Heichal HaTorah needs to meet the real world

I read the publication put out by this Minyan because I’m halachically curious by nature and Rabbi Donnenbaum puts in a good effort.

One can have the odd quibble, and some are worth mentioning and others are probably not. For example, he mentions the custom to have a special reading of Parshas Zachor for women (even though they don’t need to hear it according to many opinions). There is a comment in bold that it is preferable that 10 men “be present” during the reading. The source is in Halichos Bas Yisroel which I have and just looked at. (I don’t own a Shevet Halevi so I didn’t check). Indeed, the author of Halichos Bas Yisroel notes that Rav Elyashiv z’l (among others) said to have ten men present. I had remembered, however, that Rav Gavriel Tzinner in Nitei Gavriel thought that was nonsensical unless the men had not heard Parshas Zachor. Those are minor things.

I was outraged however when I read the following

Women who want to participate in the first Megilla reading … and have arranged a non frum jewish baby sitter (eg Russian, Israeli), must ensure that the baby sitter not perform any Chillul Shabbos in order to arrive on time.

If someone can please explain to me why a Russian Jew or Jewess or an Israeli Jew or Jewess should be explicitly listed as examples of “non-frum”, I’d be interested. Indeed, why do I need examples?

This is what is wrong with some segments of Jewry. They are too quick to call people non-frum, too quick to make conclusions about who is likely to be non-frum and then do or say little positive in this regard, let alone Kiruv.

Why assume they don’t know what to do especially if they work for you and live within walking distance etc Why even mention Russian or Israeli. That is a massive put down and totally unnecessary. Sure, if it’s not a regular babysitter, then one needs to make sure they don’t cause them to sin, but if it’s a regular babysitter, you’ve probably already told them so much (“don’t warm up anything for the children?”, Meat and Milk and the list goes on.

Here is a better approach: pay the babysitter extra money and encourage them to hear a later reading of the Megila (when you come home) and invite them to your Seudas Purim (especially if you are so certain they are non-frum and clueless). Maybe tell them what Purim is all about? Drop off Shalach Monos? Perhaps Matonos LoEvyonim?

Really! We can be a bit more sophisticated and positive about doing good in this world than focussing on minutiae when bigger issues stare us in the face? What if the babysitter is indeed a Russian emigre with a husband (you have never seen), and both have never seen a Purim Seuda?

Sorry, Heichal HaTorah, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity, something that prevents Geula, rather than encourages it. Frankly, in the next edition, there should be an open apology. I think that’s at least as important as whatever else is written in the next edition.

Postscript: When I pressed post, WordPress the blog infrastructure suggested that “non-frum” be replaced with “no-trump”. I nearly fell off my chair.

A Freilichen Purim to all, frum and not yet frum.

Purim Pilpul

[Guest post from MD (c) lightly edited by me]

פורים                                    © מאיר דויטש

Here are just some of my thoughts which I am sharing with you.

It is Purim

It came to pass in the days of Achashverosh, who is Achashverosh…?

It is clear that he is Achashverosh, why does the Megila have to certify it?

Is it to point out that he is the one reigning from Hodu to Kush, and not the Ahasverosh mentioned in the book of Daniel (9,   1) who ? reigned only over Paras and Maday?

Why do we read   “וכלים מכלים שונים” in the melody of Eicha?

The Temple’s utensils were taken to Babylon, not Persia. Yes, I know that Persia conquered Babylon and the utensils (see:Ezra ch.one) were with Koresh, but he returned them. Can we see a hint in the Rashi (Esther 1, 7) who says there:   שונים – משונים זה מזה וכן ודתיהם שונות, ורבותינו דרשו מה שדרשו.   Rashi has his own opinion, but says that not all accept it. He does it again also at Esther ch.2 5 & 9

“מרדכי בן יאיר בן שמעי בן קיש … אשר הוגלה עם הגולה ”

Who was carried away to exile? Was it Mordechai or Kish? From the exile till the reign of Achashverosh we have about 110 years, therefore we can assume that it was Kish who was exiled from Judea. If it wasn’t Mordechai, than the story in Megila (13b) is surprising.

