Costumes, Candy and Conformity

Should Halloween be celebrated by the Hebrews?

With Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot behind us, I think we can all appreciate the sanctity and singularity of our Jewish holidays. Spent gathering to pray in synagogue, sharing warm round challot and conversations with family, and visiting the Sukkot of friends and neighbors, Jewish holidays are all about connecting. Connecting to God, one’s family, friends, community and oneself.

Contrast the warmth and love of these holidays with the dark themes of Halloween. A night to parade around in some polyester contraption and demand candy from perfect strangers. A night of pranks and egg throwing. A night when in Crown Heights Brooklyn, where I go to school, we avoid leaving our houses past 5 p.m. and are dismissed from school early on the presumption that the trains will be safer then.

It is hardly a nascent phenomenon for Jews to be cautious on Halloween. In Eastern Europe from the late 19th century until World War II Halloween was a night of terror for innocent Jews trying to avoid being slaughtered in vast pogroms by Russians.

Despite this, many Jews have no misgivings about celebrating Halloween, defending it as simply a secularized night of parties, free candy and fun. However Halloween is a holiday with a repugnant history. Called All-Hallows-Eve, it was a night between the fall harvest representing good and the winter famine, which represented evil. Celtics would slaughter animals for winter storage and then burn the fetid animal remains in bonfires. Because they believed ghosts roamed around on Halloween, ancient pagans wore masks to “trick” them. People would also leave bowls of food by their doors — a “treat” to placate the evil ghosts.

While nowadays Halloween has been butchered by capitalists trying to rip off Americans on costumes, trick-or-treat candy, pumpkins, yard decorations and other foolish gimmicks, it is still not a nice holiday. And, thank God, as Jews we have our own beautiful heritage and customs that have survived persecution for thousands of years.

Purim, for example, is a Jewish holiday similar to Halloween in two respects: the candy and the costumes. But the similarities end there; while on Halloween candy is demanded from perfect strangers on Purim we prepare baskets of treats to be delivered to friends and neighbors, connecting with other Jews and strengthening ties of friendship.

The costumes on Halloween and Purim contrast greatly as well. On Halloween the costumes and symbols of devils, skeletons, witches and grim reapers connote death, darkness and evil. Conversely on Purim we try to emulate the altruistic heroes of a miraculous story marking the survival of our precious Jewish traditions yet again. 

As Halloween rolls around we Jews are faced with a choice. We have Halloween with its religious roots and dark symbols, diametrically antithetical to the axioms of Judaism and our Jewish distinction. Let’s be proud Jews this Halloween and make a point of not celebrating or at least taking down the celebration a notch or two. Like it says in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse... You shall choose life....” Let’s all choose life this Oct. 31.

Chava Sneiderman is a junior at Bais Rivkah High School in Brooklyn. 

This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009