Purim vs. Halloween: Religious significance creates different meaning for Jewish holiday

posted in: March 2015, Opinion | 0
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By Senaya Savir, staff writer, @SenayaSavir

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Everyone looks to a holiday as a little escape and break from their everyday lives. Whether it’s for religious or traditional reasons, holidays bring excitement and fun to our typical schedules.

This month, the Jews celebrated Purim. Every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month Adar, the Jewish people commemorate their salvation in ancient Persia where Haman, the chief adviser to the king, planned to exterminate the entire Jewish nation.

Jews and non-Jews alike have dubbed Purim the “Jewish Halloween.” But is this really an accurate statement?

“I think people are misled to think that Purim is the ‘Jewish Halloween,’” sophomore psychology major Jacob Waldman said. “We may have similar customs, but there is a lot more depth to the things we do that contain entirely different meanings.”

At face value, the traditions practiced on both holidays involving dressing up and giving and receiving treats can seem similar. However I believe it’s the underlying meanings and purpose behind each tradition that distinguish the two.

On Halloween, children dressed in costumes go from door to door, asking neighbors for “something good to eat.”

On Purim, many Jewish people dress up in costumes to symbolize hiding behind a different identity just as God hid himself throughout the entire story of Purim. Unlike other events in Jewish history, the miracle of Purim wasn’t a blatant action directly from God. Instead Mordechai and Queen Esther carried out his actions.

According to Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro’s (1783-1841) opinion written in the Talmud, people dress up with the intention of “pretending to be something we’re not,” just as the Jews pretended to serve other gods to protect themselves, and God pretended to destroy the Jewish people and then didn’t.

In the ninth chapter of the Book of Esther, Mordechai says the Jewish people, “made the 14th day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, a holiday, and of sending portions to one another,” referring to the custom of mishloach manot.

The tradition of making baskets filled with delicious treats and foods can be perceived as a similar action to trick-or-treating. However, once again the spiritual meanings behind both behaviors do not share any similarities.

Our consumerist culture has affected the traditions of Halloween, contributing to the commercialized holiday it is today, consisting of kids dressing up in extravagant costumes asking neighbors for an overloaded amount of candies.

Although Purim has been somewhat Americanized in the way it is viewed because of its perceived similarities to Halloween, the explanations and meaning behind its customs remain the same. One opinion mentioned in the Talmud explains mishloach manot as a way of disproving Haman’s accusations of the Jewish people as being a “scattered and divided nation.” By giving gifts to each other, we signify that we are a united nation.

Mishloach manot symbolizes several meaningful ideals. The traditional act of making and giving baskets encourage the Jewish people to share their wealth and happiness with each other in order to fulfill the custom of enjoying an extravagant meal.

“I think what most people are missing from the holiday of Purim is the context and role it plays in Jewish history,” said senior Nathan Lauer, a former leader of the Orthodox student group Kedma, who organized a Megillah reading last year at the Stamp Student Union.

Purim is the story of the beginning of the acceptance of the Jews in exile, said Lauer, an aerospace engineering and computer science major.

“It was the first time since Egypt that the Jews weren’t comfortable in Judea, for a significant amount of time, and today almost 2,220 years later, that 95 percent of Jewish people still has not returned to what is now Israel,” Lauer said.

Overall, the ultimate differentiating factor of Purim is the tremendous role it plays in shaping Jewish history. The beauty of the celebration of Purim is found in the meaning of the holiday more than the actual customs themselves.

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