The story there is

“אמר רבי יוחנן: בגתן ותרש שני תרסיים הוו, והיו מספרין בלשון תרסי ואומרים: מיום שבאת זו לא ראינו שינה בעינינו, בא ונטיל ארס בספל כדי שימות. והן לא היו יודעין כי מרדכי מיושבי לשכת הגזית היה והיה יודע שבעים לשון. אמר לו: והלוא אין משמרתי ומשמרתך שוה? אמר לו: אני אשמור משמרתי ומשמרתך. והיינו דכתיב “ויבקש הדבר וימצא” שלא נמצאו במשמרתן” (מגילה יג ע”ב). זה לשון הגמרא (ראה גם אבן עזרא האומר: “ויש אומרים כי הוא היה מסנהדרין” – אבן עזרא עצמו אינו אומר כי מרדכי היה מהסנהדרין אבל מצטט דעות אחרים שחושבים שהיה). השאלה היא: אם סבא רבה של מרדכי הוגלה מיהודה, הכיצד יכול להיות שמרדכי עצמו היה מיושבי לשכת הגזית?

Was Mordechai ever in Jerusalem?

Did he go with Zerubavel from Persia to Jerusalem?

Was he the Mordechai Balshan mentioned in the book of Ezra?

While in Jerusalem did he join the judges of the Sanhedrin and learn the 70 languages?

Did he return from Jerusalem to Shushan?

Why would a member of the Sanhedrin, just back home from exile, leave his post and return to Persia?

The Jewish historian,    Josephus Flavius) =   יוסף בן מתתיהו)  describes that incident as follows:

” […] קשרו בגתן ותיאודוסיטס קשר על המלך. לברנבזוס, עבדו של אחד משני הסריסים האלה, יהודי לפי גזעו, נודעה המזימה והוא הגידה לדודה של אשת המלך, ומרדכי גילה את הקושרים למלך על ידי אסתר” (קדמוניות היהודים – אברהם שליט – ספר אחד עשר ע’ 20).

What was the period in time from the sending by Haman of the declaration to dispose of the Jews to the time he was executed?

•On Nissan he cast the dice

•13 Nissan he dispatches the notices (SEFARIM)

•23 Sivan the King’s scribes are writing Mordechai’s notices

The total time is less than two months and ten days.

According to Even Ezra, Haman was taken to the gallows already in Nissan.

Why did Mordechai write to the Jews of the Empire that they have permission to kill their opponents on the 13th of Adar, nearly nine months later?

Didn’t he learn from Haman not to wait such a long time as things change

Let us take note. An order issued by the King cannot be changed, neither the ones distributed by Haman nor those by Mordechai. Now if the two decrees are in force, on 13th Adar the Persian can kill Jews – written by Haman. On the same day, 13th Adar the Jews can kill Persians – written by Mordechai Now, what happens on that day? Persians may kill Jews and Jews may kill Persians. What do the Jews do? They gather in groups to defend themselves and kill Persians and   “איש לא עמד בפניהם” ופחדם נפל על כל העמים”.

If Mordechai had chosen another day, the Jews would not be permitted on 13th Adar to fight back, and the Persians, who were allowed to kill Jews on that day, could do it without any opposition.

Now we have Haman’s 10 sons. If we look at Megilat Esther ch. 9, we see that ten sons were killed, by the King’s permission, on the 13th of Adar, together with the other Persians. If so, why did Esther ask the King the following day to have them hanged?

Did she want to display them to be displayed in public?

Nothing is written about Zeresh, therefore everyone can speculate.

In TARGUM RISHON on Megilat Esther it says

וזרש ברחה עם שבעים בנים שנשארו להמן, שהיו סובבים על השערים ומתפרנסים.

Seventy children!

So many children!

Were they all Zeresh’s?

Others think that:

She became a servant in Esther’s house;

She went to the gallows together with Haman;

She committed suicide by hanging herself.

L’Chayim! Let us drink AD DLO YADA.

Purim Sameach.


With friends like these who needs enemies?

John Kerry who is trying admirably to organise peace between Palestinians: the Israeli Jewish ones and the Arab ones, has been quoted as saying

Netanyahu wrong to insist Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state

Why is Bibi wrong? Because “international law” already recognises Israel as a Jewish State? I see, so Kerry wants us to make peace with those don’t accept or agree with International “Law”. Narishkeit?

Law? You have two opinions in Law even about Yehuda and Shomron. Some say it’s perfectly within International Law and these includes eminent Jurists, and others (including the bleeding left amongst our own people, who also tend to be the uber egalitarians) say they are “settlements” and illegal. חס ושלום

You’d have to be pretty naïve to accept Kerry’s assurances. One can only assume that he’s reached a dead-end. Even a not very bright politician wouldn’t make such a ridiculous statement or claim תהיס as a way of moving forward. Crimea anyone?

