Ask A Rabbi: What’s the Jewish take on Halloween?
Jews tend to fall into two general camps vis a vis Halloween. There are those who say that, given the holiday’s undeniably pagan roots, there’s pretty much no way for followers of this particular monotheistic tradition to celebrate it without getting into murky territory vis a vis forbidden practices. There are others that argue that, since the contemporary celebration of Halloween (candy, kids dressed up as Buzz Lightyear) is now so distant from any religious practice, it’s fine to participate in a secular(ized) American experience to a reasonable degree.
But whatever your personal take on October 31st, it’s certainly the case that our tradition knows a little something about creatures of the night. The Talmud talks extensively about demons, ghosts, witches and evil spells. One tractate (Brachot 6a) offers some tips on how to see demons (it involves grinding up cat placenta–one wonders if eye of newt would be easier!) and another (Avodah Zara 12b) offers an incantation to use to make sure you don’t get zapped by demons when you get up to get a drink of water at night. Tractate Pesachim (110a-b) warns that if you drink irresponsibly, the king of the demons might get you, and elsewhere it lists the various kinds of demons one may find out walking, and makes some notes about what amulets might work against them. (That same chapter also talks about witches and the various kinds of spells they might cast.) Truly, there’s magic-talk all over the tradition. References to the demonic nature ofLilith date back to Biblical times, amulets, incantations and spells are found in a number of places in the tradition (and certatinly linger on in some aspects of the Kabbalistic tradition today), and the Talmud and Sefer Yetzirah , as well as a lot of later sources, talk about how one might make agolem, if one would like.
However you understand these threads–the influence of other cultures on Judaism? Evidence of magic and spirits in our world? A human attempt to express fears, hopes, and things that are hard to articulate? Some combination of things?–it’s undeniable that there’s room for the spooky and the supernatural in Judaism. Whether or not you personally get your Halloween on, there are definitely ways that the tradition can be of service–especially if you need to get up and get some water in the middle of the night.
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