To many, if not most, American Jewish parents, participating in Halloween revelries is considered harmless fun. Increasingly, however, rabbis and educators have challenged Jewish participation in Halloween activities. To be fair, the holiday does have pagan origins and it was later adopted by the Catholic Church. So it is understandable why some Jews would be tepid about celebrating a religious holiday that was never their own.
Yet, plenty of Jewish parents doll up their kids in capes and wigs and send them off in search of the perfect candy collection. Whether or not you decide to celebrate Halloween with your family comes down to what feels right for you.
Here’s some background on the different Jewish approaches to Halloween.
Anti-Halloween: Against the Law
To understand why traditional Jewish law might forbid the celebration of Halloween, we must look at the history of the holiday. Halloween originated with the ancient Celts and their celebration of the pagan festival, Samhain, as the harvest season ended.
Although this background has hardly anything to do with the current state of Halloween, according to Rabbi Michael Broyde, Halakhah, or Jewish law, prohibits “idolatrous customs” as well as “foolish customs found in the Gentile community.” On the basis of these prohibitions, and the belief that there are no real reasons for a child to dress up and collect candy on this specific day of the year, most traditional rabbis argue that trick-or-treating is best avoided.
Pro-Halloween: How Modern Jews Celebrate
For most kids, however, free candy is a very real reason why a person would celebrate Halloween. This may be why many Jewish families still decide to celebrate on October 31st. “Halloween is viewed by many as a secular holiday, no different than Thanksgiving or July 4th,” says Benjamin Lewis, a Jewish educator. “Those who think that Jewish children can go trick or treating, including myself, have no problem separating Halloween’s origins from what it has become–an American holiday of collecting candy and dressing up.”
Despite all of its ghosts, zombies, and cobwebs, for most children, Halloween comes down to simple fun, and many Jews see nothing wrong with that.
To Trick-or-Treat or Not?
There will always be those who view Halloween as a pagan holiday that should hold no place in a Jewish home. There will always be others who view the opportunity to wear ridiculous costumes in public as nothing but a secular tradition that any child (and fun-loving adult) can enjoy. As with most parenting choices, you must decide for yourself how you view the holiday, and how you would like your family to celebrate, if at all. You must also decide your stance on perhaps the most important issue of all: candy.