Sunday, March 16, 2008

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

Just in case anyone missed it, I love Purim. Always have. For me it is the ideal holiday. There's no fasting (okay, Taanis Esther is there, but it's not Purim), nothing read to make you cry, the stranger the outfits worn the better, so no worry about what's going to be said about what you're wearing, the oven doesn't heat the house for 48 hours, there are no bees or mosquitoes attempting to share your meals, there is no Yizkor, you can see everyone you want to see because you can drive and simcha is a requirement. What's not to like?

I do have one complaint, however. It's about shalach monos. Or maybe it's about the lack of shalach monos. Or maybe about the types of shalach monos.

In the dark ages, everyone baked for Purim. The focus of the shalach monos was baked goods, with maybe a piece of fruit, or a few candies or some nuts added in. Shalach monos were sent on a paper plate, covered with foil or plastic wrap. And then came "progress." There were the little cardboard boxes that you had to fold together yourself. Okay, easier to transport then the paper plates.

Shalach monos was a great family activity. Everyone got together to do the baking and then to assemble the shalach monos. Children were part of the activity from start to finish. They helped to put together the shalach monos and then they helped by delivering. It was terrific to see how the children had grown from year to year. And then there was Purim Gelt, the quarters prepared to give to each child who came to the house.

The first hint that things were changing was when groceries and bakeries started selling ready made packages of shalach monos. Then came the "chocolate/nut" stores offering yet more elaborate prepared shalach monos. This gave new meaning to "leave the driving to us."

And then progress reared its head again. Yeshivas and organizations got into the shalach monos business. Why kill yourself making shalach monos, they crooned to the crowds. Do two mitzvas at once, they said: give tzedaka to us and give shalach monos to your nearest and dearest as well. Not only did you no longer have to shop and bake and put together, but the organization would deliver the shalach monos as well--an effortless undertaking on your part. And then came the truly revolutionary idea from these organizations: give us tzedaka money and we'll give you a card to send out that says "a donation has been made in your name" instead of giving a package. (And a real accountant's question here: if the donation has been given in my name shouldn't I be able to take it as a tax deduction instead of the giver?) No real overhead on our part and you are "potur" with the mitzvah of shalach monos. And just an observation here: these shalach monos are really heavy on the container part and not so heavy on the "monos" part.

And because it was all so easy people began enlarging their shalach monos lists to huge proportions. And every one of their children had to give at least 2 shalach monos and how can you only send to two of their friends when there were others who would be insulted? And somehow shalach monos went from being a mitzvah to big business. You gotta love it when you get one shalach monos which is from 17 different people.

My family doesn't buy into the commercialization of shalach monos; we do things the old fashioned way. Granted, our shalach monos are a bit more elaborate then my mother's were. I spend the months before Purim scouting around for a container of some sort to put the shalach monos in--not expensive but convenient for stacking and packing. And yes, we still bake here, lots of baking. And it's worth every minute of preparation time and of staying up working with my daughter until 2:30 because you should have seen the happy faces waiting for a nibble as things came out of the oven.

The reason I'm given for not baking any more is that it's a question of kashrus. Not everyone will eat things that are baked by others. Here's my newsflash to those people: I don't send shalach monos to every Tom, Dick and Yankele I have ever met. I send shalach monos to those people I count as friends and family. These people have all eaten in my home. I believe that settles the issue of kashrus very nicely. "No, no!" some people say. When all the shalach monos get put together after Purim there's no way to tell your shalach monos baked goods from the others that they won't eat from and so nobody bakes any more." Sorry, but my baked goods are the obvious ones--not wrapped in stiff plastic and not produced beginning in January. And if no one is baking any more, then mine are even easier to pick out. They're the ones the bakeries don't sell: the blueberry almond madeleines, the triple chocolate mini cupcakes, the fudgy walnut cookies, the muerbe teig hamentaschen with my mother's special filling--14 fruits and nuts ground together and a taste like gan eden.

Aside from the fact that my rav holds that you have not fulfilled the mitzva of shalach monos unless you personally deliver, thus "giving," shalach monos to two different people, where is the fun of Purim in the commercial shalach monos? Where is the family time?

Because Purim comes out erev Shabbos the shalach monos list is shorter this year: no trip to Brooklyn to deliver to family and friends. Even so, the baskets are stacked and ready to be filled for our neighborhood. And my children have all cleared their schedules so they can help put shalach monos together. There are still a few holdouts like my family that make their own shalach monos. The funny thing is that people actually look forward to getting those homemade shalach monos. Friday night someone commented to me that she hopes I'm baking the blueberry almond cakes because she loves those. Another person piped up that no, no it has to be the chocolate cookies. I suppose I could give them the recipes, but why bother? Baking is becoming a truly lost art, especially for Purim. A real shame.


Anonymous said...

Nithing in the halacha that says you have to prepare the contents of the shalach monos yourself. If you want to bake that's fine for you, but it's just as kosher to buy the ready made shalach monos.

