Author Archives: Rabbi Michael Broyde

Rabbi Michael Broyde

About Rabbi Michael Broyde

Rabbi Michael Broyde is a professor of law at Emory University.

Is Thanksgiving Kosher?

To most American Jews, even most Orthodox Jews, there is no question about the appropriateness of celebrating to Thanksgiving; to them, it is a secular holiday that represents values important in Judaism and in American culture. To many traditionalist Jews, however, commemorating any non-Jewish holiday raises questions about biblical and rabbinic law forbidding Jews to imitate non-Jewish customs and traditions. 

Excerpted with permission from a longer version of this article, which can be found on the website Torah From Dixie.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is no longer (and perhaps never was) a celebration affiliated with any particular religion or faith, although some in America celebrate with religious ceremonies….

The first and most significant issue in discussing whether it is halakhic [acceptable according to Jewish law] to celebrate Thanksgiving is whether it is permissible to eat a Thanksgiving meal, with the classical foods that American tradition indicates one should eat at this meal: turkey and cranberry sauce. Among the authorities of the previous generation, three different positions have been taken on this topic, and these three positions have each been accepted by various halakhic authorities of the current generation.

The Legal Background

However, before these three positions can be understood, a certain background into the nature of the prohibition against imitating Gentile customs must be understood. 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 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.

Should Jews Trick-or-Treat on Halloween?

This article originally appeared as an appendix to a Jewish evaluation of celebrating Thanksgiving. The complete text and footnotes can be found on Torah from Dixie. Reproduced with permission of the author.

To many, if not most, American Jewish parents, participating in Halloween revelries is harmless. Increasingly, however, rabbis and educators from across the denominational spectrum have questioned and challenged Jewish participation in Halloween activities.

Halloween in History

A recent newspaper article recounted:

“According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Halloween originated with the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, a day on which the devil was invoked for the various divinations. ‘The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day’, Britannica says, ‘and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins … and demons of all kinds 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.”

As was noted by Professor John Hennig, in his classical article on this topic, there is a clear historical relationship between the Celtic concepts of resurrection, Roman Catholic responses to it, and the modern American holiday of Halloween.

Thus, Halloween, unlike Thanksgiving, plainly has in its origins religious beliefs that are foreign to Judaism, and whose beliefs are prohibited to us as Jews.

On the other hand, notwithstanding the origins of Halloween, one must recognize that the vast majority of the people in America who currently celebrate Halloween do not do so out of any sense of religious observance or feeling. Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a religion in the United States that recognize Halloween as a religious holiday. One recent writer, responding to Christian assertions that Halloween celebrations are a form of pagan worship, wrote:

Nuclear War and Mass Destruction in Judaism

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from “Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition,” originally published on

The use of nuclear weapons as a weapon of mass destruction is very problematic in Jewish law. In a situation of Mutually Assured Destruction [i.e., one in which a country with nuclear capabilities would retaliate to a nuclear attack with a nuclear attack of its own], it is clear that the Jewish tradition would prohibit the actual use of such weapons if such weapons were to cause the large scale destruction of human life on the earth as it currently exists.

The Talmud (Shavuot 35b) explicitly prohibits the waging of war in a situation where the casualty rate exceeds a sixth of the population. Lord [Immanuel] Jakobovits [the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain], in an article written more than 30 years ago, summarized the Jewish law on this topic in his eloquent manner:

In view of this vital limitation of the law of self-defense, it would appear that a defensive war likely to endanger the survival of the attacking and the defending nations alike, if not indeed the entire human race, can never be justified. On this assumption, then, that the choice posed by a threatened nuclear attack would be either complete destruction or surrender, only the second may be morally vindicated.

However, one caveat is needed: It is permissible to threaten to adopt a military strategy that it is in fact prohibited to use, in order to deter a war. While one injustice cannot ever justify another injustice, sometimes threatening to do a wrong can prevent the initial wrong from occurring.

Just because one cannot pull the nuclear trigger does not mean one cannot own a nuclear gun. It is important to understand the logical syllogism that permits this conduct. It is prohibited — because of the prohibition to lie — to threaten to use a weapon that is prohibited to actually use. However, it can be clearly demonstrated that lying to save the life of an innocent person is permissible. Thus, this lie becomes legally justifiable to save one’s own life too.

Pacifism in Jewish Law

The following article refers to situations in Jewish history when Jews chose death and martyrdom instead of conversion to another faith. It should be noted that this is not necessarily endorsed in Jewish tradition. Judaism recognizes three acts that require martyrdom instead of transgression: incest, murder, and idolatry. According to most authorities, Christianity and Islam are not idolatrous religions. Excerpted and reprinted with permission from “Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition,” originally published on

Difficult as it is in our current society to take a stand against pacifism as a societal or individual moral philosophy, it is clear that the Jewish tradition does not favor pacifism as a value superior to all other values or incorporate it as a basic moral doctrine within Judaism.war and peace quiz 

Pacifism is Recommended–Sometimes

Judaism clearly has accepted a practical form of pacifism as appropriate in the “right” circumstances. For example, the Talmud (Ketubot 111a) recounts that in response to the persecutions of the second century (CE), the Jewish people agreed (literally: took an oath) that mandated pacifism in the process of seeking political independence or autonomy for the Jewish state. This action is explained by noting that frequently pacifism is the best response to total political defeat; only through the complete abjuring of the right to use force can survival be ensured.

So too, the phenomenon of martyrdom, with even the extreme example of killing one’s own children rather than allowing them to be converted out of the faith, represents a form of pacifism in the face of violence. However, it is impossible to assert that a pacifistic tradition is based on a deeply rooted Jewish tradition to abstain from violence even in response to violence. It is true that there was a tradition rejecting the violent response to antisemitism and pogrom. Yet it is clear that that tradition was based on the futility of such a response, rather than on the moral impropriety of such a response.