Can Halloween Be Kosher?

Can "Halloween" be Kosher for God-Followers?
By Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

©2014 Bruce L. Cohen • Distribution/Reprinting not-for-profit permitted with attribution • All Other Rights Reserved

[This is a position paper written and published to our synagogue's Member List-serve in 2013. It was written to address, with information and Biblical precepts, the issues surrounding whether or not Bible-adherent God-followers should participate in Halloween observances, or encourage or permit their children to do so. I hope you, the Readers, find it helpful. - BLC - Manhattan - 31 October 2014 ]

I. A Brief History & Description of Halloween

“Halloween” is a contracted form of “All-Hallows Even” – the evening of October 31. In its strictly religious aspect this occasion is known as “The Vigil of Hallowmas” preceding “All Saints' Day” on November 1, observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Students of folklore believe that the popular customs of Halloween show traces of the Roman harvest festival of “Pomona,” and of Druidism.  These influences are inferred from the use of nuts and apples as traditional Halloween foods, and from the figures of witches, black cats, and skeletons commonly associated with the occasion.

In pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland, the Celtic year ended on October 31, the eve of "Samhain" (meaning, “summer’s end” in Scottish Gaelic, eventually becoming the Celtic name for November) – and was celebrated with both religious and harvest rites. For the Druids, Samhain was both the end of summer and a festival of the dead. The spirits of the departed were believed to visit their kinsmen in search of warmth and good cheer as winter approached. It was also an occasion when fairies, witches, and goblins terrified the populace. The agents of the supernatural were alleged to steal infants, destroy crops, and kill farm animals. Bonfires were lighted on hilltops on the eve of Samhain. The fires may have been lighted to guide the spirits of the dead to the homes of their kinsmen or to kill and ward off witches.

During The Middle Ages when the common folk believed that witchcraft was devoted to the worship of Satan, this cult included periodic meetings, known as "Witches' Sabbaths," allegedly given over to feasting and revelry. One of the most important of such Sabbaths was held on Halloween. Witches were alleged to fly to these meetings on broomsticks, accompanied by black cats, which were their constant companions. Stories of these Witches' Sabbaths are the source of much folklore about Halloween.

Pranks and mischief were common on Halloween. Wandering groups of celebrants blocked doors of houses with carts, carried away gates and plows, tapped on windows, threw vegetables at doors, and covered chimneys with turf so that smoke could not escape. In some places boys and girls dressed in clothing of the opposite sex and masks, and visited neighbors to play tricks. These activities generally resembled the harmful and mischievous behavior attributed to witches, fairies, and goblins. The contemporary "Trick or Treat" custom resembles an ancient Irish practice associated with All-Hallows Eve: groups of peasants went from house to house demanding food and other gifts in preparation for the evening's festivities. Prosperity was assured for liberal donors, and threats were made against stingy ones. These contributions were often demanded in the name of “Muck Olla,” an early Druid deity, or of St. Columb Cille, who worked in Ireland during the 6th century. In England, some of the folk attributes of Halloween were assimilated by Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated on November 5. Consequently Halloween lost some of its importance there.

Immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland brought secular Halloween customs to North America, but the festival did not become popular in the United States until the latter part of the 19th century. This may have been because it had long been popular with the Irish, who migrated to America in large numbers after 1840. In the United States, though some churches observe Halloween with religious services, most people regard it as a secular festival. This reflects the prevailing American attitude toward a great many church festivals and holy days.

According to A.S. Lavey's The Satanic Bible – a modern redaction of theology and practice among those who consider themselves Satan-followers – Halloween is the second highest holiday in the Satanic Church's festival year. It is practiced as an admixture of the Celtic Samhain holiday rites (including necromancy and interaction with departed or disembodied spirits in whatever form they might exist), Christian, and quasi-Christian festival practices instituted across the last two millennia.

II.  Summary of Principles Involved

1. The Wise Ponders His Path

"Do not simply flow with a crowd to do evil." Exodus 23:2

"It is not good for a soul to be without knowledge." Proverbs 19:2

Rather than simply go along with whatever the society around us is doing, it is incumbent upon people leading what Emerson called, "the examined life," to consider the meaning of the actions or observances with which they participate. I I have met people all across the world who do what they do socially or religiously out of mere momentum – everyone in their family or surrounds has done or is doing it – so they mindlessly join in – like lemmings with their misguiding herd-stampeding instincts, running off cliffs because that is what all the other lemmings around them are doing. If we – human beings with the power of intelligent and ethical contemplation  – do not contemplate the sanity or ethics of what we choose – we forsake what makes us human (Psalm 49:20). First, we consider, next we assign merit or lack of it – then, and only then, we do or refrain from doing.

Regarding the present main "flavors" of Halloween:

Necromancy (ghosts of dead people)
Spiritism (interaction with the supernatural apart from prayer to God, through spells, incantations, and invocations/séances)
The Torah is specific that God is absolutely against the practices/idea around which Halloween revolves. It calls them a "to'avah" (an abomination, a stench in His nostrils).

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.”

This passage invites these questions:

1. Do the Believers in question know what Halloween is?

2. Do the Believers in question know what Scripture says about such things?

For Believers knowing both, joining in on Halloween seems a bit like justifying joining in a Voodoo Parade in New Orleans with the excuse, "I just like parades and colorful costumes!" and "My kids are the only kids in the neighborhood not going to the Voodoo Parade! I can't do that to them." If "Believers" are known to "believe" – doing Halloween is going to seem weirdly contradictory to the neighbors. "Integrity" – from the Latin word meaning "one" – is the moral quality of being as nearly as possible spiritually or ethically one thing, as the following Scripture enjoins:

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness?  15 And what concord has Messiah with Belial? Or what part has a believer with a non-believer? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of The Living God; as God has said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’  17 ‘For this reason, come out from among them, and you be separate,’ says the Lord; ‘and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’”

Of course, if no one in the neighborhood knows you are Believers ... that is a whole other thing. Please see Matthew 10:33.

2. Parental Dignity Preserved

In our Hebrew School, if our children ask us about Halloween, synagogue policy sums up as this: we have directed teachers to say to children who ask: "We don't observe Halloween because of what the Torah says about it." If a child asks further questions, we refer them to their parents for explanation. The Halloween thing should be left totally between parents and their children. Let us respect the autonomy and sanctity of each family's choice making.

If any adult or child expresses feeling "ripped off" by not "getting to do Halloween," we can point out that God has given us Purim to dress up and celebrate. We do not need Halloween. Our families and neighbors all stand to learn a lot from what we choose to do – and not to do. If our kids, relatives, neighbors or co-workers never see us choose to be different from the flow of what surrounds us – then, of what value is our faith?  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 To avoid undue social pressures on our kids when they were very young, my wife and I simply did not send our children to school on days when Halloween observances were either required or expected.

I make the above suggestion, as I do regarding telling children and young people they should choose not to watch programs like Married With Children (profane, cynical portraits of family life), The Family Guy, or South Park (vulgarity and profanity linked to very cute childlike characters). Wrapping up evil in fun and cuteness is, I trust, a clear trap for Believers to avoid in any way possible.

3. Salt and Light

Our Messiah Yeshua taught us:

Matthew 5:13-14 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?

You are the light of the world; a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

What we are spiritually makes us choose to do some things, and refrain from doing others. These choices, along with our words, are the ways our faith “salts” and “lights” the world. This is our privilege. This is our life. – Shalom!

Rabbi Bruce

©2014 Bruce L. Cohen • Distribution/Reprinting not-for-profit permitted with attribution • All Other Rights Reserved
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