A Jewish Approach to Halloween

Michael Segal, MD, PhD

Should Jewish kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween? This is a classic dilemma for parents, seen as a choice between Jewish identity and fun. Parents don't like to make such tradeoffs. In this case we don't have to choose between the two.

We can get guidance on this question from our charismatic forefather Abraham. I have little doubt what Abraham would have done for a Halloween-like holiday. He would have done the same thing he did at all other times - open his tent to visitors. 

In our family we try to follow in Abraham's footsteps. Our kids stay home and give out candy to trick-or-treaters, following Abraham's tradition of "kabalat orkhim" (receiving visitors). Our kids are allowed to partake of the candy, following the mitzvah (Deuteronomy 25:4) "you shall not muzzle the ox in its threshing". Although Rashi explains that this applies to animals doing work in connection with food, not to people, we feel it is appropriate to extend this principle to the special case of children handling candy. (From a medical perspective I feel compelled to add that candy consumption should be limited in amount and restricted to times after meals to reduce the harmful surges of sugar in the body).

That leaves only one remaining motivation for going trick-or-treating: excitement. We think we finally got that last piece of the puzzle to fall into place this year. Serendipitously, we discovered we can make balloons strung along our walkway light up suddenly in a rather eerie fashion by aiming a laser pointer at the balloons, as long as the balloons are semi-translucent. Our kids are filled with giggly excitement at the prospect of greeting Halloween visitors with not only a  treat but also a very cool trick (with an adult handling the laser). Our kids wouldn't want to be anywhere else than in our foyer watching the expression on visitors' faces as they stride up our walk and suddenly see the balloons starting to shimmer. 

I can't guarantee that Abraham would have found the eerie balloons to be quite his style, though the bible is full of fancy lighting tricks and one can only imagine what passed for amusing in the desert in ancient times. But I am comfortable that our kids will not feel deprived by missing trick-or-treating, and will learn important principles about coexistence with others from the traditions of our ancestors. 

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The metallic character of these particular balloons appears to be important in producing the eerie effect: Qualatex brand balloons (16 inch, round, silver) seem best. The bright green laser was from ThinkGeek.  

(Click photos for more detail)

Dr. Segal is a pediatric neurologist.  This article appeared in the Jewish Advocate (Boston, USA) on 25 October 2002. Copyright 2002, 2011 Michael M. Segal.

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