„We Jews celebrate Lent“ – with this provocative statement, the association „Kölsche Kippa Köpp e.V.“ invited people to their party. In the original Kölsch language (dialect of german), it says „Mer jüdde fiere Fasteleer“. The word Fastnacht means „the evening before the fasting season“. Perhaps the dear reader feels a cognitive dissonance in the statement „We Jews celebrate Lent“ because the two seem incompatible.
History of Carnival in Germany
To understand the essence of the problem, I offer a brief excursion into history. In different parts of Germany, Carnival is celebrated differently or not at all. Carnival (also known as Fasching) has its origins in the pagan traditions of the Germanic tribes. The core of the festival is the end of winter. Thus, it does not differ from the East Slavic pagan festival Maslenitsa. Both Carnival and Maslenitsa became Christian festivals with the spread of Christianity, without losing their pagan elements. Over time, Carnival acquired a new meaning by being transformed into a Christian holiday. Carnival is a time of social joy and entertainment, of wearing carnival costumes, dancing, and heavy consumption of alcohol. The Carnival celebrations precede the beginning of a 40-day fasting period (Lent).
Cologne is one of the most important centers of Carnival in Germany, along with Düsseldorf and Mainz. The Cologne Carnival is much more than just the highlight of Carnival – the Rose Monday parade. For many carnival enthusiasts, the so-called „carnival sessions“ are just as important as the Rose Monday parade. This includes carnival music, songs, dances (performances by dance groups), satirical speeches with humorous and satirical content, and of course plenty of beer (cologne beer, Kölsch). The association „Kölsche Kippa Köpp e.V.“ invited its guests to a carnival session.
The Incompatibility of the Cologne Carnival with Judaism
Firstly, it should be noted that in Judaism there is a halachic prohibition against following non-Jewish customs. Halacha speaks of two main types of non-Jewish customs that fall under the biblical prohibition: „you shall not follow their ways“ (Leviticus 18:3).
- The first type includes customs mainly associated with idolatry, which are collectively referred to in Jewish law as „Avodah Zarah“ or idol worship.
- The second type refers to non-Jewish customs that are senseless even if they have nothing to do with idolatry.
- Avodah Zarah (עבודה זרה) translates to „foreign worship“ or „foreign service“, or simply idolatry. According to Orthodox Judaism, only one religion, Islam, fully corresponds to the halachic concept of monotheism. All other religions, denominations or cults wholly or partially belong to Avodah Zarah.
- Exceptions apply to national holidays (such as a state’s Independence Day), unless they violate the laws of modesty (Tzniut (צניעות)).
Based on the two points mentioned above, celebrating the carnival by Jews is in no way permissible. Firstly, the German carnival is „avodah zarah“ and its celebrations violate an explicit prohibition in the Torah. Secondly, the halachic requirement to avoid senseless non-Jewish customs is violated.
This year, the „carnival Jews“ brought the carnival celebrations into the prayer halls of the synagogues in Cologne* and Bonn and organized photo sessions right in front of the Aron a Kodesh.
What can we look forward to next year?
* It is worth mentioning that the building of the synagogue on Roonstr. 50 is also the seat of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference Germany. Given the fact that the Karneval sessions have taken place for the third year in a row, I dare to assume that the ORC rabbis agree with the situation. The opinion of the rabbis (here) is based on the fact that the building on Roonstr. 50 is more than just a synagogue and is used by the Synagogue Community Cologne as a community center. This opinion is certainly debatable…
About the successes of the Cologne synagogue community in the Jüdische Allgemeine (in german):
- 23.02.2023 — Wagen mit Botschaft
- 21.02.2023 — Teil dieser Stadt
- 18.02.2023 — Jeck und jüdisch – das passt!
- 16.02.2023 — Ein kölscher Tag
- 15.01.2023 — «Rheinlandtaler» für die Kippa Köpp
- 09.01.2023 — Wichtige Auszeichnung für bundesweit einzigen jüdischen Karnevalsverein (Gib a Kik, azoy shein!!!)
- 11.11.2022 — Einen jüdischen Karneval gibt es nicht