Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jewish Children and Halloween: Point-Counterpoint

Tomorrow night is Halloween. Perhaps the only Jewish custom concerning Halloween is the debate as to whether it's an appropriate celebration for Jewish children. Much has been written on both sides of the argument, but I have never addressed it here on this blog. This year, I decided to offer a point-counterpoint exchange answering the question "Is Halloween Kosher?" -- Meaning: Is Halloween an acceptable experience for Jewish children in America? My friend and local colleague Rabbi Aaron Starr does not condone his children's participation in Halloween while I do. Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments below.

Rabbi Aaron Starr
POINT | It is hard to say “no” those whom we love the most. But, as parents, we know there are times when our sacred task is to teach and to guide, and thus to decline lovingly our children’s requests to do that which we as their caretakers know is dangerous physically or spiritually. For example, despite the vast commercialization and de-emphasis on the religious side of Christmas and Easter, Jewish parents should not allow their children to celebrate these Christian holidays. Likewise, Jewish parents should warmly steer our children away from the celebration of Halloween. Instead, Jewish living should be offered as the fun, meaningful, impactful path our children ought to take.

According to ABC News, Halloween dates back to a Celtic holiday when spirits were believed to rise from their graves, and costumes were used to fool the spirits in hope that farmers’ land would survive through the winter. Later, Christians assimilated Halloween into their own religion as the night before November 1’s “All Saints’ Day”. Then in the 19th century, Irish immigrants adapted their own native customs to the American celebration of Halloween, carving pumpkins into lanterns to honor the souls they believed were stuck in purgatory. What is clear is that the American celebration of Halloween is a product of strong pagan and Christian traditions that have been overly commercialized by twentieth and now twenty-first century candy and costume companies.

How much better it would be for our children and our People to encourage our kids to celebrate Jewish holidays with equal passion and excitement as others do Halloween! It seems to me far more uplifting to dress our children up in celebration of Purim and to give away gifts of food to our friends and those in need than to celebrate a pagan-Christian holiday by parading through dark streets in scary costumes receiving or even begging for candy from strangers.

Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiStarr.



Rabbi Jason Miller
COUNTERPOINT | Our children (like us) are growing up in two worlds. They are living in Jewish homes, infused with Jewish values and traditions, and as participants in a vibrant Jewish Diaspora community. But, our children also live in a secular society in which certain “holidays” and their customs have become part of the fabric of that society.

While I would never condone Jewish children celebrating such Christian holidays as Christmas or Easter, I don’t see the problem in them participating in Halloween. This American tradition may draw its roots from troubling origins (like Thanksgiving), but over the centuries it has been become re-imagined as a fun, neighborhood experience. To draw a connection from the 21st century observance of Halloween to Samhain or All Hallows Eve is shortsighted and silly. I was unaware of the Celtic, Pagan and Christian connections to Halloween as a child, and I suspect that will be the case for my children as well.

Today’s practice of Halloween seems innocent enough for me to allow my children to participate without hesitation. Our Halloween tradition consists of pumpkin picking (also used to decorate our sukkah) and then carving, selecting appropriate costumes (often recycled from Purim), and then walking our neighborhood with friends to go door-to-door collecting candy. There is no begging or threatening for these gifts of chocolate bars and lollipops; only the sweet sounds of repeated “pleases” and “thank yous” from the mouths of adorable children. Halloween is a night when the neighborhood comes alive. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors as the cold winter looms. Upon our return home we sort through the collection of candy identifying the kosher sweets to keep and the non-kosher and undesirable ones to be donated.

To forbid our children to participate in Halloween is to pretend we’re living in a gated shtetl, ignorant of the American society with which our Jewish lives coexist. I have no problem saying “no” to those I love, but I also believe in the importance of making thoughtful, sensible decisions when there’s no harm to fear.

54 comments:

Sarai Pasha said...

I agree with the counterpoint! To do otherwise is to live in a box and that would create separatism. You way is loving and brings a feeling of community. Thank you for sharing!

SaraiPasha

Rabbi David Krishef said...

