When you think of your major Jewish holidays, Halloween does not generally spring to mind. No, Jews don't generally celebrate Halloween, just as Christians don't look forward each year to Simchat Torah.
Jews don't generally celebrate Halloween, just as Christians don't look forward each year to Simchat Torah.
But we Jews love sweets, spectacle, dressing up, going out. So, why, you may wonder, have Jews not taken to Halloween? Why do Jews feel that getting involved with Halloween takes spirituality and holiness away from them? Could it be the pagan (Halloween's original name was All Saint's Eve) concepts of witches, demons and ghosts? The magical practices that are forbidden by the Torah? The glorification of violence and death as opposed to the life-affirming qualities of Judaism? That the sending our children out to scavenge for piles of candy sends an inappropriate message of greed, gluttony and acquisitiveness? Yikes, perhaps we should call Child Protective Services as soon as we see the trick or treaters on the streets!
Or could it also be that we Jews are simply being protective of our own special day for trying on wild outfits and getting treats? No, I'm not talking about the semi-annual clothing sale at Macy's, but good guess. It's Purim. Indeed, Purim, in many ways, teaches the very opposite message from Halloween! While Purim gives Jews permission to don costumes and enjoy tasty treats, it nonetheless teaches social responsibility as well. While we treat ourselves with sweets, we also send mishloach manot, food packages to our neighbors, and matanot la'evyonim, gifts to the poor. When was the last time you heard of a trick or treater sending boxes of Snickers and Nestles Crunch to the poor? A case could be made that by not sending the poor boxes of Snickers and Nestles Crunch, they're being saved from cavities, bad skin, and being overweight, but everyone knows what happens to the Halloween candy haul the next day. It's dumped out on the bed, the best pieces are removed for later consumption and the stuff no one wants is given to the youngest members of the household, who don't know any better.
Additionally, while we wear costumes, Purim's main theme is unmasking. Esther (from the Hebrew root s-t-r, or hidden) reveals her Jewish identity to save her people. Haman is unmasked as the treacherous enemy he is and suffers the consequences. Not quite the same as knocking on someone's door wearing a John McCain mask and saying, "My friends, I'm here for your licorice."
Purim aside, though, we Jews don't really need Halloween, and not just because it's among the most goyish holidays ever. The fact is, there are so many frightening things that go on all year long in the average Jew's life, which put Halloween to shame. And they start shortly after birth, as most Jewish men know all too intimately and painfully. That's right, circumcision. Is it actually painful for the baby? Who knows? But is the lox and bagel luncheon tasty for all of the invited guests? Absolutely.
Then you start becoming a little person, go off to school and even develop some hobbies which is why you decide to try out for the school soccer team. But your parents inform you that after school, you will not be relaxing or playing soccer with your friends. Oh, no. In fact, you'll be attending more classes – Bar mitzvah classes! Cue musical sting! Where you'll be learning to read and chant a foreign language! Musical sting! And men who are at least 300 years old, with long gray beards, will be yelling at you in a language you don't understand even though they are speaking English! ! Musical sting! What's that? No, you can't play when you get home. You'll have to do your homework for your regular classes and study for your Bar Mitzvah classes too! (EVIL LAUGH) Mwaaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha…! Musical sting!
And don't think things get easier as you become a Jewish adult. No, you won't think that, because every Jewish adult who comes to visit, be it a friend, neighbor or relative, has some fresh complaint about yet another aspect of adult life you've never heard of before and aren't sure you want to now. But you have no choice. They regale you with "When I was your age…", "Just wait ‘til you…", and "You don't know how good you have it at age 12…" cautionary stories that don't exactly make you hunger for growing up. What is this word "mortgage" everyone keeps using and why is it causing so much pain?
Perhaps the ultimate real-life horror for Jews is the fulfillment of every parent's curse: "Just wait ‘til you have kids of your own!" Which, of course, you laugh off. Until you have kids of your own. And then you understand the sick, sad, depressing truth – your kids are doing to you everything you did to your own parents, and more, much more. To make matters worse, you love them. So you pass the curse down the generations, and, of course, they laugh. As do their grandparents, standing off to the side, laughing at you. As Tevye said: "Tradition!"
The point is, we're Jewish, we have Purim, and our entire lives are frightening, so when it comes down to it, I think you'll agree with me that compared to the average Jewish person's life, Halloween is for amateurs.