Spirit and Story Archive

Welcome to Spirit and Story, where you can find the latest thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on the contours of our contemporary spiritual journeys.

To access the CLAL Spirit and Story Archive, click here.


A New Jewish Take On Halloween

By Judy Epstein, Director of Public Affairs

This year, on October 31, children across America will don their capes and masks and go door-to-door collecting candy and treats to celebrate Halloween.  But for many Jewish families, Halloween is a time of unease and discomfort.  Parents question whether to let their children participate in a ritual that is not seen as Jewish and, more explicitly, which has roots in Christianity and other religious traditions. 

“It’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ issue,” says Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, CLAL Vice President, who points out the irony that it was the Jewish community that reminded the rest of America of Halloween’s religious origins.  “It really depends on the community in which you live and how it is understood.   If your immediate world experiences Halloween as a Christian ritual, then you might not want your kids to participate.  But if it’s not seen as a big deal, if there is no issue around it, then there’s no point in creating one.”  

“The issue addresses a bigger challenge for the Jewish community today.  What are we going to stand for?  So far we’ve been better at drawing lines around what we shouldn’t do, rather than figuring out what we want to do.  If the Jewish community is focused only on maintaining our uniqueness, then something is wrong.” 

Hirschfield says that there are many ways of participating in a custom without observing it the way others might do.  In his own home, in Riverdale, New York, for example, his children celebrate Halloween by giving out candy, but don’t go collecting. 

“My own kids get tremendous excitement out of just giving to the other children.  They join in the holiday by sharing.  The underlying theme for them is that Halloween is about giving.”  

Hirschfield points out that this approach can actually be a model for how different spiritual communities can interact with each other.  “I may not be able to participate in your rituals, but I may be able to help you to enjoy them.  In this way, I can also derive satisfaction.” 

“We don’t all have to do the same things, but what we choose not to do doesn’t make those things bad.  All communities have their own particularities.  How we connect with each other – where we can find the overlap and build mutual respect – is what links us to the whole.  This is the central challenge all communities now face – how to both honor our distinctiveness and celebrate our connection to the wider world."



To join the conversation at Spirit and Story Talk, click here.
To access the Spirit and Story Archive, click here.
To receive the Spirit and Story column by email on a regular basis, complete the box below:
 Receive CLAL Spirit and Story! 

Privacy Policy      Terms of Use

Copyright c. 2002, CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.