Looking Forward said...

baking is half the fun, and more of a mitzvah!

I think I'd pester my mother this year to see if she'll let me bake some cookies for ours. :) (and maybe some hamentaschen!)

Anonymous said...

My complaint on the ready made shalach monos from organizations is that the container seems to be the focus of the shalach monos, not the "monos" part. Then they fill it with every kind of candy and those awful wafer cookies. It's no wonder the kids on Purim get a sugar overload.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is just how much money a tzedaka actually makes on those shalach monos they make up. Even if they are buying in bulk at wholesale prices there is still a lot of pricey stuff in those shalach monos, not to mention their advertising and the delivery costs. I agree that the containers are also getting ridiculous--just what am I going to do when in one year I got a wooden photo box, a backpack with a yeshiva's name on it, three flower pots, the ugliest teapot I've ever seen which only holds 12 ounces of water and 2 recipe card boxes? or some of the plastic containers that aren't freezer safe, dishwasher safe or airtight, some of which have Purim written on them?

Orthonomics said...

(And a real accountant's question here: if the donation has been given in my name shouldn't I be able to take it as a tax deduction instead of the giver?)

Sorry, the deduction goes to the person with the cancelled check and/or receipt. :)

Orthonomics said...

I can always taste the difference between store bought stuff and the homemade treats.

The argument of having to buy store bought because of kashrut doesn't fly with me. I already wrote about this last year, but one of the reasons given by chazal for gifts of food was that the Jews did teshuvah and could once again all eat by each other. Trust in the eidut of others has sadly eroded. Purim is a good time to revive that. And given that baked goods are dry, for kashrut purposes there is not a whole lot that can go wrong anyways.

I'm not a big baker, cooking is my forte. But Purim gives me a chance to try something new with my kids. And, when you bake it does NOT burn a hole in your pocket like buying from a bakery does.

Anonymous said...

People get so involved with the shalach monos part of Purim that they forget the other mitzvah--matanos l'evyonim. They tend to give much less to fulfill this mitzvah then they do to pay for made up shalach monos. Only some of the organizations that sell the shalach monos actually deal with feeding poor people. The others are just doing fund raising and in my opinion it's the wrong time of the year to do that. Just give the money directly to those who need it or to those who will distribute it to those who need it.

Bas~Melech said...

What I want to know is why I'm supposed to chip in for over $150 worth (each) of shalach manos/gifts for practically every member of my school's administration. I am a salaried worker, and I do mean WORKER, and nothing more. I slave my neck off working for these people and I'm supposed to give them a gift?! (note: I would gladly give them a beautiful mishloach manos basket. We are talking here about a totally different species.)

Can a Brooklyn native please step in to explain this? I mean, plenty has confused me about this community before, but this takes the cake (and all the other baked goods as well, and replaces them with... never mind)

Anonymous said...

That is just plain outrageous Bas-Melech. It sounds a lot more like the mandatory collective gift some offices give the boss on Xmas then it does like the mitzvah of mishloach monos. Is there no way to opt out? $150 for a shalach monos? My first apartment cost less then that.

Anonymous said...

Bas-Melech, who is doing the collection for these gifts to the administration? Someone must have told you all that you have to contribute and if it's someone who is part of the administration or works for them then this can't be kosher. Something sure smells rotten to me.

Anonymous said...

I was tempted to say that they don't make balabustas like Prof. K anymore, but that would be too sweeping of a statement. There are some other holdouts as well who do things the way they were done in the 'good old days' (even if not to the enth degree as described here). I know some such walking anachronisms personally.

Nevertheless, I think we could safely say that there is a significant shortfall in that category.

The frum community has been overcome in recent years by great changes, related to increased affluence among some on the one hand, and people having less time, among other things, on the other hand.

I think there is a parallel to people jetting away for elaborate hotel vacations for Pesach instead of staying home (which Prof. K may post on soon, I speculate), by the way.

The question is - how can we maintain and even increase the percentage of old-fashioned balabustas like Prof. K. in the future?

P.S. In this week's Yated there is a very troubling letter that a woman wrote describing seriously disturbing behavior of a group of young 'frum' mothers (!) on a plane returning from a vacation in Florida. That is what happens sometimes when people get spoiled.

Maybe those young women should be sentenced to frum Reform school, with Prof. K at the helm, to whip them into shape.

Prof. K, take a look at it if you can (even if you generally don't read that publication, this is worth making an exception for) and perhaps let us know what you think.

Anonymous said...


ProfK said...

I don't know which is worse--being called a walking anachronism or being forced to read the Yated. Actually I can deal with being an anachronism. Sigh, I'll try and find someone who still has their copy. What I don't do for my blog readers.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-Email me off line at orthonomics at gmail and I will gladly send you the Yated letter. :)

Nothing wrong with being an anachronism.

Bas~Melech said...

