Most of our readers are spared the infamous December Dilemma. We don’t agonize about denying our children their time with Santa. The end of October, however, offers up a different dilemma, because fewer of us have either the historic or halachic background to speak authoritatively about Halloween. (Those who want a quick overview can try here, in the appendix.)

Most of us have some awareness that Halloween has its origins in either a pagan or Christian celebration. (Answer: both are true.) For those who risk having their houses egged rather than open up to the revelers outside (Note: I am not suggesting that this is the only option), the following findings from an AP poll and release earlier this week has a few surprises about the behavior of other Americans:

Nearly two-thirds of the people in the survey said their households will distribute Halloween treats to children who come to call; the likeliest to pass out goodies include younger and higher-earning people.

Seventy percent of people in the poll who consider themselves liberals and 67 percent of the moderates questioned said they would hand out treats, compared with 55 percent of conservatives.

Of those adults whose children will not trick-or-treat this year, one-quarter cited safety worries and about one-half said they do not celebrate Halloween.

“It’s demonic,” said Donna Stitt, 37, a nursing aide from Barto, Pa., with four young children. “People are celebrating the dead. I’m not into that.”

Last October, a Gallup Poll found 11 percent said they do not celebrate Halloween for religious reasons.

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22 Responses

  1. mb says:

    It’s harmless, fun for kids and promotes community. What’s wrong with that?

  2. He Who Remembers says:

    Halloween is a truly repulsive celebration of transgressive impulses. Fortunately for those who live in communities such as Teaneck, no one seems to practice this abomination anymore; it is many years since anyone has rung my doorbell on October 31st.

    I would suspect this to be the rule in most communities where readers of Cross-currents reside.

  3. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    Most Christians do not realize it, but Halloween *is* a Christian holiday and is in fact celebrated as such, especially in Catholic churches. Here is an example:


  4. soccer dad says:

    A Simple Jew has a wonderful story about R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky and Halloween.

    This is consistent with other stories I’ve heard of Rabbi Kaminetsky and his concern for others – be they Jewish or not.

  5. Michoel says:

    I just saw on another blog where he quotes from the Artscroll Bio of Reb Yaakov (by Yonason Rosenblum) that Reb Yaakov’s rebbetzin prepared bags of treats for the kids that came trick or treating.

  6. Avigdor says:

    Here’s a question that I don’t have the answer to, but I would be interested in R. Adlerstein’s and others’ thoughts: suppose a holiday has Christian and pagan origins, but eventually morphs into something very different and benign.

    1. Should Jews celebrate it?

    2. Has Halloween done this?

    Despite its Christian and pagan origins, Halloween has certainly turned into something very different and in fact very odd. But I’m not sure how to characterize or understand it.

    Some of the death images remain, like skeletons and ghosts. And contemporary Halloween symbols also include scary things (witches, black cats, spiders), pumpkins (of all things – a large vegetable?!?) and candy. Lots of candy. Candy celebrates happiness and life (and least in the short-term.) Halloween also has a healthy dose of harmless extortion (“trick or treat”; sort of like — but l’havdil — the afikomen). And to top it off: costumes. Not just costumes of scary things. Kids dress up as astronauts, princesses, whatever is currently on children’s TV shows, doctors, and just about every other thing imaginable. And most (but not all) of these things are depicted in a cute forms: smiling skeletons, etc.

    I cannot think of anything coherent that these signs collectively signify. The holiday is bizarre and incoherent, probably more harmless than harmful, but still full of objectionable things. I have no idea what to make of it.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    My oldest is in pre-K, and his teacher used Halloween as an opportunity to discuss scary things and tell the kids they are not so bad. That’s an important message to five year olds who don’t understand much of the world around them and see many things as scary.

    It seems that Halloween isn’t the holiday of wicked witches and skeletons. It is the holiday of cute little children who make fun of witches and skeletons. I think that as that kind of holiday, it is valuable.

  8. He Who Remembers says:

    Christianity is an amalgamation of concepts and practices, including pagan ones. The transgression of Cabbage Night and its Yoma Arichta, Halloween, give way to All Saints Day on the third day.

    There is nothing cute about the gruesome death/pain worship at the heart of this. It is related intimately to the reveling in tumah that marks the spiritual opposition between the majority religion and ours.

