Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Sukkos: Trick or Treat!

On the first day of Sukkos, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a group of children thrusting a bag in front of me. "We're Sukkah-hopping!" they announced.

I was rather taken aback. It occurred to me that my shock might be because I am English; I am likewise a little disturbed at the custom of Christmas Chanukah presents, which would have been way too Christian to do when I grew up in England. But my American wife was likewise surprised at the kids who showed up begging for candy. "Is it Halloween?" she asked me.

We had Sukkah-hopping in England, but it was something else entirely. It meant visiting friends' sukkahs, and enjoying a snack in their company. But the numerous groups of kids who kept showing up over the course of Yom Tov to the home of complete strangers were not doing that. Kitted out with bulging collection bags, they were on a mission to obtain free sugary loot (especially the kind for which one is not even obligated to make a "lesheiv"). 

It became such an issue this year in Bet Shemesh/ Ramat Bet Shemesh that people were arguing about it on the local e-mail discussion group. There were those who said that it's a harmless way of helping kids enjoy Chag. Others said that they are glad to host children in their sukkah for singing, divrei Torah and friendly discussion, while enjoying snacks, but they will not give to kids who come with a collection bag to take treats away.

Personally, I agree with the latter. The sort of "Sukkah hopping" that we saw this year was no different from the Halloween custom of trick-or-treating (to which, incidentally, many in England objected when it was imported from the US). Usually, "trick or treat" does not involve a genuine threat of a trick; it's just a vague mention of one - just like "We're sukkah hopping!" has a vague guilt trip that for the sake of Sukkos, you should give candy!

But even if it's a bit of a stretch to view trick-or-treating, and sukkah-hopping, as mild extortion, it's certainly begging. There was a time when even some children once objected to this: for Halloween 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read "American Boys Don't Beg." Today, with the decline of the work ethic, and the rise of the "I deserve everything" generation, this is particularly problematic.

The harm of teaching kids to beg is even more problematic in Orthodox Jewish society. In the last few decades, we have witnessed the rise of the charedi belief that it is normal, legitimate and even preferable to not work for a living, and to instead depend upon the community to support private study which is not directed towards serving any communal purpose. This is notwithstanding the fact that it goes against explicit directives of Chazal (e.g. that "it is better to flay carcasses in the market than to rely upon the community for support") as well as going against the much-vaunted "mesorah" (in which the mass kollel phenomenon was entirely unknown until a few years ago). A recent article in Ami magazine interviewed a "radical" member of the Israeli charedi world who said that the way of "true Judaism" is to combine work and study - for those who lack the aptitude or the motivation to study and cannot make it as full-time learners!

The way of "true Judaism," as described by Chazal, is that it is shameful to beg for our needs and desires, and to expect people to give you something when you are giving them nothing in return. So if your kid comes to my door and wants to share the joy of Sukkos, I'd be glad for him/her to come in to our Sukkah, have a snack, make a berachah and talk. But no collecting bag!

19 comments:

  1. Thankfully I did not bump into one of these trick or treat "gangs". I agree with you-it is hutzpah. And it is representative of a "take" mentality.

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  2. While I agree completely with the second part of your post (about kollel) I’m not so sure you can justify the first part. Judaism borrowing customs from other cultures goes so far back that we probably don’t even know most of what’s been borrowed.

    Can one really object to Chanukah gelt evolving into presents on the grounds that presents are too Christmas-like yet not object that the entire premise of Chanukah, commemorating a military victory, is borrowed from Hellenistic culture? Or that dreidel is really the medieval German game teetotum, popularly played at Christmastime centuries ago?

    How old does a borrowing have to be before it’s considered a legitimate Jewish custom?

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  3. I fail to see any difference between kids doing a sukkah hop in this style and mishloach manos in it's intent at the least to endear oneself with fellow neighbors (whether they spend time in the sukkah or just grab bag style like Mishloach manos).

    While celebrating Halloween is quite pagan, giving kids candy is something I see happen every shabbos in shul, I don't see the connection so much. We have borrowed far more than we care to admit so I'd say this one thing is probably harmless.

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  4. you say The way of "true Judaism," as described by Chazal, is that it is shameful to beg for our needs and desires, and to expect people to give you something when you are giving them nothing in return.

    (1) learning torah is not nothing. (mai ahanu rabonon is ..)
    (2) what about the power of gedolim
    to issue horoas shahah.
    are you saying the chafetz chaim (kesef mishnah ?) will be called to heavenly account for his supporting this phenomenon in biur halacha (i think ch. 156)

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  5. Can one really object to Chanukah gelt evolving into presents on the grounds that presents are too Christmas-like

    I wouldn't object if it was a good custom.

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  6. I fail to see any difference between kids doing a sukkah hop in this style and mishloach manos in it's intent at the least to endear oneself with fellow neighbors

    Mishloach manos is giving food to others, not asking them to give it to you!

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  7. learning torah is not nothing. (mai ahanu rabonon is ..)

    Learning Torah is not giving something to another person. "Mai ahanu rabonon" is talking about RABONON - rabbis, who actually contribute to the community - not people learning in kollel.

    what about the power of gedolim
    to issue horoas shahah.


    Sure, sometimes it's necessary to do encourage wrong acts (although the emergency in this case - the destruction of Torah in the Holocaust - has long since passed). The problem is when people don't realize that it's bedieved and think it's lechatchilah - as you apparently believe (based on your first comment).

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  8. The reason Charedim don't go to work is because there is a belief, that has many very esteemed sources to back it up, that learning Torah is the best thing you can do for society. You fix things in the olamot elyonot when learning Torah. That's where things really matter.