My Ethics and Religion Talk column is on the same topic. I came down squarely in between the two of you, for a reason that neither of you mentioned:

I am ambivalent about Halloween, but my feelings have nothing to do with the pagan origins of the holiday. One of the powerful aspects of the Jewish tradition is the celebration of a wide range of festivals. Each of those holidays, prior to the advent of the Hebrew Bible, was a pagan festival. The Biblical and Jewish tradition refocused the festival days, changing them into celebration of a covenant of a monotheistic tradition.
My ambivalence about the celebration of Halloween comes precisely because Judaism has a wealth of holidays. In traditional Jewish life, there are more than 35 major and minor Festivals, not including the weekly Sabbath. One of those holidays, Purim, even includes the opportunity to dress up in costumes and receive gifts of food from our friends (and of course give gifts as well). For adults, Purim is a time when we are encouraged to get a bit tipsy - how great is that for a religious holiday!
I love celebrating holidays, but I have all I can handle with my own holidays, plus a few civic holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. I don’t have the energy to add onto the rich tapestry of Jewish holidays.
For those within the Jewish community, I do not encourage the celebration of Halloween because I would rather see the time, energy, and money spent on Halloween instead devoted to living Jewish life and celebrating Jewish holidays with more enthusiasm. On the other hand, I do not actively discourage Halloween because there is nothing inherently evil about dressing up and getting treats from our neighbors, and anyway, it would be a losing battle to attempt to do so!
I’ll tell you honestly, my personal ambivalence about Halloween has had absolutely no effect on my family. My children love Halloween. At a certain point, my wife and I gave up and started counting the years until they would be too old for trick-or-treating. And in the meantime, we console ourselves by stealing their candy (which raises another question: is it ethical to steal your children’s Halloween candy?).

Jeff Dwoskin said...

I agree with the counter point. My feeling is that actually no one is actually celebrating the holiday. It seems it is just something we do.

you could do this same point / counter point for valentine's day...

i think it has basically morphed into an american tradition as i'm sure some of our Jewish customs morphed from something else.

team miller! usa!

David said...

I love you all as well as respect your diverging points of view.
In theory I subscribe to Rabbi Starr's position. Unfortunately, I was not able to convince my daughter. (if you need costumes for Purim I'll connect you. This time of year she is sell an awful lot of Halloween costumes :-()
I think Rabbi Krishef has struck the better balance!
As a Reform Jew, I subscribe to the theory of informed choices. Why not give your children the same choices?

Fawn Alekman Chayet said...

Jason - couldn't agree with you more!!!

Nancy Berman-Kleinfeldt said...

I second that, Aaron! Sorry, Jason!

Kevin Agrest said...

I agree with Jason.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

No need to apologize Nancy! That's the point of this exchange.

Kevin Agrest said...

It's all for fun.

Alana Suskin said...

NIce piece. Although I fall on the point, it's only partially because it's not a Jewish holiday. I also don't like the mocking of the dead that is a large part of the spirit of the holiday, and the contrast with our dress-up holiday - one in which the treats are by obligation given to others, and we are obligated to give to the poor - and indeed, anyone who asks - as opposed to threatening tricks to those who don't pony up- is huge in my eyes. Those aren't the values I want my child to adopt. If he wants to participate in the festivities, he can do the giving, from our door, to the neighborhood kids - which is what I did as a child.

Ariel Isenberg said...

I'm with you Jason. I think that as a parent and especially as a Jewish one we need to recognize that our children do live in two worlds. It's fun for them and we always talk about why we celebrate different holidays and why our friends celebrate other holidays. (Fun thing to do to keep the kids' candy intake limited: They get to keep 5 pieces and they trade the rest for a couple books)

Phyllis Sommer said...