There will never be peace while Abu Abbas is in the Chair. That is my view. It will take someone bold. Abbas is a holocaust denier. He’s yesterday’s man. He isn’t bold or brave enough to look after those in the West Bank. He hasn’t made a single contribution to humanity. The Islamists in Gazastan are another kettle of fish. If you mixed them together with those on the West Bank you’d have Syria. If Abbas really cared about his people, he’d become a separate State within Jordan. Now, there’s a good idea. Why doesn’t someone run with that solution. Makes a lot of sense to me especially since some 50% of Jordanians share DNA with the West Bankers.

ישראל נושע בה׳

תשועת עולמים

Wishing all my readers a freilechen/happy purim where the Hamans of our world are rendered purposeless. Feel free to drop in and make לחיים if you are so inclined and in the vicinity. Yes, that even includes Satmar Chassidim and Kalte Litvaks. At the same time, watch your alcohol intake, know your limit, and make sure your kids are under control and fettered!

And now the “oh so frum” condemn a Purim skit

Not to be outdone, the holy tzaddikim who shouldn’t be reading the internet condemn this video, which was clearly done in the spirit of Purim to “connect” to the Oilom who aren’t connected, and the types of comments you read are reproduced below. They are so out of touch with how to reconnect with Yidden, it’s plainly embarrassing. The Dati Leumi community were also out of touch. At least they are now recognising that their absence created a vacuüm.

  1. geula says:

    scary! this is exactly what are grandkids can turn out to be chas vesholom. This is a result of embracing a bit of the amalek; there’s such a kaltkeit and zilzul in this video and the whole DL community. There are no gedarim or bounds. it’s selective judaism. and what they do do that is based on something is so twisted and made to fit. Complete complete busha.

Mishloach Manos and Aveylus

As everyone knows, an Avel (mourner) is still required to give Mishloach Manos, but is not meant to be given Mishloach Manos. What is the essential difference? Clearly, an Avel is still someone who must do good deeds, including Chesed (kindness) and acts of goodness. This is claimed to not only be good for the Avel, so to speak, but is something the Neshama (my father, הכ”מ) gets an Aliya/Nachas from. So far so good.

We can understand why someone should not be involved in giving to an Avel. Likely, the Mishloach Manos is (meant to be) a contribution to the Avel’s Purim Seuda. The Avel’s Purim Seuda, though, in a year of Aveylus, isn’t what it normally is. One isn’t supposed to go (based on the Ramoh) to someone else’s Seuda. Rather, it should be a relatively “quiet” and home-bound one, much like the rest of Aveylus of the 12 months, which is characterised by an avoidance of more public modes of enjoyment and celebration.

An interesting question arises in regards to a family Seuda. What is the Halacha, if customarily, the wider family, including siblings, who are also Aveylim, get together each year for Purim Seuda under normal circumstances. Should they also get together in a year of Aveylus? You can always argue that the “Niftar would prefer that”, but it’s not that simple. Like many laws of Aveylus, one may well get two different answers from two Rabonim. We also say that הלכה כמיקל באבילות. There is also a fair amount of grey area. If you open up a Nitei Gavriel you can probably find every type of a הנהגה under the sun, but that doesn’t really help when you seek direction and clear Psak. Telling me that in the community of “bochunovich” they did XYZ doesn’t offer Psak. Nitei Gavriel is a wonderful “encyclopedia”. It’s often difficult to “pasken” from unless of course one is from “bochunovich”.

So, I was pretty convinced that it should be okay: Aveylim with Aveylim at a Purim Seuda, without the usual dancing and banter, what could be wrong. I asked the question to מו’’ר Rav Hershel Schachter, and he replied that it is better during the year of Aveylus, that the Aveylim have their seudos individually in their own homes.

Purim, being a Yom Tov from the Rabbis, somehow places itself in this Halachic “no man’s land”. It’s not a Torah Yom Tov, nor is it a normal Yom Chol. You are meant to drink, be merry, etc to a level of עד דלא ידע. This means that although it’s a happy day with certain Mitzvos it’s perhaps not quite as important enough in terms of Toraitic שמחה. It’s a day of perhaps “wanton” happiness for want of a better word. This isn’t the natural domain of the Avel. Instead, they should partake of this סעודה meal at their own home with one’s direct family, in the first instance.

