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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.


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Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Customs - Frum Style

Here's another brief post as I'm still in over my head at work...

Like most Orthodox Jews my family and I do not celebrate Halloween. Although it has more to do with playing dress up and eating candy these days, it's pagan origins keep most OJ's steering clear of it's spooky celebration.
I do however (as my parents have before me) give out candy to tricker-treaters who come to my door.
There are many adorable (and not so adorable children) in our neighborhood and our doorbell will ring from 4PM (little kids with plastic pumpkins holding their mommy's hand while daddy takes a picture) to 9PM (teenagers with a cheesy rubber mask and pillowcase.)

Here are my rules:
  • Two or three mini-candy bars per tricker-treaker.
  • No grabbing
  • Anyone arriving after 9PM gets nothing. If you are old enough to be out at 9:30 on a school night you are too old to tricker-treat.
  • My kids get 2-3 candies each over the course of the evening (if they eat dinner.)
  • The remaining candy (if there is any) goes on the high shelf in the kitchen to be distributed later as I see fit.

When I was a kid I found giving out candy to tricker-treaters to be a lot of fun. A veritable costume parade and the joy of handing out candy to children (and of course eating some) without having to leave your house seemed like quite a deal. My kids enjoy it too. It's rather disruptive during dinner and homework time but it's only once a year so I can handle it.

34 Comments:

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Elie said...

I always liked giving out candy to the "trick-or-treaters", and my kids do too. We have some friends who won't "support" Halloween by giving out candy. I feel that's too extreme and just leads to anti-Jewish feelings, which unfortunately we have much too much of already. To say nothing of the risk of having your trees "TPed".

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Shifra said...

I agree- it's not like without our "support" Halloween will dissapear.
As holidays go it's pretty harmless- mischief night on the other hand, I can do without!

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Elie said...

It's interesting how times change. When I was growing up, the division was between those in my (Orthodox) day school who went out trick-or-treating, and those who wouldn't themselves, but would give candy to kids that came. Now it's between those who give out candy, and those who won't even do that. I've stayed the same, but the world has shifted around me, so now I'm "left" instead of "right"!

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

LOL!!
Same here.
I went to an orthodox day school but the percentages at that time was 70% non-orthodox to 30%orthodox and that's a generous estimate. As a result I felt deprived and righteous.
My kids actually feel pretty lucky.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

i put nails in the babe ruth bars

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I disapprove of Halloween (and tell my Conservative students so) not necessarily because of the Polytheistic/Christian origins but because the idea of trick or treat is immoral extortion — "give me food or i'll do something bad to your property!"

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

Amshin-
You are scary... too scary even for Halloween.

Steg- you are right... even if there is no TRICK per se it's still like sending your kids out begging which is very creepy.

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Air Time said...

We have spent most of the past few days in northern Israel, and haven't seen any signs of holloween. We used to always have a bag of candy for trick or treaters, but haven't had a trick or treater in our neighborhood for years.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Got this a National Lampoon I read back in college. I was going to put it on my own blog but I won't be stingy!

What not to do today: Go to the grocery store and buy just a bag of apples and a bag of razor blades.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

LOL!!
You should put it on your blog too!

Treppenwitz (I don't know if you read his blog, it's very good) had a post not so long ago about being a "content hog" ie writing up something really good for someones comment section then, upon realising how good it is pasting it as a post on your own blog instead!

Good to see you are generous with your content!

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Mirty said...

My guys (husband & stepson) transformed themselves into The Blues Brothers for a Halloween party Saturday night. They were amazing. (I'll have pictures soon.) When I was a kid, I went trick or treating; stopped when we moved to a different neighborhood & community where religious Jews didn't celebrate Halloween. It's fun though, I think.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

when I was growing up, the religious Jewish kids started their own version of halloween - sukkah hopping - and would come around to everyone's sukkah with a bag to be filled with candy. Thankfully, that tradition did not take off....

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

Yes, that just encourages kids to be greedy. Jewish kids have ample access to sweets, there is no need for them to haul off large quantities from the sukkot of friends and neighbors.

I am a big fan of sukkah hopping generally. Visiting friends and neighbors, and seeing everyone's sukkah and decorations is lots of fun for the whole family.

