Volume 52 Number 97
                    Produced: Tue Oct 31  6:18:10 EST 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Collecting Candy on Halloween: Harmless Pastime or Halachic Prohibition?
         [Michael Broyde]


From: Michael Broyde <mbroyde@...>
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2006 09:31:08 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Collecting Candy on Halloween: Harmless Pastime or Halachic Prohibition?

	Collecting Candy on Halloween:
Harmless Pastime or Halachic Prohibition?
	Rabbi Michael Broyde


A number of years ago I wrote an article addressing celebrating
Thanksgiving according to halacha, which concluded that many halachic
authorities accept that:
	1)Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with secular origins;
	2)While some people celebrate Thanksgiving with religious rituals,
this is unusual, and does not cause Thanksgiving to be classified as a
Christian holiday;
	3)Jewish law permits one to celebrate secular holidays, but not
with people
who celebrate them religiously.
The article concluded that according to most decisors (including Rabbis
Feinstein, Soloveitchik and many others) Jewish law permits one to have a
private Thanksgiving celebration with one's Jewish or secular friends and
family, so long as one does not treat Thanksgiving as a religious ritual
or holiday; see "The Celebrating of Thanksgiving at the End of November: A
Secular or Religious Holiday" J. Halacha & Contemporary Society 30:42-66

A number of people have asked whether these same insights applied to
Halloween and were surprised when I responded that they did not.  This is
a classical case where the application of the same rules to different sets
of facts leads to a different rule of halacha. What follows is an
explication of why Jewish law prohibits 'trick or treating' on Halloween.

	Pagan Customs and Practices in Halacha

In order to understand why one should not celebrate Halloween, a certain
background into the nature of the prohibition to imitate Gentile customs
must be understood.  Tosafot understands that two distinctly different
types of customs are forbidden by the prohibition of imitating Gentile
customs found in Leviticus 18:3.  The first is idolatrous customs and the
second is foolish customs found in the Gentile community, even if their
origins are not idolatrous; Tosafot Avodah Zara 11a ve'ei.  Tosafot, and
all of the other authorities discussed in this section are resolving a
tension between the talmud here and in Sanhedren 52b.

Rabbenu Nissim (Ran) and Maharik disagree and rule that only customs that
have a basis in idolatrous practices are prohibited.  Apparently foolish
-- but secular -- customs are permissible so long as they have a
reasonable explanation (and are not immodest); Ran, commenting on Avodah
Zarah 11a yisrael and Chidushai HaRan on Sanhedren 52b; Maharik, Responsa

Normative halacha follows the ruling of the Ran and Maharik.  As noted by
Those practices done as a [Gentile] custom or law with no reason one
suspects that it in an idolatrous practice or that there is a taint of
idolatrous origins; however, those customs which are practiced for a
reason, such as the physician who wears a special garment to identify him
as a doctor, can be done; the same is true for any custom done out of
honor or any other reason is permissible.
Rama YD 178:1.

Rabbi Isserless is thus clearly prohibiting observing customs that have
pagan origins, or even which might have pagan origins.  His opinion, the
most lenient found in normative halacha, is the one we follow. (Besides
those authorities who favor the approach of Tosafot mentioned above, there
are authorities who favor being strict for the opinion of the Gra, who
rules that the only time "secular" customs are permissible is when they
have a Jewish origin; see Gra YD 178:7.  According to this approach,
secular customs created by Gentiles are prohibited even when their origins
are not religious. For a review of the authorities who disagree with the
Gra, see Seride Esh 3:93.)

Thus, celebrating Thanksgiving in a secular manner is clearly permissible
under this rule (and perhaps even according to the view of Tosafot also).

	Halloween in History and in America

Applying these principles to Halloween requires that one explore the
origins of Halloween as a holiday.  Encyclopedia Britanica recounts the
history of Halloween as follows:
Halloween also called All Hallows' Eve or All Hallows' Evening a holy or
hallowed evening observed on October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day. . . .
In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain eve was
observed on October 31, at the end of  summer. This date was also the eve
of the new year in both Celtic and Anglo.Saxon times and was the occasion
for one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on
hilltops to frighten away evil spirits....The souls of the dead were
supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival
acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black
cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was
the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of
nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time
for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the
only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes. The
pagan observances influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows' Eve,
celebrated on the same date. ....Immigrants to the U.S., particularly the
Irish, introduced secular Halloween customs that became popular in the
late 19th century.
See entry for Halloween at www.britanica.com

As was noted by Professor John Hennig, in his classical article on this
topic, there is a clear historical relationship between the Celtic
concepts of resurrection, Roman Catholic responses to it, and the modern
American holiday of Halloween; See John Hennig, The Meaning of All The
Saints, Medieval Studies 10:147-161 (1948).

Thus, Halloween, unlike Thanksgiving, plainly has in its origins religious
beliefs that are foreign to Judaism, and whose beliefs are prohibited to
us as Jews.

