Halloween, a holiday celebrated in the US and other countries on October 31st, has unmistakable pagan origins, deeply rooted in ancient idolatrous practices. And although today its celebration is not directed explicitly towards the idol worshiping, Halloween has many elements, too many, related to idolatry.
As we all know, idolatry or ‘aboda zara is the most serious offense in Judaism. The Tora commands us to stay away from all forms of idolatry. Idolatry consists of endless rituals associated with superstitions, magic and mythical beliefs. “Death” was always considered the most terrifying mystery, and it triggered extreme anxiety and agitation. Dead people, their invisible spirits, were often the object of fear, reverence and especially of worship. Halloween is not an exception. “All-hallow-even” celebrates the “day of all (dead) saints”.
The ancient Celts celebrated Halloween at the end of summer, because they believed that the evil spirits and the souls of the dead were visiting the world of the living at that time. The pagans considered the dead more or less as Hollywood considers the “zombies”: bad and dangerous. The dead returned to this world angry, vengeful and with the desire to recruit new members. The pumpkins, which resembled the disfigured faces of the dead, were carved to welcome them and appease their spirits. Great bonfires were also lit to illuminate and thus help the dead finding their way into the world of the living. Food, particularly sweets, was left outside the doors to feed the ghosts. All these favors for the dead were made out of self interest: people believed that those who did help the spirits of the dead would not be disturbed by them (“If I pacify them, they will not take me with them”).
Cats were especially important on Halloween because people believed that cats could smell and warn about the presence of invisible bad spirits. However, black cats were avoided (or killed) because witches or evil spirits reincarnated in black cats.
The devil appeared on Halloween night from hell itself. The Druids, the Celtic priests, wore masks to make the dead believe that they were one of them. These priests knocked on the doors to claim human sacrifices for the devil, or to satisfy the vengeful spirits. And if one did not want to become a human sacrifice, at least, had to appease the evil spirits with sweets.
As you can see in this brief description, today Halloween may seem funny or even innocent, but it is deeply rooted in primitive idolatry and the pagan cult of death and evil spirits. In one way or another, most (or all) of the elements that were part of the ancient pagan celebration of Halloween are still present in Halloween today. Therefore, we Jews must avoid participating in any way, active or passive, of Halloween.
Halloween might be an excellent opportunity to educate our children. How? Idolatry, everything that we described in this email and much more, was very normal in antiquity. We Jews opposed idolatry from the day our father Abraham destroyed the idols of his father Terah. But many times it is difficult for us to describe to our children the terrible and fearsome atmosphere of paganism and superstitions, the innumerable fantasies and deceptions around them. In other words: the true dimension of the aboda zara which Abraham Abinu opposed when he became the first iconoclast. It is difficult for us to appreciate the magnitude of what Abraham faced because the primitive ‘aboda zara has almost disappeared … Halloween is an opportunity to help our children to visually identify the superstitions of ‘aboda zara and the importance of staying away from it. Observing Halloween from outside will surely make us feeling proud and privileged to be the descendants of our courageous father Abraham Abinu