Ironically, as I delivered some Mishloach Manos today, I was pleased in a macabre way that some people could not give me Mishloach Manos in return. You know the scene, you give, and then they scurry out the back and give you one “in return”. This time, I had pure giving. I was the initiator. I didn’t need anything in return (thank God). It might sound weird, but that’s how I felt. I actually got some strange comfort out of it.

I can’t stomach this attitude

Is it any wonder that people are so sensitised and seem to have more of a propensity to abuse? The Rambam advocated a middle road. This is an extreme position, largely influenced by the influx of Hungarian Charedim to our Holy Land. It needs to be seen for what it is, a crazy chumra which serves no halachic purpose and if anything is an abuse of Halacha in the sense that it places a (future) stumbling block before the “blind”. The day somebody gets excited or over-refreshed by such “brazen imagery” is the day they need to see a psychiatrist.

I don’t see it as some attitude against women. I see it as a complete and wanton abuse of men.

From yediot:


No Queen Esther in Purim costume ads

What does one do in order to avoid blurring the faces of little girls in Purim costume ads? Very simple: Show boys only.

After being criticized in recent years for concealing girls’ faces for “modesty reasons” or replacing them with dolls, this year some Israeli toy stores have decided to completely remove pictures of girls from their advertisements.

Ads published by some chains in ultra-Orthodox newspapers in recent weeks are surprisingly missing costumes which were included in their ads in the past, although these costumes are still on sale.

For example, the biblical matriarch Rachel and even Queen Esther are absent from the ads this year, as part of an ongoing trend in the haredi media not to publish pictures of women or feminine clothing items

Last year, girls were blurred (upper photo) – this year, they’re gone

Religious Jews belonging to moderate factions are protesting the haredi press’ radicalization, which they say has reached the “exclusion of four-year-old girls,” but are also criticizing ads showing young girls in revealing costumes in the general press, which they say “border on pornography.”

Religious-Zionist movement Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, for example, responded cynically to the two extreme phenomena: “It appears that there are those who prefer to read only the parts related to Ahasuerus’ feasts in the Book of Esther, while on the other hand there are those who completely hide Esther.

“The despicable treatment of women, on both sides, strengthens extremism and creates a public domain which ranges between over-conservatism and over-permissiveness. The public is responsible for designing a road in the middle, which respects human beings and does not see them as an object.”

Drinking on Purim

Rav Kook gave the following Dvar Torah in his Siddur, עולת ראי’’ה  :

The Talmud in Megillah 12a states that the near destruction of the Jews in the time of Ahasuerus was a punishment for participating in the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols. What led them to perform these disloyal acts?

The Jews of that era thought that the root cause of anti-Semitism was due to xenophobic hatred of their distinct culture and religion. As Haman explained his rationale for destroying them:

“There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people; neither do they keep the king’s laws.” (Esther 3:8)

In order to overcome this hatred, the Jews decided it would be prudent to adopt the customs of their idolatrous neighbors. They demonstrated their allegiance as loyal Persian subjects by attending the royal banquet and bowing down to the Persian idols.

However, the Jews soon discovered that their efforts were futile. They were dismayed to learn of Haman’s plot to annihilate them, despite their best attempts at integrating into the local culture.

Accepting the Torah Again

With the realization that assimilation was not the answer, and that their only true protection from enemies is God’s providence, the Jewish people reaffirmed their commitment to keep the Torah and its laws.

“‘They confirmed and took upon themselves’ (Esther 9:27) — they confirmed what they had accepted long before” (Shabbat 88a).

The Talmud teaches that the renewed commitment to Torah at Shushan complemented and completed the original acceptance of Torah at Sinai. What was missing at Sinai? The dramatic revelation at Mount Sinai contained an element of coercion. Alone and helpless in the desert, the Jewish people could hardly refuse. The Midrash portrays this limited free choice with the threat of burial beneath the mountain, had they refused to accept the Torah. In the days of Ahasuerus, however, they voluntarily accepted the Torah, in a spirit of love and pure free will, thus completing the acceptance of Torah at Sinai.

Effusion of Good Will

This appears to be the explanation for the unusual rabbinic requirement to become inebriated on Purim (Megilah 7b). It is ordinarily forbidden to become drunk, since without the intellect to guide us, our uncontrolled desires may turn to immoral and destructive acts.

