Head to Head: Can Jews Partake in Halloween Traditions?
By: Ali Smith (12th Grade)
Ask any Rabbi, Rebbetzin, or learned Jew if one is allowed to celebrate Halloween as a Jewish person, and they’ll throw their heads back with a chuckle and respond, “Of course not!!” However, each year, when we near the end of October, many Jews find themselves asking, “Must we avoid this seemingly harmless holiday? And, if so, how do we get around partaking in any form of it, which seems to be all around us?”
Overall, many of us would agree that it might be ideal to completely separate ourselves from any aspect of a pagan holiday, but where do we draw the line? Is eating Halloween-themed food or buying Halloween-themed items (like cups, toys, and decorations) acceptable, or are these considered sacrilegious too?
Research reveals that Halloween originated from polytheistic beliefs, which isn’t surprising, but many would agree that Halloween celebrations are no longer associated with its two thousand-year-old inception. It has come to be more of a mainstream and irreligious tradition as people from various religions enjoy the fall festivities together, which according to Tosafot’s comments on the Gemara (Avodah Zarah, 11a), may actually be considered acceptable.
During the Medieval Period in Europe, roughly a thousand years ago and long before we were significantly integrated into “typical” society, Tosafot explained that many non-Jewish holidays tend to disconnect from their original religious practices; therefore, they are considered festivals or festivities (instead of a religious holiday), making partaking in them permissible. Since we can say with near certainty that Halloween celebrations are considered separate from the holiday’s religious origins, it would seem that Tosafot would categorize most Halloween celebrations as a festivity, which isn’t problematic.
At the end of the day, Judaism greatly emphasizes intention. It is no coincidence that in this week's Parsha, Hashem’s message to Avraham about blessings and curses signals that our intention has great significance to G-d (see this week's Dvar Torah for more info). Therefore, anyone who approaches Halloween with an intention of disrespecting Hashem and rebelling against Judaism has made a grave mistake. On the other hand, if someone simply wanted to buy candy corn or attend a gathering where Halloween was the focus while simultaneously upholding their morals and beliefs within Judaism, I do not think they are truly doing anything wrong.
In fact, as people who are involved in the secular world and preparing to enter a college campus relatively soon, we must recognize that there will be endless challenges that will require us to draw the line within our beliefs. These challenges, however, give us an opportunity to strengthen our faith. If we are kept in a bubble, how are we to know that our faith is authentic and belongs to us rather than merely to the people who raised us? While I am in no way encouraging the celebration of pagan holidays, I am, however, encouraging my peers to experience the world and not be afraid of the diverse cultures and traditions that go beyond our own.
By: Sara Reinberg (12th Grade)
When thinking of Halloween, most people imagine scary costumes, haunted houses, and infinite amounts of candy. From this perspective, partaking in spooky, thrilling celebrations seems perfectly acceptable for a Jewish individual. After all, don’t we dress up on Purim? However, researching the origin of the holiday reveals a little more background on why Jews should refrain from those Halloween celebrations.
The holiday began with the Celts, a group of people who lived in Europe about 2000 years ago. Originally known as Samhain, this holiday celebrated the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter season. The Celts believed that the night before Samhain, the line between the world of the living and the dead became blurred, so ghosts and spirits could float into our reality. Many years later, around 600 A.D, Pope Boniface IV created a day to honor Christian martyrs, and later Pope Gregory III moved the holiday to November first, establishing it as All Saints’ Day and combining many of its customs with the original Samhain. This day was also known as All-Hallows, and the evening before was known as All-Hallows Eve.
From this brief history, we can understand the Pagan and Christian origins of Halloween, and therefore why Jews should refrain from partaking in these celebrations on October 31st. Avodah Zarah, idol worship, is one of the biggest prohibitions in the Torah. The Rambam elaborates, commenting on the Mishnah in Avodah Zarah that any holiday that includes idol worship or worshiping a “Messiah” is forbidden to the Jews. This would include Halloween because it is considered All Saints’ day. Moreover, the Mishna mentions how Jews can not bring joy to gentiles on their holidays, because it will lead them to give thanks to their idols. To avoid doing so, we should separate ourselves from them in terms of business management, three days before their holidays.
Of course, we have to be realistic; we are surrounded by special candies, scary movies, and haunted houses throughout the month of October. But when Halloween night arrives, we should try and steer clear of any festivities. Celebrating one Pagan/Christian holiday can lead to the next, and soon you may be in much deeper than you would have ever expected. So let's try to refrain from the temptation of All-Hallows Eve and save our costume parties for Purim.