This year, Halloween comes on a Friday. Shabbat starts on Friday evening. This is an overlap that is sure to irk some, amuse others, and cause confusion in some parts of the world. In areas where there are few or no Jews, hey, it’s no problem. In areas where everyone is an observant Jews (such as Mea Shearim), it’s also no problem. In places where there are no Jews AND no one celebrating Halloween (i.e., Afghanistan) there is no certainly no problem. But everywhere else, where there is an overlap of Jews observing the holy Sabbath (or at least trying to observe it) and a lot of other people who want access to free candy and snacks, opportunities for dressing absurdly and perpetrating mischief of varying levels, well, there is bound to be some trouble.
I live in Brooklyn, New York and I know there will be neighborhoods such as Marine Park and Williamsburg and Mill Basin, where there will be clumps of kids and teens stumbling around, clad in costumes and clutching bags of swag (in this case, chocolates, licorice and chips). Also in the area, and perhaps side-by-side, will be nattily dressed youngsters (mostly male) and adults (also mostly male) doing their best to avoid or seem to be above this petty begging for nosh coupled with outrageous clothing.
There will be trick-or-treaters who ignore the Orthodox (and secretly thank them for not competing for the best candies) and others who will laugh at them for not getting in on the trail of sweets. There will be trick-or-treaters who pity the pious Jewish kids and adults for not indulging in the great American pursuit of scoring and eating massive quantities of junk food. And there might be hell’s night participants who pelt the Orthodox Jews with eggs and shaving cream and the less desirable candy (such as peppermint sucking candies).
There will be observant Jews who turn up their noses at any and every foolish costumed child and adult, as well as at the caloric, salt laden snacks that probably aren’t kosher, even if they are. There will be observant Jews who secretly pine for the chazerei and the funny clothes and the garish house decorations, because they are reminiscent of Purim, or because…they sure do look like fun. There will be some Observants Jews who fear this holiday and especially this night, because it may result in vandalism, bruising and exposure to goyishe culture of the most frightening kind. And there will be a few rebellious observant Jews who slip out after kiddush, to walk the streets and score a few choice treats to eat.
Is there any spiritual link we can find that binds together Halloween and Shabbat, or are they just two polar opposites? Is there any common ground between a silly, over-commercialized (more or less) secular holiday that celebrates snack food, showing off your ridiculous clothes and fake spiderwebs in the front yard, and honors ghoulish themes and monster motifs– and a Torah-true celebration of the day of rest, mandated by mitzvot and tradition, and rich with prayer, singing and hearty food?
Will October 31, 2014 be a day of oil and water mixed together, or will it be a bizarre mixture of competing cultures? And perhaps most difficult but intriguing, can you engage in Halloween AND Shabbat? Social historians and journalists, get ready to document this rare day. And good luck.