But on Purim, the entire Jewish people was blessed with an outburst of good will to accept the Torah. On this special day, every Jew who respects the Torah finds within himself a sincere yearning to embrace the Torah and its ways. For this reason, we demonstrate on Purim that even when intoxicated, we do not stray from the path of Torah, since our inner desires are naturally predisposed to goodness and closeness to God. Even in a drunken state, we are confident that we will not be shamed or humiliated with the exposure of our innermost desires. As we say in the “Shoshanat Ya’akov” prayer on Purim,

“To make known: that all who place their hope in You will not be shamed; and all who take refuge in You will never be humiliated.”

We can ask a few questions here. It is understandable that drink and merriment caused the Jews of that time to try to become more like the Nochrim of that generation. We understand this. That attitude, or mistaken belief, was at the root cause of the enlightenment in Germany and elsewhere. Jews thought that they could behave like Nochrim in the street, and like Yidden at home. They falsely relived what the Jews of Persia already found out. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. You cannot escape from that. Your pin tele Yid will shine somewhere, sometime. There will be a descendant of Amalek who will resent that countenance. That descendant will threaten your physical and/or spiritual existence.

What is the response? One response is that of extremes. Chassidim have decided that they will adopt measures which go beyond Halacha. Halacha does not mandate that Jews  are forbidden to wear the same style clothes as non-Jews. A male Jew fulfils a positive command if he wears Tzitzis, and according to some Acharonim, fulfils a Rabbinic command if he wears a Yarmulke. Both males and females should guard the laws of Tzniyus in their attire (and demeanour). Some Chassidim, however, don’t consider this enough. They would like to look “like Jews” (as in a Uniform) in the street. This is an extreme reaction in the same vein as those who take the opposite extreme and dress to look specifically like Nochrim.

What does drinking achieve? Far be it from me to claim that I don’t know. Drinking is a poisoned chalice. It can be liberating, in that it removes inhibition. It can be liberating, in that it unburdens one’s stress and worries. It is an artificial time-bound expediency. How much does one drink? Unlike all other Mitzvos, we are specifically not given an amount. Why? Is it a Reviis, is it ten Reviis? It is neither. The amount one drinks is subjective. It is precisely the amount that leaves a person free to the extent that they are unstressed by the fact that they are not troubled by the concept of a blessed Haman. How can a person not be troubled by that? Surely, the thought of God looking favourably upon the Hamans of this world is distressing in the extreme?

That depends on where one’s feet are. If one is sober, one’s feet are planted in this Earth at this time, in the Golus leading to Geula state that we are in. Inebriated, one is able to rise above that sunken reality and levitate, albeit for only a short period, into a Utopian reality where וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם השם נקרא עליך … that even the Nochrim will see that God’s name is inscribed on our foreheads.

How though do we understand the idea that we can confuse Mordechai as being cursed? My understanding of this is that it is only in our sober state that we mistakenly only see our perfection, only occasionally focussing on those cursed areas of our free will which cause us to stray off the Holy path. We know only too well, that once a person has their veneer lifted, when they have had a few shots, they often become very willing to introspect and describe their failings and indeed seek to consider them afresh.

I feel that this is a meaning of עד דלא ידע in the context. But, like everything in our world, שם שמברכים על הטוב, כך מברכים על הרע, in the same way that one can bless over good things, one blesses over bad things. Alcohol can also be abused. If a person is already in a state where they do not appreciate the difference between a blessed Mordechai and a cursed Mordechai, because they have diluted Mordechai, or they already don’t understand the difference between a cursed Haman or a blessed Haman, then that person will gain nothing by drinking the Alcohol except a headache and an unwanted expectoration. Alas, these types of people need to have a Purim party, but only when they understand the Purim in the party. If there is no Purim, it’s just another party; a Goyishe party. ודו’’ק

Mad Chumros for Purim

Saw this one over at Daas Torah. It’s not a Purim joke. Some crazies have suggested cleaning out ears before hearing the Megila so that you “catch every word”. Perhaps they will advertise cut-rate GPs or Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeons, who will syringe the embedded wax for those who are Machmir for the opinion of the Chazon Ish.

I'm afraid this is real
Technique approved by Badatz Shochtim

What’s next? The Hungarian decreeing that one should only listen to the Megilla this way, because חדש אסור מן התורה and מנהג אבותינו בידינו?

and our conservative types suggesting that it can be done remotely via a live podcast

But wait, there is more. I’m going to suggest to these wise litvaks (is that an oxymoron?) that immediately after the megilla they replenish their wax supply so that חס ושלום no distant לשון הרע find its way into the canals. The Poskim have ruled that the following product may be used without a hechsher

Not Kosher Certified

For two reasons:

  1. It’s not ראוי לאכילת כלב
  2. It’s נותן טעם לפגם

However, if there is a חשש that the לשון הרע is fresh, and not בן יומו, it is best to be Machmir.

