For these Jews, Halloween is celebrated as a simply American holiday

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Halloween decorations in a student’s apartment. Hannah Davidson/Mitzpeh.

By Hannah Davidson
For Mitzpeh
@hhannahdavidson

Despite its religious background, Halloween is widely celebrated among Jews, including students at this university.

It is believed that Halloween originated from Celtic culture, and was a part of their religious ceremonies and traditions, according to History.com. But over time it has developed into a large cultural American holiday, and many of its religious aspects have been overlooked, if not forgotten.

Lily Klam, a sophomore journalism and government and politics major at this university, said she has always celebrated Halloween, and has never had any personal or religious conflict when it came to celebrating the holiday. 

But Klam also went to a Hebrew immersion school, and she explained that although her school celebrated almost every religious holiday, including those of other religions, they never celebrated or learned about Halloween.

“I am from a Reform Jewish setting, and they didn’t teach us about Halloween, but they also didn’t teach us not to celebrate it,” she said.

Klam celebrates Halloween more for its social aspects than for its religious history, and she feels no religious obligation to refrain from celebrating. For her, this includes dressing up in costume, trick-or-treating and lots of candy consumption.

Sophomore kinesiology major Emily Nadler agrees. She also only celebrates Halloween as an American holiday and participates in the traditions “only for fun.” 

Nadler attended a private Jewish high school and was taught that conflict can arise when religious Jews won’t celebrate Halloween because of its religious background.

“I never second-guessed my decisions, I just took a second glance at my decisions,” Nadler said about her reaction after learning this. 

Rabbi Miriam Liebman, who has been a senior Jewish educator at Maryland Hillel for just over a year, explained that the largest reason Jews choose not to celebrate this holiday is to avoid practicing or celebrating a different religion.

“It’s a religious holiday, even though that’s not the way it plays out,” she said.  “You don’t want to seem like you’re practicing other religions or worshipping idols or anything like that.” 

Not celebrating, practicing or observing other religions’ customs and holidays is a large rule written in the Torah, Rabbi Liebman said.

Klam said she has Orthodox cousins who live in Israel who choose not to observe the holiday because of this rule. 

Despite this, Rabbi Liebman explained that she too has always celebrated the holiday and has overlooked any religious significance. 

Many Jewish families who choose not to celebrate Halloween will still pass out candy and treats to others, which Liebman sees as a nice balance for kids who may not be allowed to go trick-or-treating. 

Similar to Klam’s cousins, Nadler has an Orthodox friend from high school who chooses not to celebrate Halloween in order to not observe another religion’s holiday.  

But Halloween is not the only religious holiday involving dress-up and celebration. Purim is a Jewish holiday that similarly celebrates costumes and dressing up, despite commemorating totally different things. 

Purim celebrates the day the Jews were saved from being killed by Haman, the advisor to the Persian king, by Esther, Queen of Persia. 

“To me, they’re totally different holidays,” Rabbi Liebman explained. 

Rabbi Liebman explained that she believes many people associate the two because of the costumes, but she believes that’s as far as the comparison goes. 

For Nadler, the main difference between these two holidays is that she observes the religious aspects of Purim and not of Halloween. 

“For Purim we celebrate it because of a large event that happened, and with Halloween we don’t do that,” Nadler said. 

“The main thing that Jews should steer away from is any costume involving cultural appropriation, regardless of your religion and race,” she added.

Although there is no specific costume or aspect of Halloween that Jews specifically avoid, they should not be dressing up in a costume that could offend someone else, Rabbi Liebman said.

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