Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trick or Treat

Halloween is this coming Sunday night - October 31. Little children will be coming to your door asking for candy. One should not hesitate. In fact it’s probably a good idea to make sure one has an adequate supply to give out.

This would make a lovely ending to this post except for what I just read on Hirhurim.

There is a guest post there today that really upsets me. Not because of the intent of the poster which was sincere and honorable - but because of its implication.

Rabbi Barry Kornblau who is rabbi of a Young Israel in Queens wrote a post suggesting that people do what he does on Halloween. Instead of giving out candy to trick-or-treaters, he posts a sign on his door. It says the following:

Instead of taking money to buy candy and treats to give to all of you, our family takes that money and gives it to an organization which takes care of poor and sick children.

We do this because we want to help other wonderful kids who are not as lucky as you because they don’t have enough money to buy fun things (like Halloween costumes), because they are sick, or because their parents don’t live with them anymore.

It is followed by a sign-up sheet with a pen attached.

On the surface it sounds like a wonderful idea. What can be better than making lemonade out of a lemon. What’s the lemon? He cites a Teshuva by Rabbi Michael Broyde (Halloween and halachah) which forbids Jewish children from going ‘trick or treating’ and says that one may give out candy to neighborhood children ‘if one feels this is necessary’.

All fine and good. Money is raised for a worthy cause and one can avoid giving candy out on the spiritually dark night of Halloween’. Win/win for everyone… Right?

This is one of those situations where good intentions end up casting aspersions on Gedolei Yisroel… people who I am 100% convinced Rabbi Kornblau would agree are in that category. There are two certifiable Gedolim from the previous generation that never felt they had to resort to such things.

One was Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky. He used to cheerfully hand out candy to any trick-or-treater that showed up at his door on Halloween. This fact is related in his biography in no less Charedi a publication than ArtScroll!

If that’s not enough consider the following anecdote about Rav Avrohom Pam as reported in by Rabbi Akiva Males:

“My father-in-law studied in Rav Pam’s shiur in Mesivta Torah Vodaas for several years back in the 1960s.

“When my wife’s older sister became engaged in the 1990s, my in-laws took my (future) sister-in-law and my (future) brother-in-law over to meet Rav and Rebbitzen Pam and receive their bracha and good wishes.

“What’s the most vivid memory they all have of that evening?

“It was October 31st. In contrast to the many Jewish homes around the Pams who had turned off their lights to discourage trick-or-treaters, the Pams left their front light on.

“While they all chatted with Rav Pam in the dining room, his Rebbitzen was in the kitchen working the hot-air popcorn popper and preparing plastic baggies of popcorn to give out with a smile to all the local non-Jewish kids who knocked at their door.

“They all left that night with numerous smiles, brachos, and best wishes from Rav Pam and his Rebbitzen - but what they all remember most is the powerful lesson the Pams taught them about interacting with their neighbors.”

I’m sure that both Rav Kaminetsky and Rav Pam were smart enough to think of this clever alternative to giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. But they didn’t bother. Perhaps they felt that any alternative- no matter how noble - would be seen as a rejection of harmless American tradition - taking away the fun of Halloween from these kids. Perhaps they saw it as a greater Kiddush HaShem to ‘play along’ and be seen as kindly Jews who are good to their neighbors. I don’t know. The point is they gave out candy to trick-or-treaters with a smile and absolutley no guilt.

With the best of intentions, Rabbi Kornblau is being Motzei Laz on these two great Gedolim of yesteryear. In essence he is telling the world that doing Halloween his way is better than the way Rav Kaminetsky and Rav Pam did it.

I’m sure Rabbi Kornblau is a fine and Ehrliche person. And I do not mean in any way to disparage him. I’m pretty sure that we would agree on a great deal Hashkaficly. But in this case he was wrong.

I think what he does here is indicative of what has happened to Klal Yisroel over the decades since the Holocaust. Well intended religious leaders – especially in the last couple of decades - have caused a shift to the right by using Seforim and their own logic to determine appropriate communal behavior - instead of following the Mesorah of the last generation of Gedolim.

They have in many instances instructed their flock toward a stricter path of behavior. Stricter than what was the case in previous generations. It is all done with the bests of intentions. And yet look where it has gotten us. I need not go into details here but just to mention one – the now prevalent custom of having separate seating at weddings.

Rabbi Kornblau is simply following that same path with his idea. Far be it from me to discourage any charity project. But the motivation behind this one is just plain wrong in my view. And it ought to be discouraged.

If one wants to donate charity to a deserving cause on Halloween one can give the kids the candy and a note specifying that every time candy is given out, the family will make a donation to charity.

My humble advice to him and anyone else who wants to innovate new stringencies upon Klal Yisroel is to not be Frummer than the Gedolim of the previous generations. One should instead look to their example for guidance.