 
At 9:42 PM, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

I disapprove of Halloween (and tell my Conservative students so) not necessarily because of the Polytheistic/Christian origins but because the idea of trick or treat is immoral extortion — "give me food or i'll do something bad to your property!"

I'm not exactly a fan of Halloween (and have done nothing to acknowledge it this year until typing this post), but I don't think that the whole "trick" part of "trick-or-treat" is even on the consciousness of little kids today. (Perhaps on the consciousness of teen-agers, which would be relevant to your students.)

When I was a little kid, I didn't really do trick-or-treating, but I was very familiar with the practice from the kids in the neighborhood. I know that I wasn't quite sure what the "tricker-" morpheme of "trickertreet" meant. In fact, I vaguely remember reading a kids' book in which kids go to a particular house, say "Trick or Treat!", and the balabos says: "You ask trick or treat, and I choose trick!" He proceeds to perform magic tricks for the kids. I remember that this made sense to me as an explanation of the "trick" morpheme in "trickertreet". Certainly, if we didn't have any candy at home (which we often didn't), and kids came to our door, they would never play tricks on us. Their mommies would say: "Oh, this family doesn't have candy; let's go somewhere else."

 
At 9:44 PM, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

In many Yekkish shuls, such as KAJ-Breuer's, the kids walk around with bags on Simchas Tôro, during hakkofôs, and the adults through candy into the bags.

 
At 5:05 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:42 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

American Jewry & Halloween

Thankfully, living in Israel, there is no such thing as Halloween. There are no pumpkins, cars don’t get egged, and houses are not covered in toilet paper. One is not forced to decide whether or not to celebrate Halloween, or whether to merely recognize it by giving out candy to the trick-or-treaters (which undoubtedly serves to only confuse poor Jewish children, forcing them to figure out why they are celebrating / indirectly participating in a non-Jewish holiday, and why, if they are already giving out candy, they cant dress-up and go trick-or-treating themselves).

In Israel, we do not have such dilemmas as the one Elie faces, feeling compelled to participate in Halloween traditions, if only not to engender anti-Jewish sentiments. Nor, does one in Israel have to worry about being branded an extremist for choosing not to celebrate / participate in non-Jewish holiday festivities (we get branded as extremists for other things, however). We do not need to worry about our children (or their parents) having more "fun" celebrating non-Jewish holidays than Jewish ones.

Why not come home to Israel, where there are no tricks when it comes to holidays - there are only Jewish ones to celebrate, and lots of yummy Jewish treats? There is no fear of what the "goyim" might think if we act too Jewish, and your children can grow up to be proud, passionate Jews who are not confused or conflicted by the foreign values imposed upon them (even by the most well-meaning of parents) by living in America.

 
At 8:57 AM, Anonymous base said...

Teaching your Jewish children to respect other people's harmless candy-collecting traditions = confusing them?

Being obnoxious towards holidays nobody's making you celebrate = being proud of Jewish culture?

Some people make aliyah from a love of homeland & family. and some people make aliyah because they can't stand living in the same universe as other kinds of people.

 
At 8:59 AM, Anonymous base said...

as if Israel doesn't have plenty of 'foreign values' too, unforunately...
consumerism, fundamentalism, nationalism, bigotry, commercialism, idolatry...

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Base - respecting another people's culture and having your own children particpate in it are two totally different things.

By having Jewish children give-out candy and particpate in other Halloween custons they are taking part in a non-Jewish (Pagan) holiday - which is not what Jews are meant to be doing.

From your other comments, it is clear that you view the concept of a Jewish State as being an anethema, as why would the Torah ever consider having the Jewish People live in a Jewish society - what a bigoted idea.

As for all of the troubles that you listed about Israel, I recall 10 spies in the wilderness who has similar ideas... as they, like you, chose the wilderness over Israel.

 
At 6:26 PM, Blogger YS said...

I actualy had a non-jewish friend ask me about that one: "Why is the Torah promoting an insular, 'go live in Israel' attitude for the Jewish nation? She felt it ran quite contrary to todays open society.

Thoughts?

 
At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sukkah Hopping for treats...they do that in religous neighborhoods where I live. I had never heard of it, but the kids love it.