    From my earliest memories of being viciously attacked by marauding bands with chalk-filled long socks painfully wielded like maces at Jews, I have been as wary of this holiday as of the others on the calendar of our Christian neighbors. Halloween gives the merest shmeck of the pogromistic spirit our ancestors were historically exposed to during the spring festival as it was observed in Europe.

    I am pluralistic in respecting my neighbors’ rights and perfectly happy to celebrate AMERICAN CIVIC holidays, but I must express my concern that some of the respondents here are not filled with abhorrence toward this observance.

  9. barry says:

    See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21558436/
    for a ban on Halloween …in Russia!

  10. Jewish Observer says:

    “It’s harmless, fun for kids and promotes community. What’s wrong with that?”

    to me it screams emptiness and shtus

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    He Who Remembers, they’re not worshiping death and pain, they make fun of them. Making fun of scary things is a coping mechanism, and not necessarily a bad one.

    Is your memory of the vicious attack from the US? I haven’t heard of any such customs here in Texas, but I’m sure if they had existed they would have died out. Attacking Texans who are potentially armed is not much fun.

    Jewish Observer, you don’t think kids need to be silly from time to time?

  12. mb says:

    “It’s harmless, fun for kids and promotes community. What’s wrong with that?”

    to me it screams emptiness and shtus

    Comment by Jewish Observer — October 31, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

    Having fun and being with family and community is empty and foolish?

  13. Lane says:

    saw this , made me laugh


    10. Its only a month after succah-hopping and a Jewish mother would never let her kid be such a schnorrer again so soon.

    9. Jewish kids get home too late from Yeshiva and have too much homework to go trick-or-treating. And its not easy to get out of mishmar.

    8. How can you waste perfectly good eggs on a “trick”?

    7. Jewish kids would never be satisfied with a “fun-sized” chocolate bar. And what’s so much fun about about 2 bites of chocolate anyway? Remember those huge candy bars you could get at Hershey Park? Now that’s what I call fun sized!

    6. Orange really does not look good against our Semitic skin.

    5. Jews don’t eat pumkin. They just don’t.
    (note: Butternut Squash or Tzimmes is as fluorescent as we get)

    4. We are haunted by guilt, not ghosts.

    3. Jews have Purim, anyway. And I’ll take booze over candy any day.

    2. Rugelach and apple strudel don’t travel well in those plastic jack-o-lanterns.

    1. We just scare way too easily.

    hahah – see original here… http://www.bangitout.com/articles/viewarticle.php?a=1129

  14. Jewish Observer says:

    “Jewish Observer, you don’t think kids need to be silly from time to time?”

    aderabah. i support that for adults too. i am just reporting on my visceral response to Halloween. I think it’s all the witchcraft and cemetary spooky stuff that turns me iff. it isn’t stam silliness. it has a whole macabre bent that pretemds to be based on something, but ends up underscoring the emptiness

  15. thanbo says:

    Seriously, we’re just as glad not to have lived in neighborhoods which promote Halloween. Even in Park Slope, the kids don’t go to houses, they go to the stores on the main shopping strip (7th Avenue), out of fears of safety I guess. In Flatbush, it’s completely absent.

    My wife really opposes it on ethical, not religious, grounds. Trick or Treat is not just shnorring, it’s blackmail. If you don’t give us a treat, we’ll throw eggs at your house, or TP your trees. As opposed to Purim, which is about giving stuff to friends and to the poor.

  16. One Christian's perspective says:

    It seems that Halloween isn’t the holiday of wicked witches and skeletons. It is the holiday of cute little children who make fun of witches and skeletons. I think that as that kind of holiday, it is valuable.

    Comment by Ori Pomerantz

    Thanks Ori ! This is the holiday I remember growing up. Back then we made our own costumes out of card board boxes, and raggedy clothes or anything else that could be used for a costume. It was a time of creativity , laughter and fun. It was a time when neighbors made home made candy, cakes, treats and couldn’t wait to see what new ideas their neighbors had come up with. The pagan side whatever that means never entered into the picture. It was just a time for kids to be kids and for parents to enjoy us as kids.

