In the coming week we will read in Parshat Chayei Sara how Avraham, in his negotiations over finding a burial place for Sarah, describes himself as a ger v’toshav, an alien and a resident. Avraham is employing terms that appear to contradict each other: How can you be both an alien and a resident? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explains that with this phrase, Avraham is defining the status of the Jew throughout history, living among and within non-Jewish societies. We, in America, are, on the one hand, part and parcel of the general society. We are full participants with civic responsibility and a shared culture. On the other hand, we are distinct, with practices and beliefs that are unique to our Jewish religion and distinguish us from our neighbors.
This message is relevant for the holiday of Halloween, which takes place this week. We, as proud Jewish American citizens, should proudly embrace the American holidays that celebrate and embrace America and its values. We join with our neighbors in celebrating Thanksgiving and July 4th and commemorating Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In this way, we are toshavim in America.
However, we, as Modern Orthodox American Jews, should not be participating in holidays that are of religious origin, with ideas that are foreign to Judaism. This is true even if they are observed by most of American society, whether secular or religious. I believe Christmas and Halloween fall into this category. Halloween is of pagan origin; its focus on themes of death and divination through witches, ghosts, and goblins is distinctively un-Jewish in nature. When it come to Halloween, our approach must be one of a ger, a foreigner who does not join with general society in its observance.
At the same time, it’s important to show our children that we respect our neighbors who represent the broader society and who have different holidays and practices than we do. In my family, we make sure to purchase candy to have available to give to potential trick-or-treaters. My kids enjoy giving the candy to the visitors and we make them feel welcome and comfortable when they come to our door. To me, it’s sad when I hear that our non-Jewish neighbors no longer feel comfortable visiting Jewish homes in our neighborhood.
I would therefore like to discourage parents from having their children get dressed up and going trick-or-treating on October 31. Judaism already has so many wonderful, fun holidays to celebrate that promote and are true to our values. We should not feel that we are depriving our children by not celebrating Halloween. I suggest purchasing candy to distribute to trick-or-treaters who come to your house and rewarding your children for learning the message of ger v’toshav by having them enjoy some of the leftover candies.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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