“You shall not do as is done in the land of Egypt in which you lived, and you shall not do as is done in the land of Canaan to which I’m bringing you; and you shall not go by their laws. (Leviticus 18:3)
As a young girl, I always celebrated Halloween with my Jewish and non-Jewish friends. We would carve pumpkins and bob for apples at elaborate costume parties, and, of course, we would trick-or-treat in the neighborhood. As an adult working in a Jewish day school, I learned that these Halloween rituals are not universally accepted among American Jews. Some school administrators considered the mere mention of Halloween taboo and encouraged teachers to assign the usual amount of homework on October 31st. Unlike Thanksgiving and July 4th, Halloween causes discomfort among some Jews because of its pagan roots and Christian associations with the holiday, including the observance of All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day. While they may also forego Valentine’s Day, I suspect these Jews are more uncomfortable with Halloween because of its association with death and its emphasis on ghouls, goblins, witches and sorcery. Many Jewish festivals, most notably the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot, incorporate what were likely pagan rituals. The ancient rabbis recognized that people would be unwilling to give up their participation in seasonal celebrations, and so they Judaicized them—imbued them with Jewish religious meaning. I wonder if modern rabbis would be willing to attempt a similar adaptation of Halloween.
Even though the name Halloween and its origin, All Hallows’ Eve, are associated with All Saints’ Day, I know of no Christian denomination in this country that observes Halloween as a religious holiday. All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day, is indeed a sacred observance in Catholic tradition, but Halloween, as I know it, remains a secular holiday. In recent years, some, primarily non-denominational, Christian churches have objected to Halloween as a glorification of witches and demons and the forces of darkness. However, it occurs to me that Halloween could be seen from a religious perspective—actually in all faiths—as a mocking of the forces of darkness that the light of God inevitably overcomes. As Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” states: “And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us/We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” Of course, when it comes to Halloween, I am personally a “scaredy cat,” so no trick-or-treat for me this year!
Request for our Muslim readers:
We are curious and would love to read about how American Muslims celebrate Halloween. Please let us know in the comments section of the blog, or email your response to email@example.com.
Yasmina is on vacation this week.