How do I bring Jewish values into a secular holiday like Halloween?

Answered by
Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg

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Historically a Christian rite—All Hallows' Eve, preceding All Saints Day—Halloween actually originates in several pagan traditions. Our tradition instructs us to refrain from the idolatrous practices of the many surrounding cultures. Halloween clearly has some strong idolatrous roots.

Though it may have served religious functions in the past, today, Halloween is rather devoid of religious connotations; it serves much more as a civic celebration. Even 400 years ago, some rabbis in Europe noted that they had absolutely no issue with those Jews who chose to join their neighbors in costuming, masking, merry-making, and 'snatching' food for certain occasions.

Halloween provides a wonderful opportunity for celebrating alongside our neighbors and being one with our larger community. Just because Halloween is non-religious, however, does not mean that we should check our Jewishness at the door. Rather, we have the opportunity to bring Jewish values to heart for that festival evening:

Kavod l'atzmut (respect for ourselves) — We are made in God's image and ought to treat ourselves accordingly. Often, Halloween serves as an excuse for wearing clothing that does not befit our dignity; we should keep in mind that our bodies are sacred and deserving of respect.

Sh'mirat haguf (guarding the body) — We need to keep ourselves healthy and safe. We do so by keeping eyes on our children at all times, by making sure that costumes allow for full mobility and use of eyes and ears, and that all foods collected are safely wrapped and sealed.

Moderation — This may not be a Hebrew word, but it is most certainly a Jewish concept. The great rabbi and physician, Maimonides, preached moderation at all opportunities for all areas of life. When we enjoy our Halloween gleanings, may we make sure to pace ourselves and consume our sweets in healthy balance. Halloween may not be a Jewish holiday but it can most certainly be observed in a healthy Jewish way.

Still not sure about this spooky holiday? "Halloween: A Jewish Parent's Perspective" can help you decide what's right for your family.