Yated is definitely the worse option. For all I know, they might have outstanding content, but the design and English (Yinglish?) are too painful for me to find out.

Speaking of which, you really should have an email address posted... I was also pondering emailing you today.

Bas~Melech said...

Oh, and I forgot to reply: It's the other teachers who are taking up the collection.

I'm also concerned about the propriety of a bunch of female teachers giving mishloach manos/gifts to the male principal and administrator. Right, they're saying it's for the whole family... but come on, who are they trying to kid?

ProfK said...


If you want to send me email please write to

I posted the address in my profile as well.

Anonymous said...

Probably easier for me to say then for you to do bas melech, but if it is the teachers who are doing the collecting then just say no thank you. And if they ask you why which they probably will just tell them that it isn't your family hashkafa. Single Women don't send shalach monos to men no matter who they are or even as part of a group. You might give chizuk to some other teacher who also isn't happy to have to give her money in this way.

Just by the way, in my school the parent organization sends us teachers shalach monos and we have never sent a group shalach monos or even individually to any one in the administration.

Anonymous said...

What I don't like with the shalach monos giving is that it has become a competition to see who can send the bigger, fancier shalach monos. And some of those packages are just so strange. Profk is right that so many of them it is the container that is more important then the contents. And just what am I supposed to do with most of those containers?

Anonymous said...

Myneighbor sends out 93 shalach monos for her and her family members. She buys them from an organization. 93? This is like the guest lists for weddings--the number of people keeps growing and growing. And the cost keeps growing too. Either we have to cut the lists of people or we have to find a cheaper way of doing the shalach monos. Making them at home is certainly one solution. Sending less is another.

Anonymous said...

Great, someone makes their own shalach monos. Her choice. I buy mine and support a tzedaka at the same time. My choice. You don't like what the organization is sending you? Let me know and I'll take you off my list for next ttime. I've got loads of things better to do with my then spending time throwing together a cake mix just so I can claim I'm better then someone else. Talk about a topic that shouldn't have been printed.

Orthonomics said...

And just what am I supposed to do with most of those containers?

Take and recycle. Perhaps you don't want to use them. But if you have storage space, put them in a box and your kids can use them for making their own when they are obligated.

miriamp said...

Cake mix? What's a cake mix?

But anyway, we get (and give) lots of home-baked items in shaloch manos. And we get some completely not homemade too. It all works.

Part of what I've done to cut down on the sheer volume is that if my kids are giving a specific friend (and I do try to limit those to 2-3 per kid, which is still a lot!) then we are yotzei that family, and I don't give them a separate one from us. Apparently it works, b/c no one has complained about feeling slighted and we're all still friends.

Also, a lot of people I know don't go around giving... they just wait and trade with anyone who comes to the door. Then there are the people we've given one year but not the next, and then maybe again after that, depending on when/if we run into them during the day.

I do make a point of giving the Jewish neighbors on our block. One gives back, but the others don't (they aren't observant, I think) and we're all fine with that.

We wind up making up 20-30 packages to give away...But we're talking a paper bag or plate, a couple of homemade hamentashen, some candy and a fruit or two. Certainly not fancy. And nowhere near the other numbers I've heard! (and more is spent on matanos levonayim than on shaloch manos)

(Oh, and I guess you'd call our out-of-town community small (4 orthodox shuls + Chabad) although I've lived in smaller.

Lion of Zion said...

what about all the people in my son's schools we are "obligated" to give to?

"my rav holds that you have not fulfilled the mitzva of shalach monos unless you personally deliver"

do you know based on what?
apparently some say it is preferably to use a shaliah: see the end of

"thus "giving," shalach monos to two different people""

i'm pretty sure that you only have to give (two items) to one person (as the megillah says, משלוח מנות איש לרעהו

Lion of Zion said...

i also don't see the purposed of baskets full of candy (i.e., crap), considering the contents are supposed to be usable for the seudah

mother in israel said...

Thought you would love this one:
You could add it to your Purim baskets. . .:)

Gila said...

ProkK...ummmm....I will eat your baked goods! You are waaay kosher enough for me! Could I be one of your friends? :)

My two cents--no matter how many times I assure that that I am fine, need no help and beg them to please take me off, I am still on the lists of various organizations that aid victims of terror. Furthermore, they still have me as living in J'lem (am not in Tel Aviv). Every year, I get several phone calls from delivery guys or organizations themselves who are trying to deliver a basket. This year, I have taken to just telling them to please give it to someone needy in the community, with my blessings. Honestly, B"H I am doing great and can afford to buy as much chocolate as I want. I do not need the handouts.

Though I still want to be your friend so I can have some of your baked goods.

Oh--and another thing--none of the groups who have called since I moved to T"A 2.5 years ago has ever thought to update my address. I think that it is because I tell them I live in Tel Aviv. Clearly, but clearly, if I live in T"A, and I am a victim of terror, I probably deserved it. (Am being facetious here).