Both positions were very well stated. I'm somewhere in between. I totally wish Halloween would just go away...and I downplay it as much as possible. I know that if I kept my kids away from it, it would become "forbidden fruit", and since my kids are in public school...it's a lost cause. But I over-emphasize Purim as a counterpoint. For example, I usually won't buy new costumes for Halloween, but I will ALWAYS buy new and exciting costumes for Purim. I talk about Purim costumes for WEEKS before the holiday and usually don't mention it until the day before Halloween. We DO have a foot in two worlds, no matter how much we don't always like it, and so we have to figure out how to live WITH it....thanks for the great post, Jason and Aaron!

Lisa D Klein said...

Really enjoyed reading that. My Kids have been asking a lot of questions this year about why Their Jewish schools don't celebrate and have fun on Halloween. I appreciate both sides of the argument...but we will be collecting candy tomorrow :)

Ian Yellin said...

I find the article interesting as a person who enjoys history and Halloween, I think that people need to do more research into the history of Halloween before they judge. For instance Halloween isn't just one holiday it brings in origins from all over the world, from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Two, the purpose behind Halloween wasn't to worship supernatural beings, but because Halloween is at a time when nights get longer, darker and colder and plants begin to die and snow falls it was a way for people to fight against the fears that all of this brings. Walk out in the middle of a large forest with no one else around at night in October or November and try not to be wigged out, then remember that before cities this was what all men had to face every day. And for those Jews who say that we don't have superstitions with monsters and magic like early man, remind me about the story of the Golem. Purim is a celebration of survival, but Halloween is the continual fight against the dark and the fears it brings.

Jacob Richman said...

Made aliyah in 1984. Except for the Internet, most kids in Israel probably do not even know about Halloween. However, every kid in Israel knows about Purim and many start thinking of Purim costumes weeks ahead. In Israel there is no need to adopt to non-Jewish holidays. One of many good reasons to make aliyah.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

My kids don't beg for candy. They don't play tricks on the neighbors. They don't mock the dead. They don't know the term "Pagan" and they certainly don't want to convert to Christianity after Trick or Treating around our densely Jewish neighborhood for a couple hours once a year. To them it's just a fun night of dressing in costume and walking around the neighborhood. Truthfully, after they eat 2 of those mini chocolate candy bars, they're sick of sweets anyway. And by the way, at least we modern Jews don't do weird things like light candles for the dead, right? I mean, besides yahrzeit candles on the anniversary of our relative's date of death. Oh, and besides lighting a candle for the dead after we get back from burying them in a cemetery. And lighting yizkor (memorial) candles for the dead four times a year on holidays.

And in terms of holiday customs that emanate from PAGAN AGRICULTURAL rituals, you have to look no further than our own Jewish holiday of Sukkot. "The breast (or womb)-like etrog and the phallic lulav are probably vestiges of an ancient (PAGAN?) fertility rite, which makes sense since the Sukkot holiday and final harvest marks the beginning of the critical rainy season in the land of Israel." Where'd I get that from? Here's a link.

Jacob Richman said...

In my opinion, some of these adopted "fun" customs may be hidden factors in the high assimilation rates in the US.

Jeff Bernstein said...

Thanks for posting - more people need to heed what Rabbi Starr says!

Jeff Dwoskin said...

no one celebrates halloween. who has ever met someone that celebrates halloween? u could do this same point/counter for valentine's day as well. as far as i'm concerned this has morphed into an american thing.

Jacob Richman said...

"American thing" is an interesting term. Do most Jews in the USA go to Xmis parties and have an official day off from work on Xmis? I think it is super cool that the "Israeli thing" is celebrating Jewish holidays (including holiday vacation from work and schools closed).

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Yes, many American Jews go to holiday parties and we don't go to work on Christmas (or on the secular New Year of January 1). Our family's custom is volunteering at a food pantry on Christmas day through the The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. If you live in Israel, you probably don't do those things, but about 5 million+ Jewish people live in the good ole US of A (including a large number of Israelis) and so we do those things (without losing our Judaism mind you).

Alana Suskin said...

