A Jewish Halloween?

Image: Two jack o’lanterns grinning in the dark. (fotomek/pixabay)

There’s a big bag of candy in my refrigerator, so it must be the week of Halloween.

Before I was Jewish, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I loved wearing a costume, and I loved handing out candy at the door. After I became a Jew in my 40’s, it took me a while to sort out what I was going to do with Halloween.

My thoughts went like this:

I love Halloween! I am not going to give it up!

Halloween has its roots in both pagan practice and Catholic practice – it’s not for Jews.

— But I love Halloween!

Halloween is a holiday when we basically license people to do mischief – not very Jewish!

— But I love Halloween!

We have Purim for costumes, without the whole “trick or treat” protection racket.

— But I love Halloween!

… and so on.

I had no problem whatsoever letting go of Christmas, partly because it carried some bad memories, and partly because the religious aspect of it was quite real to me. Halloween was a lot harder to give up, because I had a lot of great Halloween memories, both as a child and as an adult, and its religious content was not as immediate to my experience.

However, I could not escape a simple fact: It isn’t a Jewish holiday, and there are things about it that are simply not right from a Jewish point of view.

After a lot of years of study and thought, I decided to celebrate Halloween as a time for hospitality. I don’t dress up. I don’t decorate. However, the kids who come to my door know that they can depend on me for some really high-quality candy – stuff that they like, or can trade to others for things they like more.  And I let my non-Jewish friends know that they are welcome to bring their children by for a safe treat. I admire their costumes, I hand out the goodies, and it’s a day of goodwill all around.

But come Purim – look out! You never know what crazy thing I’ll wear!

Who IS this guy?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

One thought on “A Jewish Halloween?”

  1. As someone of both Jewish and Celtic heritage, I personally don’t feel a conflict celebrating Halloween, or the Celtic (Pagan) holiday that inspired it–Samhain. That said, I do not engage in the mischief aspects of Halloween. For me, Halloween is pumpkins and candy and children dressed up in costumes, and I enjoy it as a festive response to the return of the shorter days and longer nights. Samhain is a spiritual holiday–the moment when the worlds of the dead and the living come closest–similar to (for example) Obon in Japanese tradition, and Dia de los Muertos/Toussaint/Candlemas. While I don’t necessarily do much to celebrate it, I always find it to be an inspiring concept. And really, I feel fine incorporating Samhain and other Celtic holidays into my life, along with Jewish holidays, since both have value, and I don’t see them as in conflict with each other. I realize you’re just describing your process–I just wanted to offer my own take, which is a bit different.

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