Sephardic, Modern Orthodox

Since the pagan elements of trick-or-treating have effectively been “neutralized,” is it wrong to allow our children to participate? The Torah’s answer is “yes.”

Through its prohibition of “foreign” customs, the Torah draws attention to its own uniqueness. Primitive people found themselves in an overwhelming, mysterious and threatening environment in the face of which they felt powerless and vulnerable. They created religious rituals and superstitions as a way of exerting magical influence over the forces of nature that they could not control physically. Man made religions thus reflected the fears, anxieties, hopes and fantasies of their adherents.

The Torah is designed to challenge and educate human beings at the highest level of which they are capable—morally, intellectually and emotionally. Unlike simplistic folk religions, Judaism is a comprehensive system of philosophy and commandments that must be diligently studied and observed to be appreciated. In the framework of Judaism, a human being’s most sublime faculty—his or her intellect—is not only engaged in religious practice, it is the epicenter of religious experience. This is a far cry from the arena of primitive rituals in which human weaknesses and emotional insecurities beget piety.

In order to emphasize these crucial distinctions, the Torah prohibits us from adopting customs that have roots in idolatrous religions. Rather than sending Jewish children out to trick-or-treat, we should use Halloween as an opportunity to teach them about the features of their heritage that make it truly unique.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof,
Magen David Sephardic Congregation,
Rockville, Maryland



Modern Orthodox

This is not so much a halachic question; it is a public policy question. Do we want to prohibit or permit this activity?

Historically, Orthodoxy has been suspicious of letting its youth celebrate American holidays for fear that this would lead to assimilation or adoption of “practices of Gentiles.” When I was growing up, Orthodox rabbis were critical of those who celebrated Thanksgiving, but as Orthodoxy has acculturated, such attitudes have relaxed.

One could argue for prohibition of Halloween because it is associated with witches and ghosts. Judaism has implacably opposed witchcraft or attempted communication with the dead since biblical times. Monotheism is the antithesis of magic. “There is none beside Him” (Deuteronomy 4.35), and no abracadabra tricks can manipulate God to get unnatural results.

That having been said, Halloween is almost entirely a product of American consumer culture, and there’s more mockery than true belief to be found in the ever-popular costumes of witches and monsters.

My wife and I discouraged our children from trick-or-treating—partly out of fear of religious syncretism, but mostly because we did not want them to internalize American consumerist psychology, and because eating a lot of candy is unhealthy. But I confess, trick-or-treating is popular in our neighborhood. In order to be good neighbors, we leave boxes of fruits, treats and candy goodies in front of the house with a sign inviting kids to help themselves to one item out of each box. We don’t check if any of the kids are Jewish. Conclusion: If a Jewish child wants to go trick-or-treating for social reasons, it’s not a big deal.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg
President, Jewish Life Network/ Steinhardt Foundation
New York, New York




As Halloween is celebrated nowadays, it is mostly about trick-or-treating, dressing up, having fun and getting free candy, with few or no religious overtones. That said, there are issues about celebrating it that are Jewishly problematic and are worthy of consideration by thoughtful Jewish parents.

There is a halachic prohibition against a belief in sorcerers and magic. Some of this begins with the biblical tale of Saul, who consulted a fortune teller instead of God about his future. His misjudgment resulted in Saul losing both his throne and his mind.

As long as parents discuss with their children the difference between believing in sorcery and reality, I see no significant objection here. Most of my objections are related to the conflicts that can arise between celebrating Halloween and doing the right thing, Jewishly. For example, for the family that keeps kashrut, there is surely the issue of whether some of the candy and food that their kids will “bag” will meet the Jewish edible standards. But this could be addressed by carefully “sifting” through the candy, and donating all unacceptable items to a food bank for other children who can partake without religious restrictions.

A more serious conflict arises when Halloween coincides with Shabbat, Jewish holidays or Hebrew school attendance. What kind of message is a parent giving to his or her child when he or she is told that to going out trick-or-treating takes precedence over Jewish study or celebrating Shabbat and other Jewish holidays?

Parents may also wish to consider the values suggested by Halloween, such as demanding sweets from strangers. The original saying is in actuality a threat: “If you don’t give me a treat, I’ll give you a trick.”

Can Jewish kids live without these ghosts, goblins and candy? I certainly think so. Will it do irreparable damage to their Jewish identities if they participate? Probably not. But as parents, we should think about the values, priorities and commitments we want our children to develop.

Rabbi Ron Isaacs,
Temple Sholom
Bridgewater, New Jersey




Though I write as a Reform rabbi, I offer what can be called (in the phraseology of Rabbi Isaac M. Wise) an American Jewish response.

To be completely true to our tradition, the answer is, “No. Jewish children should not go trick-or-treating on Halloween.” Inasmuch as this is a Christian/pagan holiday—no matter how secularized it has become—it is inappropriate for Jews to observe it in any manner.
However, the matter is more complicated. Are there moments when Jews have taken an essentially foreign idea and co-opted it and changed into an authentic Jewish tradition? Of course! And the most obvious example is the Passover seder. So many of our traditions were lifted directly from Roman influences. In acknowledging those antecedents, would anyone suggest that our practices are somehow inauthentic? Of course not!

In this same light, there are few who would connect the carefree, costume-wearing, candy-gorging escapades of our children on October 31 with the religious overtones that the holiday once carried. As such, the holiday has evolved into a secular celebration. Therefore, it would seem to be as innocent an activity as celebrating New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving (both of which once had Christian connotations).

Even in accepting Halloween, do I want our Jewish children to associate the best time of the year (dressing in costumes and getting as much candy as one can carry) with a holiday with nominal pagan andor Christian overtones? Of course not! Instead wouldn’t it be wonderful if they thought of the Jewish holiday where children dress in costumes, eat lots of goodies and act in all types of silly and fun ways? (Purim!) But that, I guess, is for another discussion.

Rabbi Arthur P. Nemitoff
The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, Overland Park, Kansas




We could boycott All Hallow’s Eve for its ghoulish associations—and, in medieval Christendom, Jews received more trick than treat. We might avoid this holiday of “pagan” origin, lest we “do as the other nations.” Ghosts of Halloweens past may still haunt us.
Or Halloween could be just a harmless diversion. We might accompany our Power Rangers and Doras around the neighborhood to say that “America is different,” that we feel safe(r) on these shores. Since it usually falls in Mar-Cheshvan, the only holiday-less Hebrew month, we might even make it our own.

Mordecai Kaplan taught that we who “live in two civilizations” must answer as Jews and Westerners both. We live in mostly mixed communities where Halloween is an accepted norm. Our kids have friends, Jewish and non, who will invite them trick-or-treating. Though we reserve the right to withhold children’s immediate gratification, should we put our foot down here?

It’s a tightrope act: Avoiding Halloween may feel like the Jewish thing to do, yet a simmering feeling of “I missed the funnest thing ever” can subtly undermine future Jewish identity. So rather than decree or surrender, we should decide with our kids and engage them in discussion of the values at hand. Secular concerns at Halloween have a Jewish angle, too—moderation, safety, neighborliness, ethics of food—making it a “teachable moment.” We can balance values like kavod (respect), tzedakah, kashrut, briyut (health) and oneg (enjoyment). Options abound: Serve treats, but not go door-to-door? Avoid skeleton costumes? Collect candy, then donate it? Between abandon and avoidance lie many possibilities. Let’s choose wisely, together.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb,
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda, Maryland




In the American melting pot of shared cultures, trick-or-treating is as religious as a bagel. Dressing in costume for occasions other than Purim is Jewishly acceptable. It makes sense that Jewish schools don’t celebrate Halloween, but it’s normal for Jewish students to want to take part in it.

Halloween is a time to teach piku’ah nefesh—protecting or saving a life. A few examples: When trick-or-treating, children should be accompanied by an adult. Teens are safer at a Halloween party than going out alone. Products that are unsealed shouldn’t be eaten. Large amounts of candy can be dangerous to our health.

When Halloween falls on a Friday, hold a party on motza’ei Shabbat. Invite your child’s Jewish and non-Jewish friends and serve delicious, kid-friendly food. More harm is done to Jewish continuity by forbidding youth from observing holidays like Halloween than by supporting the celebration in safe and healthy ways.

Rabbi Pamela Frydman
President, OHALAH: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal
Baltimore, Maryland




This is a tough one. Jewish children should learn about their own traditions rather than always celebrating everyone else’s. Still, it is far better for a Jewish child to go trick-or-treating than to celebrate an iota of Christmas and Easter.

Why? Because Halloween is probably a whole lot closer to Jewish tradition than Christmas or Easter. After all, Jewish tradition also held annual rituals of warding off evil spirits, or winds, with the approach of major seasonal changes. As the Midrash teaches, “What is the ritual of the barley offering? One waves the barley shoots in its season, first inward and outward to ward off harsh winds that are harmful to the crops, then upward and downward to ward off harsh rains that are harmful to the crops. Others say, first inward and outward to the One to whom belongs all of the universe, then upward and downward to the One to whom belongs both the Upper Realms and Lower Realms.” Even the shofar that we blow so glibly these days on Rosh Hashanah was to our ancestors an implement to ward off evil forces. So if you must take your kids trick-or-treating, employ it as an opportunity to introduce them to the richness of their own tradition.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Walking Stick Foundation
Cuba, New Mexico




For secular Jews and the Humanistic Jews among them, the question isn’t, “to trick or not to trick,” but what kind of treats to hand out, and how to regulate all that sugar intake. We’re also concerned about which costumes are acceptable and which are not, generally preferring a benign Bob the Builder over a blood-curdling goblin. In short, we welcome Halloween as part of our shared American culture.

The holiday’s pagan origins were co-opted by the Christian Church, when it re-cast an earlier Celtic festival, Samhain, into All-Hallows, meaning All-Saints’ Day, which eventually became Halloween. You can rename holidays as much as you like, but tell-tale signs of earlier, compelling rituals persevere.

As Jews, we’re experts at this effort to submerge pagan Canaanite rituals into grander stories of the Exodus saga, but farmers’ earlier rituals that marked critical seasonal changes continue to show up at our seder. The menorahs that we light at Hanukkah are descendants of bonfires lit at the winter solstice.

Halloween’s attraction, I think, is to be found in its pagan origins. Despite all our vaunted modern and rational ideas, we have permission, even if briefly, to think about dead spirits, demonic forces and the uncertainty of winter closing in on us. Thankfully, those very goblins subverted the Church’s efforts to turn it into a holiday for saints, and it remains accessible for all of us to enjoy.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer
The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, New York, New York

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  1. 1) Do you believe that Supernatural Miracles … in its truest
    • still happen today, whether on a personal level,
    • … and if so, would it happen .. because God has endowed an earthly individual
    • (such as there were .. in the bible days of the Tanach, ..prophets)
    • .. with the “Gift of Miracles, or –of Healing?”
    • … or could an individual .. praying and petitioning to God ..have a personal encounter
    • .. for example .. an Angel of the Lord to show up and give a message to them personally.. that can be life-changing.
    Does similar incidents still happen today the 21st Century?

    2).. There has been times that I have listened to the Rabbi give a profound message, comment, or sermon … So what does it mean ..when I feel “sheer goosebumps” cascade across my face, head, or arm for a brief moment …either “during or immediately following” the time they speak …whatever the subject, topic, etc.???
    So, what would that “feeling” mean to someone who hears various messages from the Rabbi
    • that “feeling” a confirmation?
    • ..or is that “feeling” trying to speak to that individua, personally,l to do whatever was mentioned?
    • ..or that it applies to that person’s present situation
    o ..either as an answer to a dilemma?
    • ..or a Word from the Lord to the individual who had that “feeling?”
    • ..or to move that individual to “action,” etc?