A couple things: first the golem isn't a Jewish superstition - its a modern fairy tale - as in, originally written in the 20th century modern. There are legends in the Talmud of creatures that created, but I suspect almost no one outside of scholars know about them. Nevertheless, outside of being picayune, there are certainly lots of Jewish superstitions ( one the rabbis really hated and have been trying to get rid of for centuries: tashlich!)
2. No one claimed that trick or. Treating would make anyone's children convert or mock the dead: nevertheless, the display of skeletons and corpses as " festive" can hardly jibe with the traditionally Jewish emphasis on respecting the bodies of the deceased - and our tradition goes to great extents to be respectful to the dead. It is a value that I appreciate, and one which I believe is subtly undermined by Halloween. Eople make different choices, and these are the reasons we made ours. Perhaps your family is made of sterner stuff than mine.

Jacob Richman said...

Volunteering is great. I stand by my opinion that non-Jewish holidays have an affect on Jewish assimilation in the US. Millions of Jews have lived in countries around the world. Unfortunately we learned that after a while our numbers in those countries have dwindled. Either we converted, were kicked out, or worse.

Jodie Shiffman Jacobs said...

I completely agree with Rabbi Miller's point of view! My kids look forward to the fun in Halloween and I had no clue that these customs back in the days of I don't know when existed. I find participating in Halloween is a great neighborly event, and by no means am I thinking that my children would ever waiver into another religious sect.

Jeff Dwoskin said...

BTW I don't work on xmas because the company I work for is closed. Any my company has a party in January so it purposely isn't a xmas party

Elisa Koppel said...

To add to the conversation, my teacher and friend Joel M. Hoffman wrote a piece on Jews and Halloween a few years ago: http://blog.joelmhoffman.com/2008/10/20/halloween/ At any rate, I think in this culture, Halloween can be fun and I tend to enjoy it (I don't have kids myself, but I enjoy it myself!!) Overall, I think it can be celebrated and enjoyed in an appropriate way.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

I also think it depends on the age of the kids. If your kids are under 5 or 6, they might not realize what they're missing. As they get older, there might be enough pressure on the parents to cave in. Also, a family that gives out candy but doesn't let the kids go around the neighborhood will inevitably get questions from the kids as to why they can't be on the Trick or Treating end of the relationship. Obviously, much of this has to do with neighborhood more than values. If no one in the neighborhood Trick or Treats on Halloween, this likely isn't much of an issue.

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog, and you refer to Halloween as a "Christian" holiday... however, it is not. I believe you are innocently confusing Roman Catholicism with true Biblical Christianity. (Catholicism is a blending of pagan tradition/ritual that was inappropriately mixed with Judeo-Christian principles & beliefs.

For example: Jesus was NOT born on December 25th and Easter is not when Jesus rose from the grave. Rather, December 25th was widely recognized by pagans (for centuries prior-to Jesus' time) as the festival of Saturnalia. And Easter was the festival of Ishtar... a pagan fertility goddess-- which is why we commonly see rabbits and eggs during that holiday. Both of these pagan holidays really have absolutely nothing to do with the TRUE Jesus of the Bible. However, popular tradition and compromise has tainted the truth and paganized the Hebrew Roots of Christianity. Many Christians are following the way of the heathen than the way of the Lord.

Example: For many years after Jesus died & rose again, Christians were Sabbath keeping men & women... they worshipped on the 7th Day of the week. However, once Constantine popularized Christianity in the Roman Empire, he blended Christian precepts and ideas with pagan precepts and ideas... this ultimately gave birth to what we know today as "Roman Catholicism". The Roman church then changed the day of worship from the 7th Day to the 1st day of the week (Sunday). However, no mere mortal man has the right to change one of God's laws or eternal commandments.

There is nothing 'holy' about the Vatican or the Papacy in Rome; yet they claim to have holy power. This evil power sits on a city on seven hills (read the Book of the Prophet Daniel). I have been to the Vatican, and I have been to Israel. I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, and discovered the truth of pagan catholicism in my adult life.

So much truth has been hidden over the centuries, but that is changing! For the first time in a long time, Jewish men & women are seeing and realizing the Jesus (Yeshua) is and was the Messiah of Israel, who lived and died and rose again as was prophesied over 300 times in the Haftarah. Likewise, there is a move amongst Bible believing Christians who are realizing and discovering that the roots of the Bible and Haftarah are HEBREW (not Catholic or pagan). I will admit, there are some mixed-up and very worldly people who claim to be 'Christians', however there is a difference between true Christianity and popular / pagan 'churchianity'.

Bottom line, if someone is a follower of the Messiah, he would ask himself, "what would Messiah do?"

-Hermon

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog, and you refer to Halloween as a "Christian" holiday... however, it is not. I believe you are innocently confusing Roman Catholicism with true Biblical Christianity. (Catholicism is a blending of pagan tradition/ritual that was inappropriately mixed with Judeo-Christian principles & beliefs.

For example: Jesus was NOT born on December 25th and Easter is not when Jesus rose from the grave. Rather, December 25th was widely recognized by pagans (for centuries prior-to Jesus' time) as the festival of Saturnalia. And Easter was the festival of Ishtar... a pagan fertility goddess-- which is why we commonly see rabbits and eggs during that holiday. Both of these pagan holidays really have absolutely nothing to do with the TRUE Jesus of the Bible. However, popular tradition and compromise has tainted the truth and paganized the Hebrew Roots of Christianity. Many Christians are following the way of the heathen than the way of the Lord.

Example: For many years after Jesus died & rose again, Christians were Sabbath keeping men & women... they worshipped on the 7th Day of the week. However, once Constantine popularized Christianity in the Roman Empire, he blended Christian precepts and ideas with pagan precepts and ideas... this ultimately gave birth to what we know today as "Roman Catholicism". The Roman church then changed the day of worship from the 7th Day to the 1st day of the week (Sunday). However, no mere mortal man has the right to change one of God's laws or eternal commandments.

There is nothing 'holy' about the Vatican or the Papacy in Rome; yet they claim to have holy power. This evil power sits on a city on seven hills (read the Book of the Prophet Daniel). I have been to the Vatican, and I have been to Israel. I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, and discovered the truth of pagan catholicism in my adult life.

So much truth has been hidden over the centuries, but that is changing! For the first time in a long time, Jewish men & women are seeing and realizing the Jesus (Yeshua) is and was the Messiah of Israel, who lived and died and rose again as was prophesied over 300 times in the Haftarah. Likewise, there is a move amongst Bible believing Christians who are realizing and discovering that the roots of the Bible and Haftarah are HEBREW (not Catholic or pagan). I will admit, there are some mixed-up and very worldly people who claim to be 'Christians', however there is a difference between true Christianity and popular / pagan 'churchianity'.

Bottom line, if someone is a follower of the Messiah, he would ask himself, "what would Messiah do?"

-Hermon

The Wifely Persons said...

Long, long ago, our rabbi, Morris Allen, told our kids that if they went trick-or-treating they had to commit to delivering shalach manot on Purim. It wasn't a trade, it was an obligation.

That philosophy has been in place now some 26 years and is still going strong. My kids are grown up and continue to perform shalach manot.

I thought it was a great way to turn Halloween into a teachable moment.

Jeff said...

I allow my kids to go trick or treating, but now they are older they do it a little but spend most of the time giving out candy.

I have a number of Pagan friends and they are as unhappy about what has happened to Samhein as many serious Christians are about what has happened to Christmas in America.

Anonymous said...

To participate in a Holiday without performing the rituals with consciousness and understanding it's meaning is absolutely hollow, not "hallow" (holy). Halloween is not "our" (a Jewish holiday), and just because one lives in America doesn't
justify celebrating it. The images used are not good for young children's neshamas (souls). Today it seems like American society has advanced to adrenaline seeking zombie, vampire, horror movie fanats. I wish patriotic Americans would celebrate election day with as much enthusiasm and energy as Halloween...it's just about as scary. I know there are other ways to have a community event-like a block party. Anyway, enjoy the fun, and be safe!

Merrily said...

