mishloachmanotfeatureby Ilana Schatz

“Purim reminds us that we cannot rejoice and celebrate unless we make it possible
for those less fortunate to also join in the festivities.”

Our celebration of Purim goes beyond the usual definition of Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” (author unknown). Our Purim tradition comes from Megillat Esther 9:22, which tells us to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar by “[making] them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, as well as gifts to the poor”. We give Mishloach manot/shalach manos to friends, family, and neighbors, and make special contributions to support the poor, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their financial means, shall be able to enjoy the chag.

Traditionally, Mishloach manot are given to at least two people and should include at least two different food items, one of which should be prepared by the sender. Halachically, one must give Mishloach manot to at least one person, and both foods should be “ready to eat.”

Maimonides takes this theme of giving to the next level: “It is better for a person to increase gifts to the poor than to increase his feast or the Mishloach manot to his neighbors. There is no joy greater or more rewarding than to gladden the heart of the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. For by gladdening the hearts of the downtrodden, we are following the example of the Divine” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torh, Hilchot Megillah 2:17).

Basically, Purim reminds us that we cannot rejoice and celebrate unless we make it possible for those less fortunate to also join in the festivities. When we feast or send food packages, are the products we use harming or benefiting the workers? In many situations, those “less fortunate” are the people who grow the food we use to celebrate our holidays. They suffer from market-driven forces that pay them less than the food’s real value; they don’t have access to world markets and get taken advantage of by local distributors or large corporations; and prices on the world market fluctuate, so they can never be sure what price they’ll receive when it’s time to sell a crop.

Choosing fair trade food products for our Mishloach Manot better assures that the farmer who grew the raw ingredients for those foods, has received a fair price; and therefore is more able to adequately provide for his/her family. Fair trade is based on the following principles:

  • Farmers are guaranteed a fixed price that exceeds their production cost, even when the market rate falls below that
  • They receive an extra fair trade premium per pound
  • Trading relationships are long term and transparent, allowing producers to reduce costs, gain direct access to credit and international markets, and develop the business capacity necessary to successfully compete.

Imagine filling your Mishloach Manot packages this year with fair trade and Kosher chocolate, nuts, candy bars, dried fruits, and teas. We can each be Queen Esther and Mordechai, transforming oppression into freedom and injustice into goodness. We can assure that our consumer choices replace the inequity in this world with more justice.

Ilana Schatz is the founding director of Fair Trade Judaica, a nonprofit building a fair trade movement in the Jewish community.