Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Candy on Halloween

The question arises every year whether one's children may collect candy on Halloween and whether one may dispense candy to other children, whether Jewish or not, who come to your house collecting. R. Michael J. Broyde presents the following analysis:

[T]he 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...

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). Normative halacha follows the ruling of the Ran and Maharik. As noted by Rama:
Those practices done as a [Gentile] custom or law with no reason one suspects that it is 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.
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.

Of course, independent of the halachic obligation to avoid Gentile religious customs, Jewish law forbids a Jew from actually celebrating idolatrous religious events himself.

Based on this, in order to justify 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.

I believe that none of these statements are true.


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.

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 -- Jewish and Gentile -- 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.
When I first saw this, many years ago, I pointed out to R. Broyde that according to Tosafos in Avodah Zarah (26a), eivah only allows one to violate a rabbinic prohibition and not a biblical prohibition - and that is how later posekim rule. Only eivah that entails real danger to human life can allow one to violate a biblical prohibition. Therefore, eivah cannot permit the following of a practice that has idolatrous origins. I believe his response was that the prohibition in this case is of rabbinic origin, but I no longer have the correspondence with his explanation.

I'll add that when I discussed this matter with R. Mordechai Marcus - an adam gadol in Brooklyn, he thought that #3 above is true, that "[t]he pagan origins of Halloween or the Catholic response to it are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared." This would, presumably, allow one to actually collect candy and not only to give it out. Not that I would recommend it.

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