I’m raising my Jewish children in a religiously mixed family. We teach them the origins Samhain and how the Christians incorporated Samhain into their All Saints day on November 1st. We also teach them how it was changed after it was brought to this country. Halloween is very unique to the United States. We may be exporting it to other countries but it is our own blend. My family respects its members who put out a dumb feast in honor of their ancestors. It leads to discussions about ALL of our ancestors. We also respect those who rush off to church on the 1st.

My Jewish children love trick-or-treating. It’s another chance to dress up and tell stories. It’s easy to incorporate Jewish morals and traditions into the celebration. My children have food allergies so we are using this occasion to treat others. They dress up and pass out flyers saying they are collecting food for the local food bank. They will dress up tonight to collect the cans. For them tonight is about family and mitzvahs, along with pumpkins and some candy :)

Anonymous said...

Long ago trick or treating also meant collecting for UNICEF, ahh Tzedeka. My Chabad Rabbi may take argument but I don't see any connection with Holloween and anyone's sacred tradition. The kids go out for Halloween with the sole purpose to " Rock the House ". collect candy, costume and be with friends. On the other hand my son does know the difference and priortizes Purim. Holloween is great public relations. It affords the oppertunity to be gracious to all the other kids in the neighborhood when they come knocking on the door. Giving Kosher candy is the best. I don't see Holloween as being a deal breaker. I don't see " our " community racing to provide alternative activity or programming for the kids. I'm understanding ,sensitive and am aware of Rabbi Starr's point of view. It is with merit and should not be minimized. He fears that once the gate of Holloween is torn down than what's next. We have had way too many gates crashed. Halloween's gate in the USA was crashed long ago. The question is how best to rebuild it. Untill than Trick or Treat.

Ms. Misadventure said...

Thanks Rabbi Jason for blogging on this very interesting subject. I am someone who counts Halloween as my favorite holiday, but I am also a Jewish educator and therefore I need to constantly be thinking about how to address this issue with children and parents.

My main issue with Rabbi Starr's argument stems from his final paragraph, when he wrote "it would be for our children and our People to encourage our kids to celebrate Jewish holidays with equal passion and excitement as others do Halloween! It seems to me far more uplifting to dress our children up in celebration of Purim and to give away gifts of food to our friends and those in need than to celebrate a pagan-Christian holiday by parading through dark streets in scary costumes receiving or even begging for candy from strangers."

Halloween and Purim are two very different holidays and I don't think as Jewish educators we should continue to link them in our students' minds. As both of you mentioned, Halloween IS a secular holiday that has its origins in Pagan and Christian traditions. It also is linked to rituals involving the dead, spirits and saints. Purim on the other hand is a holiday that celebrates triumph over evil as well as the bravery of Mordechai and Esther. The only similarity between these two holidays is the tradition to dress in costume, and even in that, the reasons are very different).

When arguing against celebrating Halloween, I would suggest looking for other things families can do, rather than trying to substitute Purim for Halloween.

I would have also loved to see some discussion on what Judaism actually teaches about the world of the dead/undead. We actually have a rich tradition of stories stemming from the 16th century and later that involve things like golems, dybbuks, corpses and more. Using this time to teach some Jewish folklore is a great addition (or possibly alternative) to celebrating Halloween. That is what we did at my congregation this past weekend. I took this as an opportunity to teach our 4th and 5th graders a little bit about Jewish folklore as well as have a little experiential fun.

Check out our blog at bridgefamilyreligionschool.wordpress.com to see how we addressed Halloween and Jewish folklore!

Alina Alice said...

I must say that before I moved to America we never had anything like Halloween. But now it is becoming 'popular' holiday all over the world because the whole world is under the commercialization and is using anything as the opportunity to sell stuff, and we are tempted to buy it!
So it actually has nothing to do with the beliefs, people 'buy' it as it is fun for kids and sellers are happy to sell as many costumes and candy as they can.While in the world it is all about money right now, so are all these holidays.
I don't celebrate haloween but I can celebrate Christmas completely apart from its commercial side, focusing on the birth of Jesus, a man of the heart of God.

michael said...