On Erev Pesach, one should be מבער the wax or sell it to a Ben Noach. Those who want to be מחמיר should either

  1. Use a dropper, and insert a רביעית of kerosine into the ear canal (be careful not to do this near a flame), or
  2. to be safe, insert (micro-organism free) boiling water, that is יד סולדת according to all opinions into the ear canal.

Some entrepreneurial Avreichim are working with the company to develop a Kitniyos free, Glatt (gelatine free) Vegan alternative with a Hechsher for Pesach from a number of reputable Authorities.

Purim: giving without due diligence, Part 2

I knew I had seen a reference to the Rav’s thoughts on this matter.  I’ll paraphrase R’ Schachter in דברי הרב.

To understand the connection between the מצווה of  צדקה and specifically the Yom Tov of Purim, we need to to understand the general מצווה of צדקה. The Rambam in the beginning of the tenth chapter of הלכות מתנות עניים exhorts us to be more careful in the degree of our observance of the מצווה of  צדקה than all other positive commands. This is because  צדקה—vis a vis the propensity to give—is an identifying trait of Avraham Avinu. As the Pasuk in בראשית יח יט states:

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ד’ לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט לְמַעַן הָבִיא ד’ עַל אַבְרָהָם אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עָלָיו

“For I have known him, that he commands his children, and his house after him and they have kept the way of Hashem, to do Tzedaka and judgment, that Hashem may bring on Abraham that which He had spoken concerning him.”

The Rambam’s statement is extraordinary. We could be forgiven for thinking that the defining characteristics of a Jew is seen through the Mezuza on their door, or through their observance of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, Tefillin, Kashrus, and similar. Giving Tzedaka, however, is a universal humanistic value that is not just the domain of Jews, so why did the Rambam specifically choose Tzedaka as the characterising hallmark of the Jew?

In the second סעיף the Rambam goes on to say that if someone exhibits cruel or uncaring characteristics, then we might suspect that persons יחוס (intrinsic DNA) as a Jew. As is well known (and more recently popularised in Avraham Frieds’ ביישנים song) , the Gemara (יבמות מט) says

“סימני ישראל האומה הקדושה: בישנים, רחמנים וגומלי חסדים”

“The signs of the holy nation of Israel are that they are milquetoast, pitying, and bestowers of kindness.”

The Rambam stresses that all Jews are siblings and if one sibling does not look out for another, who will?

In this regard, the Megillah states the inspiring words:


וירא המן–כי אין מרדכי, כרע ומשתחוה לו; וימלא המן, חמה. ויבז בעיניו, לשלח יד במרדכי לבדו–כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי; ויבקש המן, להשמיד את כל היהודים

that Mordechai refused to cow tow to Haman. Haman was enraged, and whilst he would ordinarily have materialised his rage solely through punishing Mordechai, once he realised that (consistent with the Rambam’s view) Mordechai was an iconic symbol conjoined with Jews, כי הגידו לו, את עם מרדכי as a unified whole, then ויבז בעיניו he despised Mordechai more, and decided that he’d take it out on all Jews—להשמיד את כל היהודים.

This is also what Mordechai reminded  Esther of when he said:

״אל תדמי בנפשך להמלט בית המלך מכל היהודים כי אם החרש תחרישי בעת הזאת ריוח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר ואת ובית אביך תאבדו

“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish.’’

Mordechai was stressing to Esther that Jews are responsible for each other; they are a singleton. It cannot be that a Jew’s fate is detached from other Jews anymore than a Jew can absolve themselves from their responsibility to another Jew. This theme, of the unity of the proverbial Jewish body is also channeled to a prospective גר. After detaching themselves from any prior nation or peoplehood,  the גר is informed that they will now face anti-Semitism in the same way as any born Jew. The proverbial Jewish body has absorbed the גר and they are now a vital component.

This message—the importance of perpetuating the unity of the Jewish nation—as echoed by the מגילה and מרדכי and המן himself, motivated the Rabbinic enactment of the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים.  Enveloped with this theme,  the מצווה is not simply one of צדקה but is now the materialistic expression of a unifying act which by its purpose is consistent with not checking the credentials of the person one is giving the money to. On the contrary, the body is in tact, knows no difference, discerns no hierarchy and for this—the theme of כל ישראל עריבים זה לזה and אחדות—it is consistent to give to any Jew and not to question their bona fides.

