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Shalom Halloween

Pumpkins, costumes and candy are not part of the Halloween culture in Israel, however the holiday is typically celebrated at many of the Holy Land shrines, such as  the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, Notre Dame Center or Dormition Abby. In ‘normal’ years, these important shrines would typically host a special mass in celebration of the holiday of Halloween – unfamiliar to most Israelis. It is the solemn Catholic  feast known as All Saints Day, which is on November 1. Unfortunately, with the covid19 pandemic, these special masses are not taking place this year.

What is All Saints Day? 

All Saints Day originated from All Hallows Eve which was derived by the Celtic Druids. The Druids were priests from a religious order in ancient Gaul and they celebrated the pagan festival of Samhain,  a religious celebration that coincided with the late summer and early fall harvesting of pumpkins and corn. Initially, is was  Catholics that celebrated the anniversary dates of each saint. However, in the Early Middle Ages Pope Gregory sought to counteract the Celtic pagan festival, and pronounced All Saints Day on November 1. By doing so he created one day to commemorate all the departed who have  attained the beautification of a saint.

All Saints Day is immediately followed by All Souls Day on November . This holiday is celebrated by Catholics as well as many Anglican churches who pray for the departed faithful who might not yet have been purified.

In most historically Catholic European countries, All Saints Day is a national holiday. Catholic believers traditionally mark the holiday by visiting the graves of beloved family members during the All Saints Day feast.

Unlike Catholics, Protestant Christians generally consider all Christian believers as saints and therefore don’t generally observe All Saints Day. If they do, most likely it is because they wish to remember all Christians both past and present.

Do Jews celebrate Halloween?

According to Jewish tradition, Jews are prohibited from celebrating the holiday. However, Halloween has become such a big part of Ameican culture and many secular and non Orthodox Jews celebrate the non-religious traditions of Halloween including dressing up in costume, trick or treating and going to parties. Perhaps not in the midst of a pandemic but in normal years Halloween has a big party focus.

Why is Halloween prohibited for Jews?

In the book of Leviticus 18:3 prohibits  Jews from sharing in “gentile customs.” In fact, throughout Jewish history this specific statement in Genesis was used by Jewish leaders  to determine what was permissible and what was not allowed. Additionally, the Ten Commandments specifically states that Jews are forbidden to worship idols. Idols are a pagan tradition, and the Celtics were very involved in Pagan worship. As such, Halloween, with firm roots in both Pagan and Christian traditions is actually forbidden by Jewish ‘halacha’ or law. Of course, in modern times, Halloween is considered a secular holiday that  is celebrated by almost all school children and for this reason many non religious Jews will celebrate many of the non religious traditions of Halloween.   

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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