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Mar 3, 2009

Shalachmanos peer pressure

Purim is fast approaching and that also means the annual shalach manos orgy of candy nobody needs is also almost upon us.

Everybody pretty much agrees that shalach manos has gotten out of control. People spend way too much money, in attempts to impress others. And most of the food is wasted - how many wafers and chocolate bars does any one person need anyway?

The fact that some people want to do the mitzva with great beauty and adornment is wonderful, and more power to them. The problem is when it becomes a social pressure that if you don't give everyone you know, and give them an impressive basket, than you are worthless (or worth less). It gets out of hand, and people spend too much money - money they don't have or that would be better spent elsewhere (such as on basic necessities) - on shalach manos, purely because of the pressure they are under because they think people are comparing.

I don't want to tell anyone where and how to spend their money. Go spend it on whatever you want. If you want to give big, fancy and expensive shalach manos, go ahead. But don't do it because you are under pressure to keep up with the Joneses.

Here is what we do:

  • In our building, every family gives only to one other family in the building, decided by lottery.
  • We stopped along time ago succumbing to the desire to give better shalach manos to everybody we know, so we only give the absolute minimum we can get away with, which is usually 3 or 4.
  • We prepare a few basic plates to reciprocate when people give us.
  • Each of our kids gets to choose 2 friends to give shalach manos to. The shalach manos consist of a home baked hamentash and a piece of chocolate (or some other candy).
  • We give through our shul to friends in the shul, which is really a fundraiser and not really shalachmanos.
The one big expense we have is the kids rebbes. We have to give them, and that seems to be the standard and is mainly considered a bribe so that they will pay better attention to our kids. I am not sure what the bribe is if everyone gives the bribe. But if we don't then our kid will be the only kid not getting the better attention, so we give. But we give a new sefer and a bottle of wine, instead of cash or big elaborate gifts.
I don't think this obligation is proper. Many people in the school have little money for extravagant shalachmanos for the rebbe. Some of them are hard-working families, and dont have money to spend like that. Other families are kollel families, with even less money available. And if a family has a few kids, the expense of money or shalachmanos to the rebbes and teachers can be overwhelming.

Especially in these days of financial uncertainty - do not overspend just because of "peer pressure".

Here is a story, as witnessed, of someone who felt such great pressure to give nice shalach manos that she preferred to buy candy over food when she did not have enough money to buy both.

If enough people are more careful with prioritizing their shalachmanos spending and not succumbing to peer pressure, perhaps the peer pressure on others will also be lightened...


  1. now i know why we dont get shalach monas from you!
    i think shalachmanos should be two words... but if you feel peer pressure to write as one word, i wont protest.

  2. I second this post.

    Ari Enkin

  3. If you want to let people know that you are thinking of them on Purim,
    send them a Lemaan Achai Purim card instead and limit your Mishloach Manos to 1,2, or 3 families.
    They don't need more candy. People who are really in need will benefit from the money you give to lemaan achai, and you will save a whole lot time.

    Also, in the mishloach manos that you do send, if you can make it non-junk food it is more appreciated and can end up cheaper. E.g. make a pot of something (noodles, salad, soup etc.) put it in small containers. Give rolls, bagels, or challas.

    Please, if you must drive on Purim do it carefully, there are plenty of under-supervised children running around the streets.

    Happy Purim.
    Leyhudim hay'sa ora vesimcha vesasson vikar --- ken tihye lanu

  4. whats - Ahem. and why did we not get shalachmanos from you?

    the word is really two words - mishloach manot. it is said in the vernacular as one slurred word - shalachmanos

  5. oh you didnt get it? hmm, someone must have eaten it on the way over... darn kids... :-)

  6. Curious how your kids feel about giving 2 mishlach manos each. Seems rather hard on them.

    We try to restrict each mishlach manos from kids to 4nis (amazing how thrifty they can be when it suits them); and let them give out 5 each - 20nis and even then they kvetch that plony is giving to the entire class . . .

    Mishlach manos from you to neighbors/friends don't need to be expensive - homemade is definitely the best - except one someone gives a few bits of mushed up cake.

    Rebbes are the big expense. I'm curious how much is the norm these days. Last year we gave 100nis to some and 50nis to others (depending on how hard a year the Rebbi had with each kid!), but am now hearing that under $100 is like nothing!

  7. we were always told $100 is expected, but we never gave it. we have 7 kids with multiple rebbes and teachers, and there is no way we could afford that!

    we give the main rebbes a nice sefer. the sefer is usually worth in the range of 100-150nis.

    the kids are used to giving only 2-3 shalachmanos each. That is what we have been doing for years and before purim they have to think about who they want to give, and make a list. They are fine with it.

  8. My children's schools all collect money from each child and give each Rebbe/teacher 1 shalach manos from the whole class. It could be that some people give separately as well, but we don't. my kids are allowed to give out 4 or 5 each to their friends, and we keep them pretty minimal. this year they want to do different themed ones each, but we haven't started the actual negotiations yet! I insist that they include real food as well as something sweet.

  9. we give out a fair number, because we use it as a) family time, and b) tiime ot catch up because we make sure that the vast majority are given, in person, with some time to shmooze.

    Purim is our favourite holiday and we really enjoy putting them together and doing it together as a family.

