Can Jews of one ethnicity adopt holidays and customs of another? For example, some Ethiopian Jews celebrate “Chag HaSigd” around Sukkot, and Moroccan Jews celebrate “Mimouna” after Pesach. Is there anything wrong with an Ashkenazi Jew taking on these celebrations?
I know of no prohibition to do so To my way of thinking, Jews should adhere primarily to one set of Community Traditions and not create an eclectic mix.
Personally, and many of my colleagues dissent, I see no objection to "changing" one's ethnicity, E.G. from Ashk'nazi to S'phardi or vice versa. But that change ought to be a thorough commitment.
The Talmud decries certain "cherry picking". E.G. to take all the leniencies of both Beth Hillel and Beth Shammai is "evil" ; to take both of their stringencies is foolish.
Yet we do see that the family of Rabban Gamliel took an OCCASIONAL stringency. So the rules are not totally rigid.
The best thing is to stay within one community, but perhaps to visit other communities on occasions of their celebrations as a guest. E.G. why not attend a Chabad celebration of the 19th of Kislev? Or a Kabalistic Seder for Tu Bishvat?
Jewish law tends to be instinctively traditional about local custom, and often the ruling principle has been minhag avotenu be'yadenu or "we hold fast to our ancestors' customs." That's often beautiful, and does help us preserve a sense of continuity with our parents' parents' parents.
But now after centuries when almost all Jews lived in the same places where their ancestors lived (Poland or Morocco or whatever), the 20th century saw all that change. The Kibbutz Galuyot ("ingathering of the exiles") in the State of Israel and mass immigration to the west has scrambled up lots of Jewish communities, exposing each of us to new traditions and customs, and recombining our communities. For instance, plenty of American suburbs, let alone Israeli cities, find the descendents of Hungarian Jews living beside Persian ones, and sometimes marrying each other. Who are their children? Ashkenazim or Mizrachi'im?
Personally I find both creative scrambling of traditions and the preservation of distinct traditions to be meaningful. Most Jews need both. I recommend that Ashkenazi Jews participate in the customs of their various Jewish brothers and sisters, by learning about their customs and attending their celebrations. There is no reason you cannot attend and participate. But if you want to "take on" these rites, and make them your own regular practice, to be passed on to your children, it would require another level of commitment - not only to admire these cool practices, but to stick to them in discipline. That seems less likely to me, but I wouldn't tell you not to.
One of the wonderful things about our modern Jewish world, is that in addition to the coming together of many Jewish ethnicities in Israel and other places, through the ease of modern communication we have a virtually unlimited supply of ways to engage in Jewish practice and we are no longer bound by only the customs of our direct line ancestors.
As a Reform Rabbi, I take a very pluralistic view of Judaism. Although American Jews are over 90% of European descent, there is nothing wrong with adopting a custom of a different Jewish culture. Certainly if we, as Jews living in a mostly non-Jewish culture, are willing to adopt practices like prayer and sermons in the vernacular, new liturgical music and a custom of giving presents at Chanukah, all of which are borrowed from our surrounding culture, it would be hypocritical of us to say that we can’t adopt customs of other Jews we find to be meaningful.
When adopting other customs, it is important to embrace those customs in a real and meaningful way, not just “playing Moroccan Jew” for an evening. That does not mean that one must accept all Moroccan Jewish customs, but taking seriously the ones you may adopt.
There is a long standing tradition to abide by the practices of our fathers, but this need not be followed blindly. The rituals and practices that gave great meaning to our parents, grandparents and others may feel rote and sterile to us. We could easily imagine the descendant of Moroccan Jews complaining about having to sit through “yet another” Mimouna and he would rather go get pizza to end Passover as has become a bit of an American Jewish custom. Therefore part of our role as seeking Jews is to find those customs and practices that speak to us and enhance our Jewish experience. When we do this, we find it gives value as well to those traditions handed to us by our own Jewish roots.
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