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Ask the Rabbi: Is It OK for American Jews to Celebrate Halloween?

By October 27, 2010

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HalloweenThis week I've received several emails asking variations of the same question: Is it OK for American Jews to celebrate Halloween? Since this spooky holiday is just a few days away, I thought it might be helpful to share Rabbi Jeffery Goldwasser's answer to this question.

Q. Is it OK for American Jews to celebrate Halloween?

A. That only begs the question, what is Halloween, anyway?

Halloween is a great example of how holidays can change meaning over time. Halloween started as a Celtic holiday to celebrate the harvest, like holidays in most cultures at this time of year. The Celts, however, believed that the holiday posed danger because the dead could interfere with the living on this day.

The holiday was later appropriated by Christians as the eve of All Saints Day, observed on November 1. The name of the holiday reflects its observance as "All Hallows Even." In one medieval custom, poor people would travel from house to house on All Saints Day asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. Halloween is no longer observed by the church in any way on October 31.

When Halloween hit America, it took on yet another meaning. On these shores, the holiday became an amalgam of symbols from the Celtic holiday, the Christian custom of traveling from house to house, harvest symbols (like the Jack O'-lantern), and contemporary symbols of fright and death. The holiday, as it is observed in America, has entirely lost its connection to any religious meaning or observance.

There is no religious reason why contemporary Jews should not celebrate Halloween as it is commonly observed by dressing in costumes, giving children candies and other treats, and by taking our own young children out to "Trick-or-Treat." As a secular holiday, Halloween should be no more problematic for Reform Jews than are Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. Halloween's focus on fright and death can be a good opportunity for talking to young children about their fears, although it should not be taken to excess.

I hope this is helpful.

Best wishes,
Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser

If your family does decide to celebrate Halloween this year, you might find this About.com childcare article helpful: Halloween Safety for Your Ghosts and Goblins. Also, check your local listings for information about safe trick-or-treating locations, which are often organized by libraries, schools or other public venues.

Image via Getty Images/Micheal Simpson

October 30, 2010 at 11:47 pm
(1) The Very Rev. Archpriest Daniel Beegan says:

Far be it from me to tell my Jewish brothers and sister and Halloween. I personally do not celebrate the holiday, pass out candy, etc.

Part of it is a concern about a small degree of Satanic influence, but more of it is a threat of a law suit given my crumbling driveway, my 120-pound black dog _ oh horrors for some Christian fundies _ and the fact I am a widower and must be more upright than Ceasar’s wife. Thank you and the rabbi for an intelligent discussion.

It definitely is an individual choice.

October 31, 2010 at 1:51 am
(2) Alkistis Wechsler says:

I read earlier elsewhere too the ancient meaning and as adult I found usefull contemplating about the agricultural significance
as well as the psychological fear and sield of light as well as the light courtin of separation ib our mind between living and dead yet havign a benign disposition towards the memory of our departed. And as we enter winter the attitude of assimilation with the controversial spirits is like geting stronger and taking it easy with the hardest environmental conditions of the coming season as well with all our fears ….

October 31, 2010 at 5:16 am
(3) Sarah B says:

Those of us who try hard to educate our kids might profit to know of a parallel Jewish custom that observant Jews do on Purim which has been unfairly compared to Halloween. Our kids also dress up in costumes to hide their identity. They also go around to neighbors and knock on their doors with treats and goodies on their minds. However, in contrast to Halloween they do not ASK for a treat, rather they GIVE food of substance something even more than treats. They give delicacies to friends, family and neighbors who are not particularly in need – but to the poor and unfortunate they give the components of real meals and food of substance – with goodies as well for desert. It’s not uncommon for an envelope with a cash donation to the poor to be included with the food. The custom for Purim is to give the unfortunate real meals of substance that can be eaten with a minimum to no preparation. The purpose of our kids delivering the food and hiding their identity with costumes is to teach them that a high level of tzedakah (“charity”) is done where the recipient does not know who the giver is. Anoniminity is cherished in this respect.

So with Halloween the emphasis is on the fun of getting with the spice of implied blackmail, with Purim the emphasis is on fun of giving with no expectation of anything in return.

Both are good clean fun, but which is more educational?

October 31, 2010 at 8:31 am
(4) Ivan Burrows says:

Jews are people just like anyone else and if Halloween is not offensive to them they should celebrate it along with the rest of us. It is just a good time now for our children and we should have no standoffish segregation in our world these days. Jew and gentile are built they same why should they not celebrate together.

Anybody comming for a beer?


October 31, 2010 at 11:06 am
(5) Karen says:

Okay? Not okay? I have three huge sacks of chocolate treats to give out.

I love the holiday. I think of it as Purim for Christians.

October 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm
(6) Patricia Hagemann says:

On the contray Rabbi, the Catholic Church was the one who adopted and changed the meaning of the holiday. They call themselves Christians which has given real christians a bad name. The Cactholic Church is responsible for many things then and now, including the holocaust where many of innocent G-d’s chosen people were killed.

In 70ad the Roman Catholic Church decided to combat this festival of honoring evil spirits by replacing it with a celebration of the giver of Life. They started to honor dead saints who died in the G-d. Then Nov 1 became All Saints day also called All Hallows Day. From there it started to grow but has been adopted by Satanism and Witchcraft which Deuteronomy 18:10-12 , 2 Kings 21:6, Micah 5:12, Isaiah 47:12, , Ezekial 13:18 and 20, among a few teaches Magic, Spells, enchantment, Charming, Sorcery, Wizardry and Witchcraft as evil, horing the dead is an abomination.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 says

9When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

10There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

11Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

12For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

The practice of magic in any form including Kabbalah is detestable in G-d’s sight and brings a curse on the nation that practices it.

This is why the United States is so under a curse. Between, Witchcraft and abortion to list a few, my country have turned their back on G-d and then wonder where He is.


November 1, 2010 at 7:20 am
(7) Even Ezra (Ebenezer) says:

A pagan festival is a pagan festival.

2 Corinthians 6:14-16 (New King James Version)
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you[a] are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“ I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”

November 1, 2010 at 10:50 pm
(8) malka says:

as jews we are warned by Ha Shem not to enquire, look into other religeons, beliefs, ceremonies etc., so why is a rabbi writing in and saying, go ahead and celebrate pagan festivities such as halloween. he should be ashamed to call himself rabbi, not a very learned jewish man.

November 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm
(9) Norman Itkowitz says:

and lobster is okay at kiddish….

November 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm
(10) David says:

The key word here is what is Halloween? I come a different view of Halloween from a religious point of view. Halloween predates the so-called Christianized version. As one who was in many the practices mentioned in Deuteronomy 18: 9-12.. Halloween is a combination of two words Hallow meaning to honor or revere. Samhain is the Cetic god of the dead. Samhain is pronounced Sahween. To put Hallow ans Samhain together you get the literal meaning of to give honor and praise to the god of the dead. It is the orthodox Druid and Wiccan High Holy Days. It is their “New Years Eve. Does it not say in the first Commandment of G_D that thou shalt have no other gods before me. Religion may say we can but what does G_D`s word say?

November 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm
(11) Lorizia says:

Don’t people ever wonder why the world is upside down? Because of disobedience. Now Halloween is to be a holy event,(All Hallow’s eve) not the way we see it today, preparing for the feasts of All Saint’s Day and All Souls Day. Novemember is the month of All souls.
I personally don’t see anything wrong with candy giving at a time because it is all about sharing and dressing up in the good way, not people embracing evil.

As for the Catholic Church, we do much good for all people including our Jewish brothers and sisters : )

Lorizia-Roman Catholic

October 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm
(12) Cathy says:

Even Ezra and Patricia said to right. If one is going to go by the Bible anyways.

October 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm
(13) bmcewen says:

Using modern technology such as the internet would be considered witchcraft by the people who wrote your quotes they would hunt you and burn you along with your husband children friends and belongings…but dressing up as Spiderman and eating candy is evil? How in your world does that make sense?

October 17, 2012 at 4:39 am
(14) Arielle says:

Halloween is not a Jewish holiday. I do not participate in it in any way. Why would I when I have so many beautiful and meaningful Jewish holidays?

October 24, 2012 at 8:31 am
(15) NR says:

you can connect halloween with jewish folklore
as you know we have some good horror legends in the jewish folklore like the Golem or the Dibuk (possession) and you can take them as a decoration motives or tell stories and watch films about them

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