As a convert and not a naturally-born Jew, I remember anticipating fondly the coming of the Halloween holiday. Children in costume, sweet treats, and spooky stories all were part of the end of October, and nearly everyone participated. We always baked cookies and watched Charlie Brown come up empty every year, and sending the kids out to ask for candy was part of the fun. That all changes when you become Jewish.
As with most things, when the question of Halloween came up during conversion, there were many opinions to consider. Some rabbis said that a Jew must absolutely not celebrate Halloween. Others said that being a secular holiday, it was the choice of an individual whether to carve a Jack-o-lantern and bob for apples. As with most matters Jewish, it call came down to individual choice. Though it may shock many of my Shulmates, I’ve decided through considering everything I’ve been told and all the things I’ve read that it may not be a bad thing to do some things on Halloween.
Halloween is, at its core, a Pagan holiday. Its roots trace back to the strange rituals of communities that celebrated superstitions, magic, and mythos. Through the years, Halloween in the US has changed from quite a strange and mystical holiday to a time of fall celebration for children. Although recent injections of an increase in horror give the thirty-first of October a somewhat macabre and darkened twist lately, most of the holiday’s celebrants in my community are under age 13. Depending on the type of Judaism one follows, Halloween can be considered on its surface simply an American tradition like Super Bowl parties and Thanksgiving. So why is it so un-Jewish?
Jews have Purim, the celebration of Esther’s heroism over the evil Haman. During this spring festival, Jewish youngsters dress in costume, make noise, play games, have special treats, and the community celebrates similarly in principle to Halloween, sans the ghosts and goblins. For many Jews, sitting on the sidelines during Halloween is fine because Purim is a much larger party to be had! Besides, there are many objectionable things about Halloween that can distract from one’s relationship with G-d, including the “trick” part of trick-or-treating, the supernatural, and an overall fascination with things that are unholy.
Halloween can, however, be an opportunity for Tzedeka in your community. During difficult economic times, if one lives in a neighborhood with underprivileged children, handing out non-candy treats like pretzels or fruit snacks may be a wonderful way of helping spread happiness, which is a very Jewish (though not exclusively Jewish) tradition. In the past few years, the number of houses handing out treats has dwindled in my neighborhood due to financial strain. Though it’s a personal choice whether to send one’s own children out to collect treats, something I do not plan to do and feel is against my beliefs, handing them out may be a wonderful opportunity to give to others that you may not have at any other time. This may also help demystify the “Jewish house down the street” for the local children.
We have so many celebrations and traditions in Judaism, that adding secular holidays may not be for everyone, but there are ways of taking part in Halloween that can actually be of a benefit to a Jew. I recommend, however, that you consult with your rabbi, have clear intentions, and make certain that whatever you do for the holiday is right with both yourself and those in your family. Shalom!