Monday, October 31, 2011

Where is Trick or Treating found in the Torah?

Parshat Lech lecha always comes out around Halloween time and there is a definite connection.

Lech Lecha talks about the life of Avraham. It is known about Avraham that he and Sara set up their tent to have four doors, one in each direction. When they saw travelers passing by they would invite them into their home and give them treats.

I grew up in a neighborhood in New Jersey that had a large Orthodox Jewish community. I cannot remember knowing a single Jewish kid form my neighborhood who went trick or treating on Halloween.

In Omaha, where I live now, many Jews trick or treat and there is no stigma against doing so.

It saddens me to see so many Jews engaging in this practice which, based on my background, seems to be completely non Jewish.

Before going into why I so disapprove of Jews celebrating Halloween, I must first acknowledge that the Rabbis (myself included) share some of the blame. To use an analogy, it is easy to resist junk food if a person is fed a balanced diet of nutritious food. If the people in Omaha were getting proper spiritual nourishment from their Jewish holidays they would not have to leave Judaism and seek non Jewish holidays. The preponderance of Jewish trick or treaters means that I have to do my job better.

That said, the Jews of Omaha also bear some responsibility for their actions and I want to explore what is wrong with Halloween.

My first instinct is to give the community the benefit of the doubt; Halloween is seen by Jews in Omaha as some kind of secular fun day for children. It is not seen as religious any more than Thanksgiving is.

But on further examination, I don't think a comparison between thanksgiving and Halloween could be made. The very name "Thanksgiving" speaks to its wholesome message. Thanksgiving is a day off from work where families can get together and be thankful and appreciate the freedoms that we enjoy in America.

Halloween has no such message. Ignoring the pagan origins of the day, "trick or treating" by definition promotes an unhealthy sense of entitlement and selfishness. The homeowner is responsible to give candy or else he is at best just a bad neighbor, at worst his house will be vandalized.

Avraham taught the world chesed. He gave to others because it was the right thing to do, not because someone held a gun to his head and forced him to.

But what I find even more unJewish about Halloween is the lack of history or symbolism connected to the holiday. Every Jewish holiday commemorates a specific event in our history and the purpose of the celebrations and observances is to draw our attention to the lessons of history and to be thankful for God's kindness.

Once again, Halloween is exactly the opposite. Its true origins and meaning are pieces of trivia known only by a few. Jews (and Christians for that matter) who trick or treat are not pagans, but they don't see how their actions can promote ideas and recall history even without them knowing it. The essence of everything Jewish speaks against this kind of thoughtlessness.

And I need not even mention that there are some places where trick or treating is actually carried out in mischievous and sometimes even criminal ways. Not in Omaha, but there are some places where children engage in activity that demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the property of others, another completely unJewish idea.

On the bright side, those who don't trick or treat can use this day as a day to point out to their children that just like we have holidays, non-Jews also have holidays and we can use this opportunity to teach the values of Avraham and show kindness and hospitality to all those who come to our door.