Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Halachic Myth for Purim

[Post I'm reading: Judging Mother at Everyone Needs Therapy]

During every year’s run-up to Purim I come across a standard halachic myth: That the foods used for mishloach manot (aka shalach manos) must be of separate halachic ‘species’, such that one would need to recite two separate blessings before eating them.

There are requirements for the foods, of course, most notably that they should be foods which are immediately edible, and ideally (in terms of the spirit of the law) they should be suitable for one’s Purim Seudah, but there is no requirement to have foods which require two berachos. Proof – the Rambam (Hilchos Megilah 2:15) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695:4) specify an option of using two pieces of meat as mishloach manot! And yet, generations of children have come home from school with this idea. Where does it come from?

It reminds me of the myth that people with tattoos may not be buried in Jewish cemeteries. I once heard it suggested that this came from mothers whose sons were going off to military service; they wanted to intimidate their children, so that they wouldn’t get tattoos. But there is no basis for this, either.

Or the myth that we don’t eat giraffe because we don’t know on what spot to schecht it. As has been noted by others, shechitah is certainly not the problem – we schecht, essentially, between the lowest and highest cartilage rings, for which the giraffe affords us plenty of space. Broadcaster Bill Chadwick said of Gene Carr, “He couldn’t put the puck in the ocean if he was standing at the end of the pier” - that’s the sort of shochet who can’t schect a giraffe! [At the link above you'll find a related quip, but I prefer hockey...]

Of course, there are customs that have esoteric origins, and are not really myths. For example, many people who give away a deceased person’s clothes will not give away his shoes, and for years I thought this was a myth. Then I saw Sefer Chasidim 454 – that doesn’t make this halachah, but it does provide a basis.

But two berachos for mishloach manot? Myth.


  1. I also have heard the 'foods requiring 2 brachot' rule (I first heard it when I was first starting to become religious and I assumed it was true and accepted as basic until some time later when I first learned hilchot megila in the shulchan aruch). Once I learned the halacha, I assumed that 2 brachot was a kind of eitza tova to ensure that what one is sending is in fact two manot and not one mana cut in half. I never saw a source for this though, it is just my supposition.

  2. http://mi.yodeya.com/questions/6325/where-did-the-different-bracha-for-mishloach-manos-idea-come-from

  3. My father in law was a rav. A certain congregant used to give him for Mishloach Manot every hear a good bottle of 'mashkeh' and a $100 bill. He used to say that the second bracha was the 'hatov v'hametiv' that is said on receiving substantial unexpected funds.

    (It was Purim, he wasn't giving psak that $100 triggers the bracha, though back in the day...)

  4. If this were the worst mistake in halacha we all made...

  5. We had a first this year. Like many people, we receive many of the ubiquitous "Purim cards in lieu of Shalach Manot". But one came addressed to us with no return address and inside our names were handwritten, it noted the tzedaka receiving the funds but in the spot for sender there was a handwritten "anonymous".

    My wife thought perhaps the sender thought it was a bigger mitzva to be anonymous, but I said that I would think that would apply if the actual recipient of the money doesn't know the donor (ie. the tzdedaka). And also, although this really doesn't count as Shalach manot, isn't part of the concept that the sender and recipient know who each other are (to spread ahavat yisrael and simcha purim)?

    If you put a shlach manot package on your friend's doorstep with no note as to whom it's from, are you yotzai?

  6. The "tattoo = no Jewish burial" myth has been continuously corrected for four years now on the Wikipedia page "Bereavement in Judaism." Someone keeps putting it up, and someone knowledgeable keeps taking it back down. Someone just fixed it again the other day, with comment "will this myth ever die?!"

  7. Shmuel-
    An interesting though, certainly.

    Guess I'm not the only one who has been hearing this!

    Anonymous 10:41-
    Ken yirbu!


    Good questions; multiple points here:
    1) As you probably know, cards don't fulfill mishloach manot, anonymous or otherwise.
    2) The value of tzedakah is increased when donor, recipient or both don't know the identity of the other.
    3) The value of chesed may be similarly increased by anonymity, assuming that receiving the card gives you a positive feeling.
    4) Mishloach manot left anonymously are a more complicated debate; perhaps I'll return to this when I have a moment.

    And when it does, will it be buried in a Jewish digital cemetery?

  8. If something without any particular basis in Halacha, but not prohibited by it either, is done on a holiday by enough Orthodox Jews over a long enough span, doesn't it become a minhag?

  9. Bob-
    Good question. My understanding is that if the practice is performed because one thinks it is required, then it does not become a minhag.

  10. Bob-
    As I understand it: Minhagim are vows, essentially. If I do something because I think I'm supposed to do it, that's not a vow; were someone to demonstrate it wasn't an obligation, I wouldn't do it.

  11. the ben ish chai writes that if you put the two gifts of food into one basket it becomes one min. you have to keep them in seperate baskets

  12. "were someone to demonstrate it wasn't an obligation, I wouldn't do it."

    1. For most people, not if the habit was ingrained enough!

    2. In packaging Mishloach Manot, our family knows this alleged requirement is no halacha, but we typically act as if it was one because of recipients' likely expectations.

    3. (DIGRESSION ALERT) Should people stop drinking alcohol on Purim when they can't tell the difference anymore between a Mezonos food and a Shehakol food?

  13. re Tattoo, from Wall Street Journal

    A final myth is that people with tattoos are barred from burial in all Jewish cemeteries. It is true that Torah law prohibits a Jew from being tattooed, says Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the presiding judge of the Orthodox Beth Din of America, a rabbinical court that provides advice on issues involving Jewish law. However, "there is no reason why a Jew with a tattoo may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery."