Happy Challah-ween

Candy Corn, Superman, horror movies, children, laughter and fun. Do these seem like items steeped in religious and idolatrous worship? Me neither.

Growing up, Halloween was great and we took it very seriously. My grandfather would come by each year to carve pumpkins with my sister and me. My father invested in a Hollywood- grade vampire mask with a built-in wig that would scare the crap out of any child bold enough to ring our doorbell. He also insisted on playing a cassette recording of howling and blood curdling screams he bought at the mall on the family stereo when he opened the door. The kids freaked out, he laughed for ours while we went from floor to floor in our apartment building collecting candy and having a personal interaction with each of our neighbors that so seldom happened throughout the year. My memories of Halloween are great. And as we sorted through the candy one year (checking of course for razor blades and other dangerous things strangers give kids) I remember asking: "Are we allowed to trick or treat if we're Jewish?" I don't recall my father's answer but judging by his fervor of instilling fear into the hearts of children each October 31st , I presume he was supportive of our idolatrous fun.

I now have two boys of my own who have been looking forward to dressing up as Ninja Turtles and getting candy since Purim, and that same question of religious observance has come into question again recently. Technically speaking most historians trace Halloween back to the Celtic Harvest Festival with pagan roots. Later, the Christian church adopted the holiday so as not to compete with its growing popularity and is likely responsible for naming it Halloween, meaning "hallowed evening" or "holy evening" as it was celebrated the night before All Saints Day. Over the years the traditions and celebrations around this holiday became an amalgamation of its global influences across the old world and new world creating a holiday quite distant from its original purpose of celebrating a harvest during a darker colder season when spirits were more active. In fact, the association with Christianity's All Saints Day was really one of calendar preference when Pope Gregory IV decided he preferred it be celebrated on November 1st rather than May 13 as it had been until the year 835. That said, "guising" or Trick or Treating or devious pranks didn't start in the U.S. until the early 1900's.

Most religions outside of Christianity do not embrace Halloween. Observant Jews, Muslims and Hindus all believe it to be an act in partaking in customs and beliefs that are in conflict with their own. Personally, I never felt that dressing up as Kermit the frog as a kid created any distance between me and my Jewish observance. Technically speaking, Leviticus 18:3 forbids Jews from partaking in Gentile customs and I am not one to refute the writings of the Torah.

So here is my pledge....I will promise to not partake in any religious and ritual welcoming of spirits toward embracing the new harvest during the "season of the damned" but...I will continue to take my kids in costume across the neighborhood collecting candy and probably throw a few eggs at my buddy's car. I think it's safe to say there is nothing too religious about that. Happy Halloween.