On the other hand, notwithstanding the origins of Halloween, one must
recognize that the vast majority of the people in America who currently
celebrate Halloween do not do so out of any sense of religious observance
or feeling.  Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a religion in the United
States that recognize Halloween as a religious holiday.  One recent
writer, responding to Christian assertions that Halloween celebrations are
a form of pagan worship, wrote:
One of my fondest memories of kindergarten was the first Halloween
celebrated at school.  I marched proudly from room to room in our
elementary school in my Wilma Flintstone costume as a participant in the
Halloween parade.  The anticipation of the event was overwhelming,
exciting and the fun was anything but sinister .... To say that
participating in Halloween leads to devil worship is like saying taking
Tylenol leads to crack addition.  Believe me, when I was marching in my
Wilma Flintstone costume, the last thing on my mind was drawing pentagrams
or performing satanic rituals. The only thought I had was that next year
I'd be Pebbles!... It is only a few fringe group fundamentalist who
seriously believe Halloween is a holiday for worshiping the devil.
Cheryl S. Clark, Halloween Atlanta Constitution, October 22, B1 (1995).

This statement appears to be a truthful recounting of the modern American
celebration of Halloween.  The vast majority of people who celebrate
Halloween have absolutely no religious motives at all -- it is an excuse
to collect candy or engage in mischievous behavior.  However, it is worth
noting that there are still some people who celebrate Halloween
religiously, and there are occasional court cases about employees who seek
to take religious leave on Halloween day as a religious holiday; See for
example, Van-Koten v. Family Health Management Corporation, 955 F.Supp.
898 (N.D. Ill., 1997).

The simple fact, however, is that the origins of Halloween are pagen.

Thus, the question about Halloween is whether Jewish law allows one to
celebrate an event that has pagan origins, where the pagan origins are
still known and celebrated by a very few, but not by the vast majority of
people who engage in this activity.

	Halachic Conclusions

Based on these historical truths, in order to permit candy collection on
Halloween, one would have to accepts the truthfulness of any of the
following assertions:

	1)	Halloween celebrations have a secular origin;

	2)The conduct of the individuals "celebrating Halloween" can be
rationally explained independent of Halloween.

	3)The pagan origins of Halloween or the Catholic response to it
are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared, and the celebrations can
be attributed to some secular source or reason.

	4)The activities memorialized by Halloween are actually consistent
with the Jewish tradition.

For reasons explained above, it is reasonable to insist that none of these
statements are true.  Halloween clearly does not have a secular origin;
the explanation for what people are doing to celebrate Halloween can only
be explained by reference to the celtic origins of the holiday; there is
no secular origin for Halloween and its pagan origins are readily know to
all who look into it.  Of course, there is no Jewish basis for Halloween.

Applying these halachic rules to Halloween leads to the conclusion that
participation in Halloween celebrations -- which is what collecting candy
is when one is wearing a costume -- is prohibited.  Halloween, since it
has its origins in a pagan practice, and lacks any overt rationale reason
for its celebration other than its pagan origins or the Catholic response
to it, is governed by the statement of Rabbi Isserless that such conduct
is prohibited as its origins taint it.

One should not send one's children out to trick or treat on Halloween, or
otherwise celebrate the holiday.  Indeed, a claim could be made that this
conduct is derivative of idol worship and thus a serious violation of

The question of whether one can give out candy to people who come to the
door is a different one, as there are significant reasons based on darchai
shalom (the ways of peace), eva (the creation of unneeded hatred towards
the Jewish people) and other secondary rationales that allow one to
distribute candy to people who will be insulted or angry if no candy is
given.  This is even more so true when the community are unaware of the
halachic problems associated with the conduct, and the common practice
even within many Jewish communities is to "celebrate" the holiday.  Thus,
one may give candy to children who come to one's house to "trick or treat"
if one feels that this is necessary.

A related question is whether you need to stop your own children from
taking Halloween candy when it is offered to them in public.  (For
example, one goes with children to a drug store on Halloween day, and
there is free kosher candy being given out.)  It is clear in that setting
that your children are not celebrating anything (other than the presence
of free candy, which makes many children's day), and there is no reason to
not take such candy.  It is probably wise to reenforce to one's children
in such situations that Jews do not celebrate Halloween.

Finally, a teacher in a public school which celebrates Halloween in a
secular way as part of the cycle of secular school holidays need not
resign as an employee rather than teach or participate in a Halloween
celebration.  Many reasons can be advanced to support that result.
Firstly, public schools are duty-bound to only celebrate events such as
Halloween in a secular manner and one can rely on that fact.  Secondly, a
teacher in this setting 'teaches' and does not preach or endorse and
finally, there simply does not seem to be an obligation as a teacher in a
public school to prevent violations of Jewish law by students.  I think,
however, it would be improper and unwise for a teacher in such a setting
to wear a costume.


End of Volume 52 Issue 97