Purim Ponderings – Mishloach Manot

Can one fulfill his mitzvah of Mishloach Manot by giving a meat dish to a vegetarian?

This issue is hotly debated in the halacha.  If the goal of the mishloach manot is to provide food for the Seudat Purim, some opine that one has not fulfilled the mitzvah with such a gift. Others say the goal of the food is to increase feelings of brotherhood and comraderie between Jews. If so, it is argued, the very gesture of giving the package will generate those warm feelings, thus fulfilling the mitzvah.

The logic of these positions is by no means “air-tight”, and is itself subject to debate.  Let’s re-examine the two positions above:

The Food is for the Seudah, so meat to a veggie falls short:

Does the fulfillment of the mitzvah depend on the recipient actually consuming the food given on Purim?  Most certainly not; otherwise, the giver would retroactively not have fulfilled the mitzvah unless he verified that it was consumed at the seudah!   Similarly, one who gives a ready-to-eat meat dish to a vegetarian fulfills his mitzvah, since he has provided a food fit for such a seudah. The vegetarian practice of the recipient does not detract from the status of the gift.

The goal of Mishloach Manot is to increase feelings of brotherhood and comraderie between Jews

One of my third grade students prompted me to re-examine the “warm gesture” theory suggested above – ie that the goal of Mishloach Manot is to increase feelings of brotherhood and comraderie between Jews – fulfilled by the very gift itself.  “Not so”, the student objected.  “A vegetarian may be greatly offended if the person giving him the food did not take into account that he doesn’t eat meat. ”  How would such a mishloach manot bring Jews together?

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3 comments

  1. Great point, Rav Ron, your student should be rewarded with a piece of candy. Hmmmmm….now which candy would he not be offended by. Or, what would you give him that you wouldn’t fear rejection of, because he didn’t like whatever that particular item was? Simply put, it would be very difficult to do anything on behalf of, or for another person–Jew or non-Jew–that was free of these kinds of judgements. So, perhaps it’s best that we all just graciously accept a gift of Mishloach manot from our fellow Jews regardless of what it is, meat chollent or Laffy Taffy?

    • Yes, but if you give meat to someone you know is a vegetarian, it’s different. Since we can’t predict how someone would react to our good intentions, the giver should do they best they can with the information they have at the time of giving.

  2. I think I am going to have to side with Karen on this one, Bruce – because the distinction she is making – ie pre-existent knowledge of the person’s preferences is hard to compare with information you receive after you’ve given the mishloach manot (ie that the person doesn’t like the food you’ve given them)
    At the end of the day, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt from Memphis rules that one who gave meat to a vegetarian has fulfilled the mitzvah, since the food is inherently edible at a seudah. The red line would be drawn at unkosher food, which is inherently inedible by Jews (who after all, are the ones celebrating!)

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