Dad ponders Oct. 31 dilemma: Halloween vs. Shabbat

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Trick-or-treating has always presented a challenge to Jewish parenting. Do we want to celebrate death, demons, witches, ghosts and blood? Do we want our Jewish children involved with All Hallow's Eve? Do we allow our children to be swept up in a Christmas-like multimedia marketing campaign by candy and chachka companies?

The easy path is to let our children do what they probably always do: Dress up in their old Purim costumes, bag in hand, with grand sugar-high hopes. The challenge of creative Jewish parenting is to infuse each event with Jewish values, American holidays included.

Conflicts of values provide us with sometimes uncomfortable yet always invaluable opportunities to help our children process and make moral decisions. Whether our children trick-or-treat at all or on Shabbat is not only a question for the observant among us. Parents of all ideological stripes and colors can use any family tradition — Jewish or not — to question and teach.

I don't know yet what Aliza and Hallel, my Halloween-crazy and Shabbat-loving daughters, will be doing on Halloween. Yet I do know how we are going to frame the evolving discussion. We are going to build on last year's Halloween question: Should Jews trick-or- treat at all? The answer was conditional. Here are our family's general guidelines for Jewish trick-or-treating:

*No gory costumes or celebration of death. Our kids dress as clowns for Purim, a holiday of giving; our kids dress as clowns for Halloween, a holiday of taking. They like pretending that they are scared of the ghosts and warriors we pass along our quiet suburban route, but they are critics of the bloody costumes.

*Do mitzvot. Collect tzedakah, say thank you when strangers give you candy and change, and give great treats to others as well. Our kids get to keep 10 candies each and we "buy" from them all the rest for a nickel each, which they put in the tzedakah box.

*Food and values. At the end of our journey, we go through the goodies to remove those that have gelatin or other suspect ingredients. The kids give them to their non-Jewish friends and neighbors.

We survived last year's assault pretty well, although our children had not been candy-kids until after last year's outing. Before, they were content with "tree candy," or dried fruit. No more. But at least our Jewish values seemed to eerily coexist with their desire to participate in this annual American rite of childhood.

Along comes Shabbat. Can we light candles, symbolic of God's presence, and then delve into this unsacred ritual? Can we have our quiet family Shabbat dinner and ignore the costumed knocks at our door? Do we want our children to resent Shabbat if we cancel trick-or-treating? Or, on the flip side, to judge unfavorably our neighbors' children?

The temptation is to make the decision for our children. But instead we're going to talk about it this Shabbat during dinner.

I want my children to decide not to go out this year. But the little kid inside me craves the excuse to venture out, even on Shabbat, to meet our neighbors, collect candy and watch the twinkle in my children's clown-decorated eyes as they see a creative costume, a beautifully carved pumpkin or a wildly decorated house.

What I want most, however, is for my kids to own their decisions, to see the world through a Jewish lens and for Shabbat to be so special that even Halloween can't compete. For this to be true, I know that I must continually adapt our modern lives according to Jewish sensibilities and give my children the tools and freedom to innovate.

If they decide to stay home, it will be an important milestone in their Jewish development. But if they go out, maybe instead of clowns they will dress up as the biblical Moses and Miriam after we have our Shabbat dinner. And, at the least, I'll get some candy.