  2. Hello,

    I stumbled upon your site while inquiring about ways to also divert my children from wanting to “follow the herd”. As an Orthodox Christian mother, I come without judgement, but only love for all men and women, and only to glorify God. I wanted to provide a correction/clarification/some education on comments regarding Hallowe’en being a Christian holiday. It is anathematically the extreme opposite.

    As Orthodox Christians we must carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world, its activities, holidays and festivals, to be certain whether or not these involvements are compatible with our Holy Orthodox Faith. For a while now everything in the outside world is reminding us that Halloween is near: at school our children are busy painting pumpkins, cutting and pasting bats, ghosts and witches and planning the ideal costume in which to go trick-or-treating.

    Most of our schools, local community organizations and entertainment on television, radio and press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween. Many of us will participate in this festival by going to costume parties, or by taking our children trick-or-treating in our neighborhood after dark on October 31st. Most of us will take part in the Halloween festivities believing that it has no deeper meaning than fun and excitement for the children. Most of us do not know the historical background of the festival of Halloween and its customs.

    The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Britain, Ireland and Northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the “new year” in the fall, on the eve of October 31st and into the day of November 1st, when, as they believed the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. Instructed by their priests, the Druids, the people extinguished all hearth fires and lights and darkness prevailed.

    According to pagan Celtic tradition, the souls of the dead had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death and made total communion with Samhain, the Lord of death, who could be appeased and cajoled by burnt offerings to allow the souls of the dead to return home for a festal visit on this day. The belief led to the ritual practice of wandering about in the dark dressed in costumes indicating witches, hobgoblins, fairies and demons. The living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by this ritual act of imitation, through costume and the wandering about in the darkness. They also believed that the souls of the dead bore the affliction of great hunger on this festal visit. This belief brought about the practice of begging as another ritual imitation of the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. The implication was that any souls of the dead and their imitators who are not appeased with “treats”, i.e. offerings, will provoke the wrath of Samhain, whose angels and servants could retaliate through a system of “tricks”, or curses.

    In the strictly Orthodox early Celtic Church, the Holy Fathers tried to counteract this pagan new year festival by establishing the feast of All Saints on that same day (in the East, this feast is celebrated on another day). The night before the feast (on “All Hallows Eve”), a vigil service was held and a morning celebration of the Eucharist. This custom created the term Halloween. But the remaining pagan and therefore anti-Christian people reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor on this evening, so that the night before the Christian feast of All Saints became a night of sorcery, witchcraft and other occult practices, many of which involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons, for example, developed as a mockery of the Church’s reverence for holy relics. Holy things were stolen and used in sacrilegious rituals. The practice of begging became a system of persecution of Christians who refused to take part in these festivities. And so the Church’s attempt to counteract this unholy festival failed. This is just a brief explanation of the history and meaning of the festival of Halloween. It is clear that we, as Orthodox Christians, cannot participate in this event at any level (even if we only label it as “fun”), and that our involvement in it is an idolatrous betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if we imitate the dead by dressing up or wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not a Celtic Samhain, but Satan, the evil one, who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of “trick or treat,” our offering does not go to innocent children, but rather to Satan himself.

    Let us remember our ancestors, the Holy Christian Martyrs of the early Church, as well as our Serbian New Martyrs, who refused, despite painful penalties and horrendous persecution, to worship, venerate or pay obeisance in any way to idols who are angels of Satan. The foundation of our Holy Church is built upon their very blood. In today’s world of spiritual apathy and listlessness, which are the roots of atheism and turning away from God, one is urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices when their outward forms seem ordinary, entertaining and harmless. The dogma of atheism underlies many of these practices, denying the existence of both God and Satan.

    Our Holy Church, through Jesus Christ, teaches that God alone stands in judgment over everything we do and believe and that our actions are either for God or against God. No one can serve two masters. Therefore, let us not, as the pagan Celts did, put out our hearth fires and wander about in the dark imitating dead souls. Let us light vigil lamps in front of our Slava icons, and together with our families, ask God to grant us faith and courage to preserve as Orthodox Christians in these very difficult times, and to deliver us from the Evil One.

    -St. Nikolaj (Velimirovic)

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