    The Kollel community doesn't believe it's leeching off Israeli society. It believes it's giving more than any other sector! That's what the Nefesh Hachaim apparently believes in. Who can argue with that?

    Probably not a good idea to argue with the Chareidim that they should stop giving so much credence to the Nefesh Hachaim. It will probably just spur them on to continue in their ways more, but I do think this is where it all stems from. Drashot built upon drashot built upon drashot till eventually the Charedi world believes that a community of people learning Tosfot is what God wants from man and the very reason He created the world and that learning the Tosfot makes a difference to how Israel performs financially and militarily.

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  9. The Rambam writes in Mishnah Torah
    הלכות יום טוב פּ״ו הלכה יח׳ ,
    כיצד הקטנים נותן להם קליות ואגוזים ומגדנות
    Translation:
    “Here is how to perform the mitzvah
    of happiness on the holiday: Distribute roasted confections, nuts, and sweets to the children”.

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  10. There's a big difference between telling people to give sweets, and going from door to door asking for them!

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  11. G3 hit is on the head. Everyone is borrowing and importing from everyone else. How about the Maoz Zur tune? You gonna ban that over Chanukah?
    And I think you might take symbolism (and yourself) a bit too seriously if you think kids trick or treating over succot is going to encourage kollel attendance. If that were the case, perhaps you should encourage charedi children to play cowboys and Indians in the hope that it will encourage them to join the army.

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  12. JB, the problem is not the intentional or unintentional borrowing from other cultures/religions. If, for example, a secular tune manages to sneak into our liturgy, it's essentially no harm done. With Sukkah hopping transforming into a candy raid, it goes beyond the evolution of a minhag and moves on to changing the minhag's intent. Sukkah hopping is meant to promote the mitzvah, create comradery, and yes, let children have some sweets. But by reducing the minhag to hoarding candy, you not only lose sight of the minhag, but you also reward an otherwise nasty behavior/character trait. I understand that it's just children wanting candy so it isn't necessarily a huge deal, but there's just no reason to reward that kind of behavior.

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  13. G3: Only Hellenists celebrate a military victory? Oh come on.

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  14. I went to a slightly later than usual minyan this morning, at one of Jerusalem's major batei knesset. There must have been, at a minimum, forty schnorrers circulating throughout tefillah. It was terrible on all sorts of fronts. (I don't even bring money to shul, by the way.)

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  15. > I wouldn't object if it was a good custom.

    Doesn’t that reduce your argument to, “I don’t like it, therefore it’s a bad thing”? To the kids who grow up going from house to house asking for candy on succos, this sort of succah-hopping will be something they look back on nostalgically as adults and encourage their own kids to do. They certainly think of it as a good custom.

    One could argue that dreidel teaches gambling. There are plenty of people who believe that non-Jewish music is taamei, yet. As JB pointed out, use a tune for Maoz Tzur that shares it’s origins with “Deck the Halls.” How many people in the frum world won’t say “Christmas” but decorate their succos with tinsel and little blinking lights?

    > student v said...
    > G3: Only Hellenists celebrate a military victory? Oh come on.

    Of course not only Hellenists celebrated military victories. But, until Chanukah, there were no yomim tovim in Judaism commemorating military victories. The Hellenist world commonly declared annual holidays to commemorate military victories. The Chashmonaim won against the Seleucids, and created Chanukah (and a bunch of other holidays that we don’t celebrate anymore) commemorating their victories. Is that just a coincidence?

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  16. The general rule seems to be: If previous generations did it, well then it's okay but who are we to do the same?
    Thus we can use non-Jewish tunes for Maoz Tzur but just try to do Adon Olam to the tune of the William TAell overture and wait for the feces to hit the fan.
    As for using tinsel and blinking lights in the sukkah, that shares the same heter with using Hallowe'en costumes on Purim - they were on sale the day after the gentiles were done with 'em!

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  17. interesting and unsettling article. I had no idea this was going on. I would like it if you could please link to the article you mentioned or send me a link in an email to:

    zamjr86@gmail.com

    (I only give permission for you to email me, Rabbi Slifkin. other viewers of the blog should not bother me UNLESS they have the article for me)

    thank you for a very interesting blog, where I found out that I am not the only one who feels like I do on many of these issues.

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  18. I find the bags a deplorable practice too.

    Back in the day when I was a Bnei Akiva Madrich (US) - we organized the annual Sukkah hop for the kids. You always had some kids shove some candy in their pockets, but most were menchen about it and it was conducted as RNS describes. Then, one year, two kids show up with Halloween Bags. I told the mother dropping them off that it was not acceptable, and she should take the bags back with her. I explained that our policy was that the kids do not take food out of the host's sukkah. She gave me and the other leaders an argument about how this was the Jewish Halloween. I kid you not, she was very explicit in this. Now, I happen to have known that this family was not so frum, the kids were not in Jewish schools, and she probably needed an answer for their demands to join their friends at Trick or Treat. However, that was not our issue, and we stood our ground, and we were not going to turn our Sukkah hop into trick or treat, and I am proud of that.

    It'a one thing to have borrowed tunes, and practices to augment our tradition, but this is different. This is taking a custom that has been an enhancement of a Mitzvah, where kids would make a Bracha, tell a D'var Torah, hear a D'var Torah from a B'al Habyit, and turn it on its head into a meaningless candy grab devoid of any Torah value.

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  19. Just adding to my previous comments:

    I am saddened to hear that this practice has made its way to Israel where presumably most of the kids are not seeing scores of their gentile neighbors going Trick or Treating shortly after Sukkot. (While it's wrong, at least in Chutz La'aretz there's an excuse.)

    I think it's fitting to cite a chareidi world favorite here "B'chukoteihem Lo Teileichu".

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