As for not celebrating Halloween, I don't get it. For the same reasons why you won't allow the kids to celebrate Halloween, how is passing out candy ok? That is still consider participating. The Jehovah Witness and other groups of people who don't observed the holiday, simply turns off their porch light or puts up a sign on their door.

As for not observing it because of it's pagan roots, I don't think Jews are the only ones not to worship idols or pagan gods. Christians of all backgrounds believe that too, yet, they no longer associate one with the other. I am sure there are many words, customs, traditions, etc that originate from cultures of long ago. Making a big deal over Halloween seems silly to me. Thanksgiving is observed by the orthodox, and who were the people that originated it. It was dinner to give thanks to their god. When we celebrate it now, are we too giving thanks to Jesus and God, simply because the pilgrims did?

 
At 1:29 PM, Anonymous base said...

modern-day americans aren't "pagans". I haven't heard anyone trying to revive the old issur on doing business with idolaters on the days before their holidays lest we be supporting avoda zara.
giving neighborhood children a candy bar and a smile when they come to your door is about not pretending that frum jews are the only people worthy of existing in the universe with you.
last time i checked, chocolate and neighborliness weren't "anti-torah" values.
i never said that jewish children should *go out* trick-or-treating, of course I believe that they shouldn't - it's a holiday based in a number of foreign religions. But there's a big difference between *refraining from participating in another group's rituals* and being a *generous welcoming individual*.
you seem to be working on a strange zero-sum game...."either the goyim get their holiday, or i do". it doesn't work like that. When you show them a nice face and let their kids collect your candy on halloween, they show a nice face and visit you in your sukkah on sukkot.
You also seem to be associating halloween exclusively with its negative aspects (pranks) and israel with none of its negative aspects. is this because jews must always be up and "goyim" must always be down?
The "Goyishe" culture you despise from behind your soiled lenses is a lot more than what you dislike about it, and its good and bad aspects have been with medinat Yisrael since its miraculous founding.
I'm not sure why your response to my pointing that out is to say that "it's clear [i] consider a Jewish state an anathema" - either you choose not to see that we live in a real universe in a real country with real people and real problems that need fixing (and not brainless cheerleading coupled with a disdain for anything else), or for some horrendous ideologically-twisted reason, you think that the places where Israel doesn't live up to its potential are somehow what Judaism demands from us and should not be fixed.

As for your "pride" and "thankfulness" for living in Israel away from all those nasty "goyim", It's not really love of anything if it's based on the hatred of something else.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

We "tricked" my three year-old daughter this year and explained that "trick or treating" was when people in constumes show up at the front door and we give them candy ;)

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Part 1:

For starters, anyone who is interested in knowing the background to the "fun" and "harmless" Holiday called Halloween - check out these sties:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/178/story_17801_1.html

http://www.ou.org/ncsy/projects/5764/oct31-64/halloween.htm

A brief excerpt:

"...My neighborhood is a kid-intensive, kid-friendly place, and Halloween is a highly kid-friendly holiday. Costumes, endless candy, and nighttime marauding: what’s not to like?

Although it means forgoing delicious-looking bat cookies, I would rather stick to the holidays that are part of my own tradition. And let’s quit the silly pretense that Halloween (not to mention Christmas) is a non-sectarian holiday. It isn’t.

It’s a part-pagan, part-Christian holiday, and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t begrudge anyone her enjoyment of Halloween, but I proudly buck the growing cultural consensus that everyone, regardless of religious background, must join in the fun."

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Part 2: Complete History of Halloween

So what’s Halloween? Is it a secular holiday like Thanksgiving or a religious holiday like Christmas? The answer lies in its origins.

2,000 years ago, the Celts lived in what is now Ireland, Scotland, the United Kingdom and France. Their new year began on November 1, which for them marked the end of summer and the onset of winter. They believed that the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred on the night of October 31 as their calendar changed. Spirits of the dead were believed to roam the earth, causing havoc. The Celts also believed that the presence of these spirits enabled the Druids, their priestly class, to predict the future.

October 31 was called Samhain (pronounced sowen) meaning “summer’s end,” after the god of the same name, whom the Celts believed imprisoned the sun god for the winter. To commemorate the day, the Druids built bonfires and the people dressed in costumes made of animal heads and skins.

The Romans had conquered the Celts by 43 CE. They ruled for 400 years and combined two of their own holidays with Samhain. One was Feralia, a holiday commemorating the dead. The other was the holiday honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. (Pomona’s symbol was an apple and this is part of the origin of the custom to “bob for apples” on Halloween.)

By the 800s, Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands. The Church was having some trouble getting people to stop celebrating their old pagan holidays, so they decided to assign Christian holidays to coincide with them. November 1 was designated “All Saints Day,” honoring martyrs and saints. October 31 was the eve of All Saints Day, “All Hallows Eve” (from which came the name Halloween). In 1000 CE, November 2 was designated All Souls Day, honoring the dead. Collectively, the three day festival from October 31 through November 2 was called “Hallowmas.”

All Souls Day in England featured parades. During these festivities, the poor would beg for “soul cakes,” which they received in exchange for promises to pray for the donor’s dead relatives. The Church encouraged the practice of soliciting soul cakes to replace the practice of leaving food out to appease wandering spirits. This, of course, is the source of the modern “Trick or Treat.”

Dressing in costume comes from the Celtic tradition of dressing up in animal skins (as described above) and from a European custom. People were afraid that they would encounter ghosts if they went out on Halloween. They dressed up and wore masks to disguise themselves so that the spirits would mistake them for other ghosts.

Halloween traditions were popularized in America in the latter half of the 19th century by Irish immigrants fleeing the great potato famine of 1846. By the middle of the 20th century, “trick or treating” had become associated with vandalism. Harmless mischief perpetrated on those who refused gifts of food or money had grown into acts of property defacement and felonious assault. It continues to be that way in many places today.

It’s ironic that many Fundamentalist Christian groups object to Halloween because of its pagan origins. The same superimposition of Christian holidays over existing pagan holidays was accomplished with Lupercalia (St. Valentine’s Day), Eostre (Easter) and Yule (Christmas).

So what is the origin of Halloween? It’s a combination of Celtic, Roman and Christian holidays. All three are distinctly non-Jewish. No matter how you look at it, Halloween is not a secular holiday.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Part 3: A Response to Base - Part 1

1) "modern-day americans aren't "pagans".

True, but that does not mean that Halloween isn't a holiday that has Pagan roots which are clearly anti-Jewish (and forbidden by Jewish Law). By your logic, perhaps we should have Jewish children particpating in holiday spirit of Christmas and sign Cristmas carols with their non-jewish neighbors... what's wrong with singing songs?

2) "giving neighborhood children a candy bar and a smile when they come to your door is about not pretending that frum jews are the only people worthy of existing in the universe with you.
last time i checked, chocolate and neighborliness weren't "anti-torah" values."

You want to give out candy to strangers - that's beautiful. Walk around the 364 other days of the year and put smiles on the faces of everyone you see - why do you only see fit to do it on a non-Jewish holiday?

3) "you seem to be working on a strange zero-sum game...."either the goyim get their holiday, or i do". it doesn't work like that."

Quite the contrary, I have no problem with them celebrating their holidays. I wish them all the holiday cheer in theworld. My problem is with Jews taking an active role in non-Jewish holidays.

4) "When you show them a nice face and let their kids collect your candy on halloween, they show a nice face and visit you in your sukkah on sukkot."

1st, who says that that is what we are meant to be aspiring towards? Should we in turn celebrate Easter and then have non-Jews celebrate Peasach? We'll celebrate Christmas and them Chanukkah?

2nd, when was the last time the average Jew had non-jews i ntheir Sukkah?

5) "You also seem to be associating halloween exclusively with its negative aspects (pranks) and israel with none of its negative aspects. is this because jews must always be up and "goyim" must always be down?"

Israel has many challenges - they and they are the challenges of the Jewish People and of a great concern. halloween is not a concern of mine. There are no redeeming qualities of Halloween that they should be a Jewish concern. I focus my attention on issues that affect the Jewish People and State, and Halloween is just not relevant.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Part 4: Response to Base - Part 2

6) "The "Goyishe" culture you despise from behind your soiled lenses is a lot more than what you dislike about it, and its good and bad aspects have been with medinat Yisrael since its miraculous founding."

Agreed, and it is one of the challenges that we face today,\. That of trying to limit the foreign values and culture that permeate every aspect of Israeli society and which have had a very damaging effect o nthe charachter of the Jewish State.

7) "or for some horrendous ideologically-twisted reason, you think that the places where Israel doesn't live up to its potential are somehow what Judaism demands from us and should not be fixed."

Like I said above, Israel has many challenges, and I devote my enrgiesto trying to help the Jewish People overcome them. It is unfortunate that for many Jews, they feel so at home in America trhat they would sooner particpate in halloween than consider making Aliyah and helping to take part and help the Jewish People fulfill their collective national destiny - which can only be achieved in Israel.

8) "As for your "pride" and "thankfulness" for living in Israel away from all those nasty "goyim", It's not really love of anything if it's based on the hatred of something else."

Again, quite ot the contrary. I am very fortunate to have been raised inthe US, and I am blessed that I was able to choose to leave behind my lie in America to come to the place where the destiny of the Jewish People is being played out- and where I can do my small part. I invite you to do the same.

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger Shifra said...

Whoa!

Clearly I have abandoned the comments section for WAY too long.

A few points:
1) If you want to add a link in the comments go for it, no need to paste the whole think into the comments.

2) While the origins of Halloween may be quite sinister they are long past. The names of the Jewish months (for example) are named after some babylonian gods. I'm pretty sure their association has worn off by now as well.
For a recent P'sak on why today's Halloween is far enough from it's roots to no longer be considered a pagan/christian holiday see Gil's site at Hirhurim.blogspot.com.

3) I myself have had non-Jews over to eat in my Sukkah many times, as well as all the non-Jewish neighbor kids who are curious. I think these sorts of things are helpful in creating an understanding. I hardly think that distributing candy as a show of good will is the same as celebrating their holiday- it's a peace offering, a show of respect like any other.

4)As for living in Israel- I do think it's a little harsh to say that people would move their just to get away from people who are different than they are. There are many wonderful reasons to live in Israel and many sacrifices that a person needs to make to live there (although non of them are pagan sacrfices - haha). However once you are there it is easy to forget what it means to be the minority in a country and a little candy once a year is not much to ask. Consider the luxury of not dealing with it a perk of living in Israel, but that hardly puts you in a place to judge others who remain in the states.

5)Lastly, while I LOVE the idea of sukkah hopping. The idea of kids running for sukkah to sukkah with bags to collect candy is really not in the spirit of the day. All the Jewish children have ample access to sweets all year long and especially on holidays. There is no need to turn the custom of visiting and mitzva of honoring guests into a tiem for grabbing, running, and being greedy.

 
At 11:59 AM, Blogger Sweettooth120 said...

Hi Shifra, I am a little confused. If what you say in par 1 is true, then why do you not allow your children to dress up and go trick or treating?

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Ze'ev said...

Shifra, whoever said that a Jew should leave America and move to Israel to get away from non-Jews. Like you said, there are plenty of good reasons to live in Israel that one doesn't need to look for reasons to not live in America.

As for not having to deal with Halloween and not agreeing with the ideas that Jews do particpate (even minimally) in its celebrration has nothing to do with judging anyone.

My issue is that the fact that Jews have to deal with the issue at all is because the Jewish People remain (some by choice) in Exile. It is not for me or anyone to judge... it's between every Jew and their creator.

In the ideal situation, however, where the Jewish people will be united in the Land of Israel, issues such as this will no longer be relevant.

 
At 7:16 PM, Blogger Antonio Hicks said...

I was just browsing various blogs as I was doing a search on the word halloween, and I just wanted to say that I really like what you've done with your blog, even though it wasn't particularly related to what I searched for. I appreciate your postings, and your blog is a good example of how a blog should be done. I've only just recently started a Posters website - feel free to visit it when you get a chance if you wish. Much success, antonio.

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Mar Gavriel said...

It's now seven years later, but I just wanted you to know that I thought of your post yesterday, on Halloween.

 
At 7:57 AM, Blogger Alexa Sweets said...

Finding a fitting Halloween costumes is no longer a problem today. If you want a costume, the large number of options, that online sites come in, will help you find one up to your choice. halloween accessories

 

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