Purim: giving without due diligence

The three weeks and nine days, during the months of Tamuz and Av respectively, are popular in Melbourne.  The days are short, it is winter, and as a result we attract many Meshulachim, Hunters and Collectors (MHC). If you spend Tisha B’Av in Melbourne it’s certainly an easier fast than in Yerusholayim or להבדיל Monsey or New Square. The community in Melbourne is relatively small and tends to live in proximate enclaves.  MHCs are generally ferried from house to house by local drivers equipped with potential donor lists made available (sometimes for a fee) to those MHCs who haven’t formulated their own list. Local drivers levy a percentage of the takings and tend to be exclusively from the Hungarian Charedi community of Adass because most MHCs seem to be of the Charedi persuasion. The local vans are  generally strategically stationed 2 or 3 houses down from the house the MHC is visiting so that the home owner won’t see the local driver. During the high seasons, one can easily have 2-6 MHCs in an evening.


There are different approaches employed when dealing with an MHC.

  1. Some good-hearted souls make time and sit down and listen to the MHC’s story and read their recommendation letters, offer a drink, give a donation from their M’aaser allocation for Tzedaka and then send them on their way, with or without a receipt, sometimes with cash and other times via a cheque
  2. Some will do the same as 1., but do it quickly by not listening to the particular MHC
  3. A new system has evolved in Melbourne whereby MHCs are able to get Chesed certificates which attest to their legitimacy. Many will now only give to MHCs who make the modest effort to obtain a Chesed certificate. Such systems exist in many other countries in the world and are designed to lessen the chances of fraudulent crooks masquerading as MHCs.
  4. Some only donate to people or causes with whom they can identify. For example, they will not give to an anti-zionist kollel or to someone from Toldos Aaron or a Meshichist etc
  5. Some will tell the MHC to “go and work for a living like I do”. After a while, they no longer get MHC visitors. These people can also be seen running out to the driver warning him not to bring such MHCs to their house again.
  6. Others choose to pre-allocate their Maaser to chosen charities and have little left for casual MHCs.
  7. I know of one Jew (wasn’t frum at that time) who used to have a large nude painting at the doorway of their home. Their clientel dropped dramatically after that expose.
  8. I know of another Jew who suggests that the MHC  “sing Hatikvah” as a precondition to his donation.

The last two approaches, and variations on such themes, are not recommended, despite their effectiveness 🙂

MHCs themselves can be convivial. Sometimes they are rude and uncultivated. We all have stories about the MHC who abused us or our wives because we didn’t “give enough”; or we “gave more last year”; or we refused to answer the door after the MHC woke up the family, pressing the doorbell after 10pm.

Most MHCs are “he”, although I have struck the odd (sic) “she”. In my case, I’m pretty sure she was fraudulent.

For over two decades, my personal approach was to

  1. rarely listen to what they were collecting for (I didn’t need the justification)
  2. never let someone leave empty-handed
  3. give everyone a modest sum.

When the Chesed certification was mooted, I was opposed to the concept; I didn’t need to know anything about an MHC. Even if they were involved in chicanery or deceit, I concluded that they were a Nebech since they felt compelled to travel from door to door collecting. Most Melbourne Rabbis signed on to support Chesed, with the notable exception of some Charedi Rabonim. Those Charedi Rabonim provide their own letters it would seem which makes their behaviour incongruent unless their policy was to support “anybody”.

After some time, and after hearing stories about MHCs who had fleeced members of the community of many thousands of dollars, I began to slowly come around to the concept of giving exclusively to those who had allowed themselves to be scrutinised by the Rabbis of Chesed. I do make exceptions for those whom I know personally, of course, but will encourage them to obtain the certification nonetheless.

With Purim approaching there is a well-known מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is derived from the פסוק in the מגילה

כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים

What is the nature of this מצווה? Does it have the same strictures as the מצווה of צדקה? Is it different מצווה functioning under its own rules? The Aruch Hashulchan in סימן תרצד סעיף א notes, based on the Rambam in the second perek of Hilchos Megila and Chanuka:

ואין מדקדקין במעות פורים, לומר “זה ישר” ו”זה רמאי ואין צריך ליתן לו”. אלא כל הפושט יד ליטול – נותנין לו, ואינן צריכין לדקדק אחריו

  • We don’t exercise due diligence with our Purim Gelt.
  • We don’t scrutinise so that whoever stretches out a hand, we do give them something.

