Updated October 30, 2018. Jews are founding members of the team of Light. While this has been a dark week, lets allow our kids and ourselves to enjoy a night of fun.
Halloween can be a mixed bag for many parents. Seeing lots of cute kids in costume is balanced by another straw a hectic and over-scheduled life. For Jewish parents, there is the extra baggage of a grumble from Rabbis and experts who say that this tradition with pagan origins is not appropriate for our kids.
The Jewish mindfulness practice of Mussar offers an opportunity to make Halloween more mindfully Jewish. Mussar teaches how to close the gap between our aspirational values and how we act in everyday life.
Five middot, or soul traits to make Halloween Jewish.
- Joy/Simcha. Whenever I talk to small kids on Shabbat, I ask them “what is the number one rule of Shabbat? Shabbat is a delight.” I don’t share with them the full quote from Isaiah 58:13, which says “And you shall call the Shabbat a delight.” Since we are commanded to make one seventh of our life a delight, it is clear that Joy is a fundamental Jewish value. And if you are now thinking that your Shabbat is more about schlepping kids than joy, think of a way to bring a little more joy to your Shabbat too.
- Gratitude. The soul trait of gratitude is known in Hebrew as Ha’karat ha’Tov, recognizing the good. Getting candy and wearing a costume are fun things that we should not take for granted. We can remind our kids that saying thank you is not only polite, but a fundamental part of being Jewish. And, we can model being grateful for the financial means to have a home, and to buy candy and costumes. There is a big difference between saying “You should be grateful that daddy bought you this costume” and “Daddy is grateful that we have a home to welcome all these kids, and the money to buy candy.”
- Generosity. Mussar teaches that generosity is giving from an open heart, as opposed to Tzedakah, which is giving out of obligation. When you are preparing for Halloween, are you modeling generosity, or are you showing your kids a litany of stressed out comments about putting up decorations and having to buy candy? In addition, we can work with our children to find a way to give some of their candy to homeless kids or other people in need.
- Honor/Kavod. The Talmud teaches that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai would greet others in the marketplace before they greeted him, even gentiles (Berachos 17a) Once I stopped rolling my eyes at “even gentiles” I realized how profound it was that a sage in a tribalistic society of 2000 years ago opened his heart to people who were not like him. Halloween is a holiday where it is ok and celebrated to be different. We can remind our kids of the importance of respecting other people’s costume choices. And by participating, we have an opportunity to mindfully decide to connect to a cultural tradition of our country.
- Silence. In the book of Genesis, we learn that the world was created with speech. Indeed, we assist in the ongoing creation of the world with our speech every day. Be mindful of what you say and don’t say on and about Halloween. Are you using words like “lame or schlep,” or words like “cool and welcoming?” In addition, we can remind our kids that lashon ha’ra, or evil speech is not ok. In other words, don’t make negative comments or jokes about other people’s costumes or homes. Rabbi Hillel taught that one should always praise a bride as beautiful on her wedding day (Ketubot 17a). Why? Because a wedding is a time of joy. making negative comments about the groom’s shoes could detract from the joy of the occasion. Rather, we should proactively add joy. Similarly, we can teach our kids to praise the costumes of their friends and guests.
Finally, by taking a Mussar approach to make Halloween more Jewish, you are demonstrating to your family that one way to be Jewish is to show up as a mensch. Tell your kids that Joy, gratitude, generosity, honor and/or silence are fundamentally a part of being Jewish. Wherever you go and whatever your decide to do, we can bring a bit of Jewishness simply by choosing to live according to our values.
How will you make Halloween more Jewish this year?
Sara Isaacs says
How about separating halloween from Jews for starters. Google this so-called holiday steeped in paganism. Really! What is wrong with you people?
Greg Marcus says
Hi Sara, I acknowledged this point of view early in the article. I do not share it. I wish you freedom from the burden of judgement that you are carrying.
Thank you for this piece. I will be sure to share these middot with my children today. I think it’s valuable to show them how to view something not Jewish with a Jewish lens.
Greg Marcus says
You are very welcome Sapphira
Wonderful commentary. Thank you.
4 of our city blocks were closed to traffic this evening, and after work, I went out for a fun stroll. Amidst the decorated homes, there were children, teenagers and adults in creative costumes, I meet new neighbors. I heard people encourageing children – not even their own- to enjoy some candy, to dance to the “Thriller” music, and to be mindful to share their candy with others. And I heard many “thank yous” and saw many smiles on their parents faces!
Greg Marcus says
Hi Valerie – thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience with us.