I have no problem being neighborly and giving treats to those who come to our door, however my children do not go out trick-or-treating. Aside from the pagan and christian origins of the holiday (which is a religious issue that is understated by many), I do not think it is good to have our kids going to neighbors and/or strangers who are obligated by culture, society, and implicit threat of 'tricks' (and even if our children don't carry out such tricks, there are those who do, and some may not know which kids are which) to give out treats upon uttering of a magic phrase (even if please and/or thank you are included). As for how to answer the cries of 'but our friends all do it,' let us remember it is the same thing with xmas, non-kosher food, going out Friday nights, dating/marrying non-jews, etc. The jewish people ARE different and we should act like it, or risk assimilation.

Pamela Gottfried said...

Enjoyed this, Jason, and the comments.

Here's another Halloween-related post from the interfaith blog that I manage:
http://she-answers-abraham.blogspot.com/2012/10/no-trick-or-treat.html

Only Grace (Episcopal) & I were able to weigh in on Halloween, as Yasmina & her husband are enroute from Mecca.

Abigail Telnof said...

To participate in a Holiday without performing the rituals with consciousness and understanding it's meaning is absolutely hollow, not "hallow" (holy). Halloween is not "our" (a Jewish holiday), and just because one lives in America doesn't justify celebrating it. The images used are not good for young children's neshamas (souls). Today it seems like American society has advanced to adrenaline seeking zombie, vampire, horror movie fanats. I wish patriotic Americans would celebrate election day with as much enthusiasm and energy as Halloween...it's just about as scary. I know there are other ways to have a community event-like a block party. Anyway, enjoy the fun, and be safe!

Rabbi Aaron Starr said...

I do feel quite blessed to be living in America in the 21st century, even as Halloween comes around tonight. We have the opportunity to choose to avoid pagan/non-Jewish celebrations (when in past generations our people may have been forced to engage) AND we can open our doors to our neighbors and, by and large, have no need to fear from anti-Semitic violence (whereas in the past Jews rarely opened their doors willingly for fear of attack). Our light will be on and my children will be on the inside of the door, enjoying giving out candy to those who come by. And, of course, they'll get to eat all the leftovers and will be taking notes as to what they want to wear ... when Purim comes around. For those of you going out tonight, just be safe!

Dina Berdy said...

Rabbi Miller, as per usual, I agree

Wendy Arnold said...

Rabbi Starr...I wish that we had decided what you and Rebecca had decided years ago...but, when your kids goto a main streamed school, you really can't get around it. I will admit, I'm not a huge fan...but my kids have fun with it...but, I won't purchase costumes...

Alexander Jeffrey Aerni said...

Me and my family are Jewish and have always celebrated Halloween, even if it is wrong for Jews to celebrate it.

Micki Grossman said...

I think very few, if any, think of Halloween as a day of anything but a time to dress up and collect candy. It has no religious significance when I was a child.

Donna Katz said...

Coming here as a child from a country that never mentioned Halloween, it was a fun activity that my sister and I could take part in that made us feel more connected to the American culture and society. We already felt different and this was one small way to feel part of the community. This was strictly a kid activity, we never celebrated it as a family in any other way than walking around the neighborhood on costume while my father followed in his car. By the time we were in high school we couldn't care less about dressing up or candy collecting, but we did enjoy the scary movies that came out during Halloween. I see the exact same thing in my own kids. Now in high school, neither one of my older two children has a need or desire to dress up and go trick-or-treating. We never denied or forbid them from taking part of the festivities, but they, on their own decided they've outgrown it. I think we tend to over-think and draw too much attention to some things, making them a bigger deal than they really need to be. Sorry if I upset anyone.

Leah Silverman Gawel said...

Rabbi Starr - I, as always, respect your decision. I by no means am holding myself up as any kind of ideal or even semi ideal Jew. But I do try to be more faithful/observant, even if these tiny steps seem insignificant to many. However, without judging - merely as an observation: if I look around at Jews today and the assimilation I see around Easter and Christmas or I see the lack of attendance at synagogue or lack of ritual performed at home, I'd can say that in my humble opinion: we have bigger fish to fry. I think kids dressing up for Halloween should be the least of our worries.

