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Halloween From a Jewish Perspective/Christian AlternativePosted Friday, October 28, 2011, at 4:15 PM
The following article was published in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, Faith Perspectives, Saturday, October 15, 2011
"Purim vs. Halloween: A stark difference" by By Rabbi Hyim Shafner
The leaves fall and the air turns crisp and an underlying feeling of fear and foreboding enters our neighborhoods.
Graves pop up in front yards along with skeletons and the like, bringing death out of its boundaries and into our domains.
Parents, many Jewish parents included, will encourage their children to dress up in frightful costumes along with the superhero of the moment and go door to door exclaiming -- "trick or treat," or, in its classic intention and indeed its plain meaning: "Give me some candy or I will play a trick on you."
In larger cities this might mean throwing eggs at your home (as when I lived in New York City) or draping toilet paper all around.
I have often thought about this Halloween activity in contrast to the Jewish custom described in the biblical Book of Esther of mishloach manot, sending food to neighbors and friends on the holiday of Purim.
Purim commemorates the day in 356 BCE when Queen Ester saved the Jewish people from the genocidal tyrant Haman who set out to kill, and almost succeeded in killing, every last Jew in the Persian empire, the then known world.
The purpose of sending food to others on the day of Purim is to develop a sense of camaraderie and family with others. We all eat of each other's food and thus express our trust and familiality to each other. In the Purim custom, one sends food that one cooked through a messenger, usually one's child, to someone else for the holiday. It must be fit to be a small meal consisting of at least two kinds of foods.
True, we also dress up on Purim, often as the characters from the Book of Esther, some nice and some not so nice, but ultimately the difference between this practice of mishloach manot and that of trick or treating is stark.
Purim foods must be delivered in daylight, and must be sent to someone, whereas Halloween treats are taken from others in the dark while personifying the dead and celebrating the scary.
Though many join me in decrying Halloween as a holiday that teaches bad character and pagan ideals, others will say Rabbi Shafner is overreacting; kids just do it to have fun and get candy.
But I think that everything we do and everything we teach our children to do subtly communicates values.
Dressing them up, often in scary costumes and sending them to the homes of people they do not know to get candy smacks of bad character development. Who is to say that such things do not have a subtle effect on who we are as a society? Such practice inculcates taking and even, albeit subtly, glorifies threatening.
This Halloween, if you are Jewish, I encourage you to give your child a treat and tell them Halloween is not a Jewish holiday.
Wait for Purim when you can dress up in costume and give food to others in celebration of Jewish unity, instead of taking it from people in quasi-pagan celebration.
If you are not Jewish I also encourage you to forgo the ritual of going door to door at night, and instead to spend the night as a family.
Rabbi Hyim Shafner is rabbi of Bais Abraham Congregation in the Delmar Loop area. His Civil Religion blog is "JEW-ISH: Thoughts from an open but Orthodox rabbi."
My Commentary on the article:
This is an interesting perspective. When my siblings and I were growing up, our parents would let us go "trick or treat". But after reading up on its origins, I prefer alternatives. In my opinion there are positive substitutes for Halloween.
Many churches have activities for their children on Halloween. As far as costumes go, they may dress up as Old or New Testament characters. There can be a guessing game using such costumes. Some suggestions for Christians can be found at http://christianity.about.com/od/holiday...
There is a Protestant Christian holiday on Halloween: Reformation Day. Not meaning to demean our Catholic Christians in any way, Reformation Day marks the day Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31, 1517. This was the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. For more information on Reformation Day, visit
Richard D. Swift
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My wife Susan (Sue) and I have lived in Soddard County since September of '96. We both graduated from Bible Missionary Institute, our denomination's small four year Bible college in Rock Island, Illinois. I was born and raised in Pomona, California while my wife was raised in Monmouth, Illinois. I am an ordained minister in the Bible Missionary Church. We attend and are members of the Dexter Bible Missionary Church. I've been employed by Tyson Foods for 14 years. My wife is a CNA. I've always been conservative in my political views and have always been active in politics and the Pro-Life movement. My politics have not always been Republican. From 2003-2009 I was vice-chairman of the Prohibition National Committee, the steering arm of the Prohibition Party. In '09, I joined the Constitution Party of Missouri. But, I've been attending the GOP rallys and club meetings since last year and have been campaigning for certain Republican candidates since we moved to this area. I'm on the SEMO Life Chain Committee.