be answering my door. But if you want to wish me a good shabbos, I'll be ready for your knock.

Cross-posted to the Truth about Moshiach

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Emunah and Bitachon on Sukkot

Today is the second to last day of Sukkot. For 6 days, we have sat in our Sukkah, amidst the cold and chill, shaken by wind and rain, and yet we stand. We have eaten our meals out here. During the week-long chag, we have ventured forth from our warm, comfortable homes to make the sukkah, this little temporary hut, our dwelling place.

The sukkah, its bare walls and schach roof, teaches us that life is temporary. Despite our best intentions to secure ourselves, life is just as shaky and rough as a sukkah.  There was once a man traveling through Europe in the 1800’s. He came to the town where the Chofetz Chaim had lived. The traveler stopped in to meet the great Talmid Chuchum. When he arrived at the house, he saw that the Chofetz Chaim lived in a tiny home. He knocked on the door and when he looked inside he saw a nearly empty one-bedroom apartment. The traveler asked the Chofetz Chaim, “aren’t you the great Chofetz Chaim? How can you live like this? Where are all of your possessions?” The Chofetz Chaim turned to the traveler and posed the same question. “Where are all of your possessions? All you have with you is a suitcase.” The traveler answered, “Well, I am just passing through,” to which the Chofetz Chaim responded, “I too am just passing through.”

Out here, away from our big secure brick walls, we have none other to rely on that HaShem. In the sukkah, we are literally in His presence. It makes us realize how all of the events of our lives, all of the pain, the suffering, the blessings and the harshness, how all of it comes from HaShem. We are required to look upwards and to call out unto Him. In the sukkah, there is no hiding from the Ultimate Reality: HaShem, the One and Only.

The Talmud quotes two opinions as to why we sit in the sukkah. Rabbi Akivah explains that it is because the Children of Israel sat in sukkot when they left Egypt. Rabbi Eliezer holds that it represents the clouds of glory that G-d encircled Israel in during their sojourn in the desert. The Shulcha Aruch, which never holds by the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, surprisingly agrees with him. So what are the clouds of glory? Why do we commemorate them as opposed to all of the other miracles that G-d performed for us in the desert? The answer is simply. G-d provided the Nation of Israel with heavenly manna and a travelling well of water during our 40 years. And yet we don't commemorate those miracles because G-d had to provide us with food and water. He took us out of Egypt so He had the responsibility of feeding us. But the Clouds of Glory were simply for our own comfort. G-d led us by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He flattened out the desert for us, raised valleys and lowered mountains. He did not let our foot falter. HaShem protected us from the elements, made sure that we didn't shvitz or get uncomfortable. The Clouds of Glory are HaShem going the extra mile to show us how much He loves us. So Sukkot is the celebrationg of G-d's love for Am Yisrael.

Yisrael, betach be'HaShem, ezram u'maginam hu. Israel, trust in HaShem, their Helper and Shield. Everything that happens to us comes directly from HaShem, the all Merciful Father. Despite the apparent harshness and injustice of a situation, it is all for the best. HaShem is kind to all and only wants us to grow. Harsh and sweet both come from HaShem as test for out own good.

Chag sameach!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reflections on the Akko Riots

Once again, the bubble of coexistence has burst before our eyes. It is plain to all those who are willing to see that tolerance and respect are not universal. In the city that some believed proved how Jews and Arabs can live in peace, violent riots have broken out.

The scene is reminiscent of medieval Europe- certainly not 21st century Israel. On the holiest day of the Jewish year, when even secular Jews respect the sanctity of Yom Kippur, an Arab driver came zooming into a Jewish area of Akko, music blaring, in a deliberate provocation. Fearing an attack similar to the ones in Jerusalem involved Arabs and vehicles, Jewish residents attempted to chase the provocateur off. Soon after, a rumour spread that the Jews had murdered this Arab driver. A call from the minaret went out to avenge this attack. Hundreds of Arab youth armed with axes converged on the Jewish areas screaming, 'death to the Jews!'. Many Jews hid in their homes until the duration of the holiday, until the police arrived.

What drove this sudden outburst of hatred? Were we not told time and time again that Jews and Arabs are cousins and that are differences are merely political? We are fed a constant stream of historical revisionism about the Jewish experience in the Arabian exile and are told to calm down. And yet, the provocation was clearly religious in nature. On a day when Jews, religious and secular alike, do not drive, fast and conduct themselves in complete solemnity and seriousness, an Arab drives into the area with his music on full blast, honking and blaring. There can be no excuse for such a blatant desecration. To further incite the crowd against the Jewish residents of Akko, the same tower from which Islam's prayers are broadcast was used to call for attack on Jews. Axe-wielding Arabs attacked Jews and vandalized their property in a pogrom in the heart of the Jewish state on Judaism's holiest of days.

The rationale behind the pogrom is one deeply rooted in the theology of Islam. Arab leaders, Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian and "Israeli" citizens, condemned the Israeli "occupation" of Akko. Akko, well within the so-called Green Line borders, was being referred to as occupied territory. It is the same mentality that calls Tel-Aviv and Haifa occupied. The Arabs feel that every inch of Israel, whether pre-67 borders or past, is occupied territory. According to their faith, Jews are to be tolerated as second-class dhimmis, with all the humiliations and degradations that accompany such a status. In their mind, there is no difference between Tel-Aviv or Ramallah- the Jews are not to rule over any Islamic land. These dhimmis must accept their condition willingly or be subjugated.

Plainly put, Israel's Arab population is not merely another group of Israelis of a different religion. It is a hostile fifth-column intent on destroying the Jewish state from within. For many years when the Arabs feared Israel's reaction, they sat quietly. Now, feeling Israel's growing lethargy and indecision, they are becoming ever-more assertive and vocal. They know that after this riot, Israel's politicians will wring their hands and scurry over to Akko to appease them, like good little ghetto Jews, cooperative dhimmis. Seeing Israel's extreme willingness to compromise over any issue, to surrender land, expel Jews or release terrorists, without guaranteed reciprocal compromises from the Arab side, the Arabs feel that Israel's days are numbered. Assaults on Jews in Judea and Samaria are growing more common as the police and authorities do nothing to prevent them. The Arabs are acting like they are masters of this house.

It is time for Israel to assert its right to Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel. A renewed Zionist commitment to the Land will shatter Arab hopes for Israel's impending demise. Unfortunately, in today's climate of post-Zionism and corruption, Israel's leaders seem more interested in currying favour with the international community instead of putting Jewish interests first. No doubt, violent attacks will increase until either Israel wakes up or finds itself thrown into the sea. This being the holiday of Sukkot, when Jews leave their secure homes and dwell in wooden huts for a week, I will not put my trust in the seemingly "secure" government and security authorities. As our flimsy Sukkot indicate, our only hope comes from Above. Israel's leaders should take a cue from the Lulav, one of the four species which we shake on Sukkot, which is invalidated is its spine is broken. A spineless Jew is not kosher. That is a lesson that Israel would be wise to heed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chag Sameach!

Wishing all of Am Yisrael, and the entire world, a chag sameach and may our simchah be completed by the arrival of Eliyahu Hanavi and Moshiach Tzidekeneinu.