Alana Suskin said...

OK, this is it. The final word on Halloween: The Onion

Cheryl Lerchin said...

Interesting question....one I actually never even thought of until Eli and Ella started preschool at Temple Israel and I found out there was no observance of Halloween. Although it is connected to "saints", Halloween really has lost all religious meaning. However, what about 50 years from now when the secularization of Chrsitmas is even more pervasive and everyone has forgotten that it celebrates Jesus' birth? I happen to be cool with Halloween for my kids because they aren't getting any message of it being religious (no friends going to Church, no religious songs), but the question did give me food for thought...where do we draw the line?

Jennifer Wolf said...

Rabbi, I appreciate your opinion, and am hopeful I will be able to use your words to help explain to friends the reason I dislike Halloween. I am Christian, though not Catholic, so Halloween isn't tied in with any sort of celebration of the Saints. It is just plain Halloween. I have very strong (negative) opinions regarding the celebration because of its foundation in Pagan traditions and rituals, and find I am generally looked upon as over-zealous when I try to explain my frustration and discomfort with following "the norm" in this case. I am glad I am not alone! Thank you for your insight.

Alexander Jeffrey Aerni said...

Me and my family, who are Jewish, believe that Halloween is acceptable since it no longer has any religious significance, but Christmas is not acceptable for us, because it celebrates the birth of Jesus, whom we Jews do not follow. It is true that Halloween originally honored Christian saints, but it is no longer celebrated as if it had any connection with Christianity.

Wendy Love said...

Intellectually, I'm one of those people who's familiar with the pagan origins of most of our Jewish holidays (my favorite Purim was the year our synagogue called for "traditional costumes" and my husband and I went as meticulously recreated Marduk and Ishtar). I'm also familiar with the pagan (and occasionally Christian) origins of our "American" holidays, and the Christian versions of some of our Jewish holidays. Given all of this history, I feel that any holiday that's not explicitly defined as belonging to another religion in our own time and place is fair game for Jewish appropriation. We've been joking about "Purim Sheini," but I really like the suggestion above about connecting trick-or-treating explicitly to shalach manot!

Non-intellectually... I somehow stayed Jewish despite going to public schools, trick-or-treating, never attending Jewish camp, and having a non-Jewish father. My kids attend Jewish schools and camps and have two Jewish parents who are active in their Jewish community -- I don't think their identity will be imperiled by dressing up in leftover Purim costumes once a year and going around asking for candy from the neighbors.

Aharon Fernandez said...

In my opinion, it is intelectually dishonest to compare thanksgiving with Halloween. Jews have been involved in Thanksgiving since George Washington was president. Shearith Israel the first American Jewish congregation has Thanksgiving liturgy. It has only been an official tradition since 1800s but Shearit Israel has been celebrating it well before then.

Alina Alice said...

I am always wondering why Jewish people have such an issue with following Jesus who was also Jewish and of God's heart. It is interesting that all other people could recognize a promised Messiah in him-it is written he will be light to the gentiles. God wouldn't raise him from the dead if he was a sinner like us. And he is the only human being in the human history risen to life after being killed! "Wounded for our transgressions, (...) and by his stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53;5 Him being killed is the only perfect sacrifice for atonement of our sins! Isaiah 53;11. First the redemption from our sins , then we can expect his glorious coming in the future and restoration of Israel. What Jewish people are waiting for we call his second coming in glory. Zachariah 12;10
(talks about 'the pierced redeemer of Israel' the same as in revelation of John1;7" Behold he is coming with clouds and every eye will see him, even they who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him." Daniel 7;13 talks about the same one coming with clouds.

Marcy Feldman said...

When I was in kindergarten I remember not going to school for Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzteret and Simchat Torah. I totally didn't understand why it was OK to go to school the morning after Halloween!
Also, not about kids & Halloween, but since 9/11 I stopped liking Halloween because there are enough scary things in the world. When people take the time to make their yards look like graveyards to me it's not fun. (There is something to be said for chocolate though. . .