  17. belle says:

    Growing up in public school I remember wholesome costumes, parading around the schoolyard, and going trick or treating in the afternoon, my parents’ admonishments to be polite and say please and thank you ringing in my ears. The most macabre it got was witch’s costumes. Today, because stores want to profit on any and all opportunities, they have put out gross displays which people buy. But kids are still kids, and want some fun.

    I use their “holiday” as a teaching moment, reinforcing the difference between them and us (they take whereas on purim we give) and to say “nebbach, these aino-yehudim children don’t have any real yomim tovim, we are so fortunate.” Then my children distribute the candy to the non jewish children, reinforcing their middah of giving and respecting all people for who they are. We don’t know if some of the “non-Jewish” children are really assimilated Jews and their parents who would find it offensive for davka the Orthodox to be stingy and non-neighborly.

    I truly believe the vast majority of those “celebrating” Halloween do not know or understand the history of it and are merely trying to salvage some remnant of fun in their pathetic holiday. We can help by smiling at them and being neighborly. This year the children and teens who came to my door were polite, fun, and grateful.

  18. belle says:

    I’d like to add a point: that in our attempts to shelter our chidren from the harmful effects of the outside culture, and to emphasize to them our differences so they can be proud Jews, some families demonize and denigrate non-Jews to the point where the children are 1)scared of non-jews, and 2)contemptuous of everyone else. IMHO this is horrible, and not Torah-dik. I try to ingrain pride without putting down everyone else. Therefore, on Halloween, I describe how the CUSTOMS are silly and meaningless and we are so fortunate to have our yomim tovim, yet I say that the children coming to our door are regular kids trying to have some fun. Then I reiterate that they were nice kids, so that they should never think that non-Jews are somehow all bad just for being who they are.

  19. He Who Remembers says:

    The marauding this year on Halloween resulted in a murder.

    MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — A security guard who was shot in the head while trying to stop Halloween egg-throwers has died from his injuries, officials said Friday.

    Neville Webb, 52, of White Plains, had been in extremely critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx after the Wednesday night shooting in Mount Vernon, said Commissioner David Chong

  20. Bob Miller says:

    Inherently Pagan celebrations aren’t somehow more permissible because Americans do them for some reason or other.

  21. Kayza says:

    There is no such thing a “harmless extortion”. Extortion is WRONG, and to encourage it, even once a year, is lunacy. And, for anyone who really DOES “trick” (and far, far too many do), that’s exactly what it is. And, their victims will tell you that the effects are not exactly “harmless” either, although not reaching the level of murder.

    As for it being all about “fun and games”, that may be true, but WHAT KIND of “fun and games”? When I was in High School (more years ago than I want to say), we were supposed to walk home after school, but on Halloween the school allowed us to use the buses (for the elementary school kids) The reason? There had been incidents where girls had been threatened, or even “egged” while walking home. This, in “cosmopolitan” New York.

    Although the comparison to “stealing” the Afikoman is not really apt, the truth of the matter is that there ARE those who object to “stealing” the Afikoman, because of the poor chinuch ramifications.

    It’s also worth noting that Halloween is often a time of arson – so much so that it’s been called “devils eve”. In some cities it has been so bad in the past, that the cities have had to mount intensive efforts to get the problem under control.

  22. Phil says:

    From SimpleToRemember.com:

    Many who are excitedly preparing for their … celebrations would prefer not knowing about the holiday’s real significance. If they do know the history, they often object that their celebration has nothing to do with the holiday’s monstrous history and meaning. “We are just having fun.”

    Imagine that between 1933-45, the Nazi regime celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday – April 20 – as a holiday. Imagine that they named the day, “Hitlerday,” and observed the day with feasting, drunkenness, gift-giving, and various pagan practices. Imagine that on that day, Jews were historically subject to perverse tortures and abuse, and that this continued for centuries.

    Now, imagine that your great-great-great-grandchildren were about to celebrate Hitlerday. April 20th arrived. They had long forgotten about Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. They had never heard of gas chambers or death marches. They had purchased champagne and caviar, and were about to begin the party, when someone reminded them of the day’s real history and their ancestors’ agony. Imagine that they initially objected, “We aren’t celebrating the Holocaust; we’re just having a little Hitlerday party.” If you could travel forward in time and meet them; if you could say a few words to them, what would you advise them to do on Hitlerday?

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