Torah For Today: Halloween

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Torah For Today: Halloween

Rabbi Shauly Strom looks into Jewish texts for its view on a topical issue

A Jack-o-lantern, on Halloween
A Jack-o-lantern, on Halloween

Halloween – in any year other than the present pandemic – is a time when people wear masks and costumes, tell ghost tales and go out trick or treating.

The festival is thought to have Celtic roots and marked the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. What does the Torah and Judaism say about Halloween?

In these current times, seeing that Halloween trick or treat has been abandoned this year because of the coronavirus makes me reconsider the Jewish involvement in this festival.

There is something nostalgic about beckoning the cold Autumn days with splashes of orange, pumpkins and hooded effigies.

Although perhaps not celebrated as much as our transatlantic brethren, Halloween is very much something that surrounds us and is a prevalent part of our consumer culture, if not our Jewish culture – though I have yet to see orange challah in my local kosher bakery.

Jews are however synonymous with the handing out of treats – or any food for that matter – ever since antiquity.

Even in my professional capacity as a rabbi for university students, we have seen a large part of our face-to-face work shift from hosting events to handing out food packages.

The concept of Jewish giving goes beyond a Jewish mother’s persistence for her child to eat her homemade chicken soup, in that it is very much a reflection of the nature of our Jewishness.

The Talmud takes this further and reflects that conversely “one who despises gifts will live”.

While the Halloween tradition of trick or treating might be curtailed this year, on the flip-side we should acknowledge that we still have the health to refuse the treats this year and instead live.

Rabbi Shauly Strom is director of Northern Campuses at Aish UK

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