Trick or Treat? Absolutely!
Some of my earliest memories of freedom and delight are from Halloween. In the old days, the rule of thumb was that kids were allowed to go out with a gang of friends at age seven or eight, sans parent or bodyguard. It was so exhilarating! Dressed up in great costumes? I was Batman! I was the Phantom! I was a pirate! I was walking around in the dark, with my friends and without grownups. All that and candy, too? Come on! What could be better?
As I got older, I graduated from a small orange paper bag to a bigger paper Halloween bag with those rope-like handles. “Trick or treat!” we would howl and open our bags wide for fabulously decadent candy treats. By age 10, my band of trick or treaters achieved the ultimate candy storage method: a pillowcase. Of course, we believed it to be our duty to fill the case, which none of us ever accomplished, though not for lack of trying.
Despite the occasional viral stories that make parents and kids anxious: loose candy laced with LSD, razors in apples, etc., there has never been a reported case of poisoned or laced candy. There has never been a report of injury due to bobby-trapped fruit. Why wouldn’t every kid in America be on the streets?
There is absolutely nothing that prohibits nice Jewish boys and girls from hitting the streets on Halloween. Halloween does not celebrate any religious ideology. None of the symbols or practices is remotely religious. It’s all good, clean American fun. It is devoid of any religious connotations. Why would we eschew this utterly secular American custom?
I know; there are those who suggest that Jews must not go out trick or treating because Halloween’s roots are pagan. In response, I would advise thoughtful Jews to look at the lulav and etrog we use on Sukkot and the rituals for which we use them. The roots of homo sapiens are planted in pagan soil. As we evolved, some of them were incorporated into religious practice and some withered. Halloween does not celebrate pagan practice nor does it even vaguely threaten Jews and the Jewish tradition.
I wonder if the aversion some Jews have to Halloween isn’t like the dour Ashkenazic prohibition against things that in and of themselves are kosher but are forbidden because they remind us of things that are not kosher… We need to unclench on this one. There’s no conversion conspiracy hiding behind the jack o’lantern. There’s no satanic worship in the Snickers bar. It’s nothing but fun.
Halloween is a lot like Thanksgiving. It is a civic celebration, uniting and unifying Americans across virtually all socio-economic, religious, and racial barriers. In the costumes and masks, there are no divisions, no us and them. On Halloween, all of our children are what they should always be when interacting: the same.
We live in a partisan time. With all of the things that divide us, how nice that there is still a tradition that transcends barriers of culture and religion and politics, that brings us all together in a non-threatening joyful celebration. Trick or treat? Yes!
In another perspective on this topic, Rabbi Ruth Adar explains why she gives out candy to trick-or-treaters, but doesn't celebrate Halloween herself.