I was helping my kids hang Halloween decorations when a man, representing a charity, came to the door. I remembered him and he remembered me from a year ago because he is a Rabbi of some sort. I suddenly felt a pang of embarrassment that I was decorating my house for Halloween, which is yet another traditional Jewish “no-no.”
Why? Why did I feel this (ugh!) Jewish guilt? Come to find out, it’s not based on much except that Jews have been told for a long time that they are not “supposed” to do Halloween. In fact, there are many modern Jewish thinkers who say Halloween is a Jewish “yes-yes.”
In an article on the website My Jewish Learning entitled, “No Trick, All Treat: Halloween Isn’t Bad for the Jews,” the author outlines the history of Halloween and why the Americanized version of the holiday has nothing to do with its pagan, and later Christian, origins. When I started researching why there is Jewish law against celebrating Halloween, I found the Torah prohibition against “gentile customs.” Really? I’m pretty sure we modern Jews have picked up a “gentile” custom or two… like haircuts… and sermons. When the Torah warned against doing as the others were doing, it was a warning against a people forgetting who they were as they entered a new land. But can’t I now be a confident American modern Jew AND dress up like Princess Leia? Plus, I’m sorry, but saying (as I saw on the Chabad website) that we don’t need Halloween because we have Purim just doesn’t cut it. To me (and to the author of the above mentioned article), Halloween, is part of the American experience now and is totally unrelated to its pagan roots. In many ways, it is like Thanksgiving in that it is something we all share together, regardless of race or religion.
And yet, any Jewish institution will absolutely not celebrate Halloween.
Or Valentine’s Day.
Another article, this time by Rabbi Mike Uram, outlines Valentine’s Day’s history much like Halloween’s. He claims that the Americanized, secular intentions of Valentine’s Day make it perfectly “kosher” for Jews. So, why do we avoid this celebration in Jewish institutions? Simply because Valentine was a Saint? Even though the love themes of the holiday are probably only based on an old “wives” tale about St. Valentine and have nothing to do with religion? I don’t have an issue celebrating the fact that I live in Santa Monica, do I?
Here is what I think. Let’s uncover all the ways that Halloween (and Valentine’s Day) are “Jewish” and put all this to rest.
- Just as we take joy in drinking grape juice or wine because of it’s sweetness, we take joy in getting to have some extra special treats. Want a blessing for Hershey’s chocolate? Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, shehakol nihyeh bidvaro (gratitude for all things that come to be… especially chocolate!!!!)
- It is true that the Jewish holiday of Purim is very similar to Halloween. Not only do we dress up and wear masks, but we deliver treats to one another. Now, imagine, that those treats aren’t just gifts, but charity. Why do you think we might want to wear masks if we are going door to door for charitable treats? Maybe we wear masks so no one knows who is there just for a treat and who might need charity.
- Being kosher means being conscious about what we put into our bodies. Even if we aren’t kosher, thinking about what we eat is very Jewish, so maybe we won’t eat quite as much candy as we first planned and make sure our tummies are okay in the morning.
- Have a lot of candy? If we send some to homeless shelters or to troops abroad and share the bounty, we have done a bit of tzedakah. There is even a local dentist who will buy your extra candy and donate it. Think what good you could do with that money! It’s donating twice!
- Jewish holidays are all about getting family and friends together (and eating!). Aren’t we going to enjoy Halloween with family and friends (and eat!)?
- During Passover preparations, we traditionally turn out the lights and use flashlights to find the last little bits of chametz (foods not allowed during Passover). We use light and dark to cleanse and start a season that is new and fresh. Maybe as we lurk around in the dark this Halloween, we can turn on our flashlights, and remember to cleanse out some of our old habits and start anew with the new month, embracing the winter season ahead.
- If you want to sneak in Valentine’s Day here, it is sooooooo easy. Take a peek in any Jewish prayer book, and there is an abundance of love themes… A plentiful, unconditional love that fills us, lives in us as we navigate this world, and is sent from us in all the acts of kindness we do with family, friends, strangers, and all human kind.
Well, there you have it… A Jewishly oriented, totally Jewishly acceptable Halloween. I’m not going to feel any guilt now as I dress up…. Oh shoot! But it’s on Shabbat this year! Oy! If you want an answer for how to deal with that, you are going to have to read my last blog.
Happy Halloween and Shabbat Shalom!
Here are links to the articles mentioned and to the dentist who will buy and donate your candy: