Mishloach Manot in Israel

My mother always used to bake for Purim. We gave mishlochei manot* (MM) to a moderate number of people, most of whom didn’t observe the mitzvah themselves. We baked chocolate swirl cookies, and hamantashen, and thumbkins. We added some dried nuts and fruit on a plate, put the whole thing in a plastic bag, and voila! The recipes came from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. I used to love to look through the book at the pictures of the painted cookies and the gingerbread house, which including detailed instructions. I have it still; every so often my husband asks why I haven’t thrown it out because it’s falling apart. (I wouldn’t dream of it.) Most of the recipes call for margarine or shortening, which I stopped using (except for frosting on birthday cakes) a few years ago. My mother, on the other hand, went through tubs of Crisco fairly regularly. Who knew then that Crisco was so bad for you?

Here’s an oil-based recipe for hamantashen dough.

When I made aliyah, I was surprised at the contents of the typical MM package. They consisted of assorted mini-chocolate bars, candies, and miniature bottles of wine. Only occasionally a homemade hamantash or brownie found its way in. An article by Kobi Arieli in the Paamonim newsletter lamented this development; he remembers the days when chickpeas and a bottle of malt beer were standard. Arieli also pointed out how elaborate the packaging has become, and how the purpose of MM has shifted from celebrating friendship and observing the mitzvah to impressing your neighbor. And an even more important goal has become receiving equally impressive packages. Naturally you also have to make sure that the MM you send is on the same level as the one you received last year. Arieli notes that other type of gifts also serve the same function. Instead of tokens of generosity, they have become some kind of social marker. Any gift worth less than what is expected is perceived as a social gaffe at best, an insult at worst.

Here’s what happens in our house. Almost all of our friends send us MM through Emunah women. We each get one package with a list of names of the people who sent to us. I help organize the project; we end up arguing about what to put in the package and how much to spend, but we eventually work it out. Our family also delivers about ten of these identical packages on Purim (out of about 300). Emunah takes the profit, which goes to their children’s homes. This leaves me with very few MM obligations; I send to a few neighbors and try to include people who wouldn’t ordinarily receive. I do cook and bake some but I get so little feedback afterward, even when I put in a lot of effort. It seems that most people get way too much stuff even to remember who sent what.

Most of the MM activity in our house revolves around the children, who are allowed to send two MM to each friend. Being that everything is store-bought and virtually identical, our mantra around here is recycle, recycle, recycle. No matter how little I start with, at the end of the day I am left with a huge pile of junk, plates and containers, and cellophane. I pick out the really good candy (for me), wine, fruit, and nuts, separate out the real junk (which goes to my husband’s office), and let the kids split up the rest. Really, everyone should just buy a bag of mini-chocolate bars and some wine to consume themselves instead of spending all that time packing, writing notes and shlepping the MM around the neighborhood. Arieli makes a different suggestion: Buy strips of colored paper, put them in a large pile in a bag to make the most impressive effect, and send them to as many people as you want. They will make people feel important, the true purpose of MM today.

The whole thing has become such a waste of money and material in the Orthodox community. Everyone sends to people who don’t need it and don’t want it. Many organizations now sell certificates that you can give to your neighbors instead of MM–that’s one solution, but even though it’s tzedakah it still obligates the recipient to reciprocate. I don’t need anyone to give tzedakah on my behalf while I’m still alive.

The MMs that I appreciated most were in thanks for doing someone a favor, such as giving a regular ride or hosting potential olim for Shabbat. Whereas in normal circumstances I wouldn’t want a gift for this type of chessed (kindness), this type of MM allows the giver to express appreciation through the mitzvah of MM, without obligating me in the same way; I would be defeating the purpose by sending a package back. I’m not talking about someone I cooked for when she had a baby, rather people who wouldn’t be able to return the favor at a later date.

Our community should be taking the money it spends on MM and giving it to tzedakah, either directly or through Purim cards and MM projects. The mitzvah of mishloach manot should be fulfilled either to thank those who did us a great kindness in the previous year (not teachers, who as part of the community receive huge amounts of MM anyway), or given to our nonobservant neighbors and others who might not be remembered (elderly, converts, singles, new olim). They also might appreciate the extra effort you choose to put into your package. And let’s not forget to extend an invitation to hear the megillah** and to join us at our Purim seudot.***

* Purim packages
**Book of Esther read joyfully in the synagogue
***festive meals on Purim day

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Comments

  1. I agree with you MII – I feel like the whole concept of Mishloach Manot has gotten so blown out of proportion so as to almost lose the original intention entirely.
    It really becomes about the social game of reciprocation and who needs to invest that much time, energy, expense, and thought into something like this a month before Pesach?
    Nobody wants all that nosh in their homes, and the business of complicated themes for these packages is also nice, but unnecessary.
    This year, I’m doing what my grandmother always does. I’m baking (several batches of) my standard chocolate cake recipe into lots of small, round disposable cake tins, and giving out a small cake and a mini-bottle of grape juice. Vegamarnu. For those people on my list who would not be comfortable eating another’s home-baked foods, or those who live a little out of my desired delivery radius, I bought a couple of tzedakah cards. And several people are covered through our shul’s program, similar to your Emunah program.
    What happened to the simplicity of a few slices of cake and an orange on a paper plate wrapped in celophane?!

  2. My mother is a recent “convert” to no margerine in parve baking – for me the conversion is going on two years now. My mother is looking for an oil based dough recipe for Hamentashen… have anything to share? I am not bothering, too many other things going on. I decided that I’d rather take my 2 year old to a “chug teva” tryout on my one free-ish day, than bake.
    I will add my own Purim recollections, growing up in PT: everyone baked! My mom’s standards were pinwheel cookies (ONLY for Purim) and delicious onion/poppy soft crackers, the dough of which she rolled out and cut into shapes with little cookie cutters. Of course, these were handed out with a home-made hamentash or two, prune or apricot filling. There had to have been one other bracha in there besides mezonot, but I don’t remember what. She definately did not buy little bottles of wine, maybe there were nuts in paper muffin cups? Peanuts in the shell? In any event, the whole affair was exhausting. The sorting of the junk and the pettiness of who gave what added nothing to my character. Oh, and the lists of who gave us and who recieved from us, year after year… this was before computer tracking.
    Once I realized that in “my” life, people just buy things and throw them on a plate, and that my home made efforts were wasted, I reformed. I plan to put zero effort into mishloach manot this year (the effort factor has been coming down gradually over the years) and get on with my life.

  3. mominisrael says:

    Good for you, RM. Maybe your friends will follow your example next year.
    Tamiri, I definitely have at least one such recipe and will post it.

  4. Great post. No surprise here, but I have never gone “all out,” although I sometimes have taken enjoyment from the packages we have received from families that really get into the themes. I can’t compete and I don’t want to. There is neither time nor money to spend gratuitiously.
    In the past, I have gone with different combinations of baked goods and have included either some parve candies or a piece of fruit put into a cut or onto a plate. This year I will be doing something similiar, although I am predictably behind on this project. I always try to make sure to bring to the widowers who are our neighbors.
    This year I will be guiding my son through making his own packages which he is excited about. I’ve been collecting various packages for him to stuff with goodies and I will help him wrap them. He is already excited about wearing his costume to deliver them.
    One thing we try to do here is let our kids really take a part in preparing for chagim and Shabbat. Simple baking projects and packages let them be a part. Little kids can handle putting in one cookie, 3 candies, and a piece of fruit for example. Elaborate packages that have to be “just so” to work end up putting the little kids on the sidelines which isn’t something we want to do.
    This is a long comment, but on Raggedy Mom’s comment about people who won’t eat, it is a sad commentary on where we are as a people. One of the themes of Purim is how the Jews did teshuvah and a sign that the teshuvah was complete, people brought each other cooked and baked foods from their kitchens (which they could eat because they had no doubt about the kashrut). In today’s world we are so afraid to eat from each others kitchens that we head to the bakery and the grocery store and run up massive bills when the entire project could be taken care of for no more than $25 (and that is generous).

  5. Regular Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t agree more. My community does a “send in your money, we’ll send the food” which raises quite a bit for tzedaka. Everybody gets the same package no matter how many people “give” to them, as opposed to my city in the old country where there were different sized baskets according to donor numbers (making it easy for people to pop over with more MM saying “oh, I gave you through the Yeshiva, but I wanted to give you personally also – thereby not only one-upping you but also able to check on the size of your basket from the Yeshiva).
    We take some MM up to the soldiers at the entrance of town and to the police station.
    Thinking ahead to next year, somebody here is trying to organize giving MM to random non-dati families in town. I think it’s a great idea.

  6. mominisrael says:

    SL–
    That is an excellent comment. On a blog (!) I saw the Shulchan Aruch quoted that we should eat anywhere where the family is shomer shabbat. Here in Israel things are even more crazy than in the US, and of course there are local issues like bugs and tithing that drive people crazy. And shemitah is coming!! My husband’s rosh yeshiva told him many years ago that while it’s best to be machmir, one should’t let the issue cause rifts in the family and community. So in general I try to close my eyes regarding the standards of others, and try to discuss them if they are very problematic.
    RA–Ooh, I now have a theory about where you live. We also decided not to have different level baskets, both for the reason you mentioned, and because it made the whole thing more complicated. I like the idea of the soldiers and the police station. So many communities don’t even have any non-observant members.

  7. “Here in Israel things are even more crazy than in the US”
    i’m not sure where you live in israel, but based on this comment i guess you’re not from brooklyn.
    but anyway, i agree with you about MM and i’ve also posted on the subject at http://agmk.blogspot.com/2007/02/mishloah-manot-waste-of-money.html

  8. mominisrael says:

    My brother lives in Brooklyn. He is makpid on hadash and water. Maybe you are right. It’s just that I have to worry about so many more ssues here than I did there.

  9. mominisrael says:

    Oops, I take it back. he’s not makpid on the water, his rav said it’s not an issue. But he does think the Kolko thing is a conspiracy.

  10. mominisrael says:

    PS. Ari, I commented on a Feb. 4 post.

  11. Ari Kinsberg says:

    “Oops, I take it back. he’s not makpid on the water”
    for MM it does not matter what he does, but rather what his friends and neighbors do

  12. I’m late on this one, but I had to agree with you, Mom. Our family is SO not into the craziness and expense. I think it’s still a lot worse in the USA than here, but in the past few years I have been seeing some very elaborate mishloach manot. Glad it’s not the norm here yet, though!
    Ours were modest, but sweet. 🙂

  13. mominisrael says:

    Thanks RR, I still read old comments!

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