Why is Purim different? Is it so difficult to find two people who are genuinely in need of the monetary equivalent of two portions of food (the Gemara learns this out from the use of plural מתנות and then the plural אביונים) in the פסוק.

Note that for מתנות לאביונים a husband and wife or family is considered one unit for this purpose. A man is able to  fulfill the מצווה through the prior donation of his wife, and vice-versa. On the other hand,  if one gives two portions to a single husband and wife unit, then one has not fulfilled the מצווה because it is as if it was given to one entity.

The מצווה of מתנות לאביונים is considered more important than משלוח מנות in that if one is wondering whether to put more into their סעודה or more into  משלוח מנות as a הידור then the הלכה states that it is preferable to spend more on מתנות לאביונים.

There is a cute apocryphal story about two Brisker בחורים who, as is well-known, are punctilious with the precise  mode of discharging of each מצווה. As Brisker they are accustomed to subjecting minutiae to considerable scrutiny. In their zeal to fulfil the מצווה of מתנות לאביונים they proceeded to scour the local village to find a truly poor person (אביון). Unhappy with one couple because that couple’s house seemed to be not shabby enough to be qualified as “poor”, they searched on. They were unhappy with another couple who did live in a suitably decrepit tent of a house but seemed to have a couch that was too “nice”  and hence under Brisker standards there was a question of the degree of their impecuniosity. Finally, at the very edge of the town, they chanced upon an old and sick couple living in a ramshackle abode, with the plainest of accoutrements. Now this was a “real” poor couple with all the הידורים according to כל הדיעות. With great joy, they informed the couple that they would present them with their money so as to perform the מצווה. Upon leaving, they were careful to also inform the couple:

“Please make sure that during the year, you don’t accept any money or help from anyone else so that next year we can come back and fulful the מצווה again through you!”

On Purim, there is a long-standing custom to give money to so-called כלי קודש: Rabonim, Chazonim, Shamoshim and the like (I wonder if that includes Kolel Yungerleit or not so Yungerleit these days!). Interestingly, the Aruch Hashulchan suggests that one does not fulfil מתנות לאביונים when passing on the envelope to this category of person because it is considered more of a חוב. There is an expectation as opposed to the more care-free and unpredictable mode of making somebody happy on Purim by providing them with enough money to make their Purim a happy one.

What if I want to use the money I have set aside for Tzedaka each year? Can one use their מעשר money, the money they have set aside for צדקה, and use this to fulfil מתנות לאביונים? This is an interesting question discussed by the מהריל. The  מהריל concludes that one may not use מעשר money for this purpose. מתנות לאביונים needs to come from a different proverbial pocket. This separation of מתנות לאביונים from צדקה is perhaps consistent with the other הלכה of not performing due diligence in ascertaining who is genuinely poor for מתנות לאביונים.

What about poor people themselves? Do poor people have to perform מתנות לאביונים? If we say they do have to perform מתנות לאביונים then we can infer that מתנות לאביונים is like any other מצווה and just like a poor person must perform any other מצווה they must also perform the specific מצווה of מתנות לאביונים. This is the opinion of the ט”ז in או”ח סימן תרצ”ד. On the other hand the פרי חדש opines that a poor person does not have to perform מתנות לאביונים because מתנות לאביונים is really just a special class of צדקה for the day of Purim, and just like a poor person doesn’t have to give צדקה they also don’t have to give מתנות לאביונים.


Another הלכה is also germane in respect of whether מתנות לאביונים is its own מצווה or is really a specialisation of צדקה on the day of Purim. Is one able to fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew? The  Tur paskens that one can fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving to a non-Jew. The Beis Yosef supports this with a quote from Gitin 61A where the מצווה of  צדקה can be fulfilled by giving to a non-Jew. We observe then that the Tur holds that מתנות לאביונים  is another example of the מצווה of  צדקה and therefore מתנות לאביונים enjoys the same details in the halachic effectuation of the מצווה. Many argue with the Tur, and opine that one can not fulfil מתנות לאביונים by giving the money to a non-Jew because מתנות לאביונים is a separate מצווה for Purim which is tied to the word רעיהו in the Pasuk, which means רעיהו במצוות.

Of course, I am not a Posek by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty certain that on Purim those of us who do submit to a determination of a poor person’s bona fides through a Chesed certificate, should suspend such considerations on Purim day itself.

Ask your own Local Orthodox Rabbi, of course (perhaps when you slip him an envelope on Purim 🙂