Tonight, Jewish youth all over the world – except in Israel– will celebrate the pagan holiday of Halloween.
Halloween is also called All Hallows’ Eve, because, for the gentiles, it is a hallowed evening, the eve of All Saints’ Day, a day which honors all Christian saints.
The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that in ancient Britain and Ireland, the Festival of Halloween was also celebration of the end of the fertile period of the Celtic goddess, Eiseria. It is said that when Eiseria reaches the end of her fertile cycle, the worlds of the dead and the living intertwine. This supposedly happens on October 31. Masks are worn to show respect for the Goddess Eiseria, who, like most Celtic gods, does not wish to be seen by human eyes. This is one of the reason behind Halloween costumes and for the holiday’s omens, spirits, demons, and witches.
This date was also New Year’s Eve in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times, and was the occasion for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons said to be roaming about.
It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divination concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes. These pagan observances also influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Eve, celebrated on the same date.
Jewish Law states:
A Jew should not follow the customs of the gentiles, nor imitate them in dress, or in their way of trimming their hair, as it says, ‘You shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I cast out before you’ (Lev. 20:23), and ‘Neither shall you walk in their statutes’ (Lev. 18:3). These verses all refer to one and the same matter of not imitating them. A Jew, on the contrary, should be distinguished from them and recognizable by the way he dresses, and in his other activities, just as he is distinguished from them in his knowledge and his beliefs, as it is said, ‘I have set you apart from the peoples’ (Lev. 20:26). (See, Rambam, Laws Regarding Idol Worship and the Ordinances of the Gentiles, 11:1).
When it comes to the question whether Jews can take part in gentile holidays, the halachic discussion differs between clearly religious holidays like Xmas, which are forbidden, and purely secular holidays like Labor Day, which are permissible. Halloween’s religious origins and pagan history place it in the category of gentile holidays that are forbidden to celebrate.
Though Halloween in America has been secularized and commercialized to the point where it is now a frivolous time of costumes, candy, and pranks, it is still celebrated in places like Scotland and Ireland as a Celtic festival of the spirits, and in other places as a holiday honoring the Christian saints. Therefore, there is good reason for telling the kids that “Trick or Treating” is a no-no for Jewish children.
The law prohibiting our participation in gentile holidays and customs comes to protect our special Jewish holiness and cultural distinction. If you allow your kids to participate in the pagan rites of a gentile culture, they are likely to grow up with pumpkin heads instead of Jewish heads.
On the other hand, if you try to safeguard our distinction as Jews and not let your children go “Trick or Treating” with all the other kids in the neighborhood, there’s a good chance that they will grow up hating both you and Judaism for turning them into freaks in the eyes of their friends. Either way, as a Jewish parent, you lose.
What’s the solution? Move to Israel. The only place you will see a pumpkin here is in the supermarket (a small yellow one that looks more like a squash). If you truly love your children and don’t want them growing up with pumpkin heads, then the only solution is to bring them to Israel where they will grow up with Jewish holidays like we’re supposed to.Tzvi Fishman