History and Origins of Halloween
“According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Halloween originated with the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, a day on which ‘The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes ...The autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins … said to be roaming about.’ In the early Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church instituted All Hallow’s Eve on October 31 and All Saints Day on November 1 to counteract the occult festival. It did not work. All Hollow’s Eve was simply co-opted into the pagan celebration of Samhain.”
myjewishlearning.com, "Should Jews Trick-or-Treat":
. Tosafot [a medieval Talmud commentary] understands that two distinctly different types of customs are forbidden by the prohibition of imitating Gentile customs found in Leviticus 18:3. The first is idolatrous customs and the second is foolish customs found in the Gentile community, even if their origins are not idolatrous. Rabbenu Nissim (Ran) and Maharik disagree and rule that only customs that have a basis in idolatrous practices are prohibited. Apparently foolish–but secular–customs are permissible so long as they have a reasonable explanation (and are not immodest). Normative halakhah follows the ruling of the Ran and Maharik.
תוספות ע''ז יא. ואי חוקה
לכך פירש ר"י דתרי גווני חוקה הוו אחד שעושין לשם חוק לעבודת כוכבים ואחד שעושין לשם דעת הבל ושטות שלהם והכא בשמעתין מיירי באותו חק שעושים לשם עבודת כוכבים ... ומסיק אלא דכ"ע לאו חוק היא לשם עבודת כוכבים ומ"מ הוא חק הבל ושטות ובפ' ד' מיתות (סנהדרין דף נב:) משתעי חק הוא משום חשיבות לפי מסקנא דהכא ולהכי אפילו רבי יהודה מודי דלא גמרינן מינייהו אי כתיבא בדאורייתא ולאו חק לעבודת כוכבים הוא אבל ודאי אי לא הוה כתיבא בדאורייתא לא היה לנו להתנהג אף במנהגן של שטות וסייף אינו כתיב בקרא אלא לשון הריגה כתיב ויש לקיימו בקופיץ
Tosfot Avodah Zarah 11a V’EE CHUKAH
This is why the Ri explains that there are two types of Chukah. One is a Chukah that is a rule for idolatry. One is a Chukah that is made for their own silly reasons. Our Gemara is referring to a Chukah that is made for idolatry...The Gemara concludes that according to everyone, this is not a Chukah for idolatry. However, it is a Chok of silliness. In Sanhedrin (52b), the Gemara understands that Chok is an importance, based on our Gemara’s conclusion. Accordingly, even Rebbi Yehudah agrees that we do not derive from here that this is a forbidden practice if the Torah states this practice, as this is not a Chok for idolatry. If it would not have been stated by the Torah, we certainly would not act in this fashion, even if it was only a silly (and not idolatrous) action. Beheading is not explicitly mentioned in the Pasuk, as it just says the term, “killing.” Rebbi Yehudah therefore holds that one should uphold this with an ax instead of a sword.
The Ran and the Maharik take exception to Tosafot's understanding of the Gemara in Avoda Zara. The Ran sees the prohibition of following Chukat Ha'Akum as including only those customs which are idolatrous in nature - i.e., customs that are obviously related to idol worship as well as those practices which have no apparent reasons, for they too are suspect of having an idolatrous relationship. Therefore, the permissibility of the burning ritual among the Jewish people is contingent on the fact that its origin is honor, and not idol worship. It is allowed even without being specified as permissible in the Torah. Apparently, the Ran concurs with the views expressed in Avoda Zara, rather than with the text in Sanhedrin.
The Maharik postulates two categories by which we define those customs that are prohibited: Firstly, those practices which have no inherent justification, as is understood from the usage of the word "chok", which denotes those laws which are given without a logical explanation. These practices are prohibited, not because they are suspect of being related to the religion of the Gentile as the Ran explains, but rather because by practicing these customs we appear to be imitating the Gentiles who initiated them. Why else would we do something that makes no sense, if not for the sake of conforming?
The second category of prohibited acts includes those practices which depart from the modest or humble ways in which a Jew should conduct himself. This idea is derived from Sifre's commentary on the verse: "Take heed lest you be ensnared by them" (see footnote 34 below), where it is written: "One should not say - just as they go with red garments, so will I; just as they go with kilusin, so will I; just as they go with avtiga, so will I." The Maharik explains that all these are garments arrogant and haughty in nature, and therefore not characteristic of the Jewish attitude in dress, which is one of humility and modesty. (Although the Maharik is discussing customs related to manners of dress, the same idea can be applied to any practice which departs from our moral codes of behavior.) Thus, the Maharik offers a unique insight: Any practice which we adopt, which makes us appear to be following the ways of the Gentile, serves as an acknowledgment of them, and is for this reason prohibited.
Rabbi Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:11(4)):
it is obvious in my opinion, that even in a case where something would be considered a prohibited Gentile custom, if many people do it for reasons unrelated to their religion or law, but rather because it is pleasurable to them, there is no prohibition of imitating Gentile custom. So too, it is obvious that if Gentiles were to make a religious law to eat a particular item that is good to eat, halacha would not prohibit eating that item. So too, any item of pleasure in the world cannot be prohibited merely because Gentiles do so out of religious observance.
Michael Broyde, in Torah Musings:
I was asked about trick or treating on Halloween, and I concluded that halacha prohibits celebrating Halloween by wearing a costume while collecting candy, since Halloween has a clear pagan origin and in order to celebrate a holiday with a clear pagan origin one of four conditions must be met:
- Halloween celebrations have an additional secular origin.
- The conduct of the individuals “celebrating Halloween” can be rationally explained independent of Halloween.
- The pagan origins of Halloween or the Catholic response to it are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared, and the celebrations can be attributed to some secular source or reason.
- The activities memorialized by Halloween are actually consistent with the Jewish tradition.
Since it was clear to me that none of these statements are true, I concluded that celebrating Halloween by dressing in a costume was prohibited