Tuesday, October 31, 2006

hallowe'en and judaism

tonight is the night.

children almost everywhere will be dressing up and going crazy collecting that valuable commodity otherwise known to them as CANDY!!

traditionally, more observant streams of judaism don't hold well to the celebration of this holiday. this is mainly due to its roots in history where at various times jews were attacked and even killed on this day and because of its pagan and christian origins. the holiday of purim is seen as the jewish equivalent to this holiday. this is not to say that there are not going to be many a jewish kid collecting candy tonight but according to alfred j. kotlach in the second jewish book of why,
Halloween originated in early Roman times (before the advent of Christianity) as a holiday celebrated by Druids (priests of a religious order in ancient Gaul and Britain). The celebration marked the end of summer, and pumpkins, cornstalks, and similar products of the earth were used in the feasting and merrymaking.

In the eighth century, when the Church saw it would not succeed in weaning people away from celebrating the pagan holiday, it incorporated Halloween into the Christian calendar. The holiday would be celebrated on November the first as a day honoring all saints, hence the name All Saints' Day. The night before, October 31, was called "holy [hallowed] evening," and many of the old pagan Druid practices were retained in its celebration, including the dressing up as ghosts, goblins, witches, fairies, and elves.

Some authorities object to Jews participatin in Halloween on the grounds that the holiday is chukat hagoy, "a Gentile practice," in violation of the biblical commandment, "You shall not follow the customs of the nation which I am casting out before you" (Leviticus 20:33). In Eastern Europe, Halloween was also a night when many pogroms would occur against Jews. Many Jews, however, consider the holiday secular in nature and, as with New Year's, its pagan and and Christian connections have long ceased to be a factor.

so without celebrating hallowe'en in this post per se, let me introduce some scary jewish characters:

לילית or lilith, who was adam's first wife, is a significant figure in judaism & kabbalah and is regarded as a she demon of the night. lilith has to this day lived on and figured within the lore of other cultures past & present. it is very interesting to note that it is said that lilith is the only one who ever knew Hashem's [G-d's] real name and is said to have left the garden of eden before adam & eve's demise of her own accord.

there are several superstitions surrounding lilith. these mainly regard young boys at the time of their circumcision where they wear an amulet which is placed around the neck or hamsas [protective amulets against the evil eye] and red ribbons go on or around the crib to be protect him against her lilith's daughters [the lilin] entering his young body. it is seen as a sort of demonic possession. another tradition and/or custom is the waiting to cut a young boy's hair until his third birthday. these customs still exist today, especially within the ultraorthodox communities.

image: Lilith by John Collier, 1892


another scary figure in judaism is that of the dybbuk. in folklore, the dybbuk is a disembodied human spirit that must wander restlessly. it is burdened by former sins until it inhabits the body of a living person. believing in such spirits was a very common thing in eastern europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. in order to cure this dilemma, people thought to be possessed by a dybbuk were taken to a ba'al shem who would then carry out rites of exorcism! you can read more in this ghostvillage article about the dybbuk and spiritual possession.


one more frightening figure in judaism is called the golem.

photo: seated golem, netcall.com.au

the golem is often illustrated something like this:

image: armagic.com

the following is said to be the instructional hints [in hebrew] on how to create a golem from rabbi eleazar of wormes (worms).

The famous Hebrew manuscript "Sefer Yetzirah" has been attributed to a source of how to create a golem from inert material. But, no where in this manual is a step-by-step guide on creating a golem. Yet, there are hints.

"Golem" is the Hebrew word for an unformed mass or body.

When you "roll" the body into a form, and utter phrases over its body, you can bring the golem to life.

The methods handed down over the centuries are usually the same: form a body for the golem; create a mantra to utter over it; transfer your soul or some named soul into the golem through your breath; and often, put a parchment with some sacred writings inside its mouth or write on its forehead.

The golem is suppose to move on its own- an independent automaton.
information & image excerpted from the golema site.

* * * * *

and if you celebrate hallowe'en ....

BOO! stay away from those goblins & black cats!

for some great, always tastefully-done ideas to celebrate hallowe'en, check out the martha stewart site. recipes, costumes and fun trivia.