    On the other hand, the thought of spending 100s on any one mm is insanity to me! In Toronto we were known for having cute, fun mm, that people always remembered, and I do not tihnk we ever spend more than $3 a piece (and generally less). Here ours this year are shaping up to be adorable and are under 10 nis a piece (actually most are under 8). There is a fair bit of time put into each though.

    We do a bunch of tzedakah cards to people we would be able to make it to in person.

    For us the pairing works. Most of the money goes to the tzedakah cards, most of the fun/personal time goes into the smaller mm that add to our simcha on/pertaining to the chag.

    In Toronto at least, we also made it a point ot keep people who are otherwise forgotten by the community on our list. Shit ins. Those with no family. Those new to town.

  10. happyduck1979:
    Of the three types of people on your list of "people who are otherwise forgotten by the community", I'm not sure if my community has type no. 1 on your list. :)

  11. with you all the way Rafi, excellent post.
    We're really into the Lemaan Achai Purim cards, but were surprised last year, when people started to bring them attached to their MM basket or a bottle of wine - kind of defeats the point.
    While we also try to avoid the nasty nash, one of the problems with home baked food is that people can be very concerned about kashrus and not want to eat something without a particular hechsher printed on it.
    Even using fruit can be problematic at this time of year, unless you write long explanations of what everything is!

  12. I don't understand the whole part about bribing the rebbes.
    Are you concerned that your children get chinuch from someone who would give them less attention if their parents did not send a misloach manot? Isn't it their job, the one they get paid for, to give chinuch to each and every child they have in their class.
    I am not saying it does not happen. It just seems like everyone participates as though it is the right way.

  13. It's similar to not tipping counselors
    in camp.
    It's expected, and if withheld causes the counselor to think the parents weren't satisfied/discourages service above and beyond.

    Former Staff

  14. Rafi - that is what our building does too. This year we got the name of a very frum couple, the kind that I really don't think they'd ever trust themselves to eat anything from me no matter how double, triple pre-packaged, straight outta the best hechshered place it is. Any advice?

  15. My favorite was an ad on the back of Mishpacha magazine for super fancy mishloach manot from a bobov kollel (the highest priced ones were $186. They must really be dreaming!!) But that wasn't the funniest part. There was a phone number to order... and a website! Guess even sinners who use the internet can make up for it by order mm from them.

  16. When someone comes to my house with a SM package (and they're not on my list to give), I tell them that we haven't made all the rounds yet (which is usually true anyway), and then I package some stuff for them and drop it off by them later. This way no one feels that they gave me and I didn't give them.

  17. oh my gosh.
    can I edit a comment?????

  18. happyduck: Lucky for you i and u are right next to each other on the keyboard and most people got it from context. ;)

    a freiliche purim!

  19. The only part of this that I'm not sure about is when people get together to decide to limit mishloach manos. As in the example of the buildings that do this. Or in one case I know of, a group in kollel decided to all not give each other. This bothers me because it's a group deciding to get together to limit doing a mitzva. maybe it's necessary, but it strikes me as strange to decide to not do a mitzva and tell others not to do it. But maybe it's just too expensive, or for homemade too much work, and of course it's not obligatory to give everyone you know. i usually give homemmade which is not too expensive even if I throw in a bottle of beer or liquor or whatever. I've gotten two salads, kugels, a roll and a challah, etc Two salads, like cucumber and carrot salad, is not a big deal to bang out with a food processor or expensive and yet it fulfills mishloach manos, so I'd vote for doing something like that over deciding to announce no mishloach manos in a particular group. I agree the pressure is too much, but am just uneasy with collaborative decisions to tell people to forgo the mitzva. Is it really so out of hand that we must do that?

  20. Also the spirit of everyone deciding not to give the other in the group - in one way, it's a group decision, so no one will feel bad for not getting mishloach manos, but otoh isn't that a decision not to create extra good between people who'd otherwise give each other? Is it really the spirit of purim to say, nope I am bdavka not doing it, and you don't do it either, and we'll stil have good will?

    Of course when there is real poverty, going cheap may not do the trick, but short of that, isn't it better to give inexpensive mishloach manos than to decide to forgo? what is wrong with giving inexpensive mishloach manos - why not resist the pressure to give fancy mishloach manos rather than pressure to give altogether? And if it must be fancy, bake or cook something which lands up less expensive, but is personal, shows effort or whatever.

  21. I hear you, but it is not just an issue of fancy. If I have to give all 15 families in my building, just because we live in the same building and I dont want to insult anyone even if I am not particularly friends with all of them, plus at least half of each of the buildings on either side of mine, even with cheap shalachmanos that is becoming a very large expense. And then add to that the friends I want to give to outside of my building.

    So we get together and say we know we all want to give each other but understand the expense is too great so everybody give just one within the building.

    Of course if I am so friendly with a neighbor that I want to give them anyways, I could, but I dont have to give all the neighbors I am just acquaintances with.

  22. maybe I am just not imagining whole buildings of full frum people! For homemade foods, depending on what you make, it can also be work even it's inexpensive.

  23. Firstly Rafi G, thanks for bringing this up (and of course for linking to my eye-witness account).

    Regarding the last two anonymous comments, there is actually a rabbinic precedent for rolling back mitzvos in cases where spending is getting out of hand. I think this is a very good candidate for such a ruling. Click the link to see examples from Mishna and Shulchan Aruch.

    In that article, I also suggest that the modern day madness does more to drive people apart in competition than bring people close together, as per the original intent.



  24. Rafi, check out Rav Ovadia and company's latest announcement on this.


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