By Mordechai Schmutter
Disclaimer: The following article is about the foods we eat on Purim. (Obviously, not all the foods we eat on Purim. This newspaper has only about 100 pages.) In the article, I give reasons for some of the foods we eat, and try to sell you on some of the things we don’t specifically eat, as if I know what I’m talking about. Some of the reasons I give are real and based on Chazal, and some might not be. I very rarely quote sources, because like many people, most of my sources are “I think I might have heard somewhere.” But I definitely don’t mean to besmirch any of the real reasons that you may have heard for anything. (Yes, “besmirch.” That’s my new word.) Half the time, I probably don’t even realize I’m being smirch. But it’s food. How good a reason do you need?
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I’ve been thinking a lot about traditional Purim foods lately. Are there any? I’m trying to plan a mishloach manos here.
I’m talking about traditional symbolic foods specifically for this yom tov. Every yom tov has them. Even Yom Kippur has symbolic foods, although we actually eat them on erev Yom Kippur. So Purim should have something, if it’s anything like Yom HaKippurim.
Obviously, I know a few of them. I know about the wine, for example. I also know about seeds, which a lot of people eat because Esther ate seeds in the palace, because, besides fruit, it was the only thing she could get that was kosher. As far as Achashverosh knew, she was a major health nut. And what do we do on Purim? We spend the whole day eating garbage.
But yes, I also know that there’s a minhag to eat sweet foods on Purim, to commemorate our victory, which is why everyone we know gives us candy. My kids have a minhag to eat all the candy they get on that one day, until they can’t tell the difference between the floor and the ceiling.
And I know about the one specific sweet food that we eat, which is hamantaschen, although the reasons that I know seem a little fuzzy. Some say that it’s because they represent Haman’s ears, which were triangular. And full of jelly. (Q-tips hadn’t been invented yet. “Who? Achashverosh.”) Some say that they represent his pockets, which were triangular, which means that he couldn’t carry his credit cards unless he cut them like peanut butter sandwiches. (That could be why, before the Megillah story, when he wanted to buy water from Mordechai, he didn’t have any money on him.) Others say that his hat was triangular, like those paper hats you make in origami on the way to making a boat. But yeah, let’s eat our enemy. Or his clothing.
But there are other reasons for hamantaschen too, the most famous one being that, like Hashem in the story of Purim, everything was hidden. And similarly with hamantaschen, the filling is hidden, and—“Oh, man! Prune? Why did you make prune?”
Why are people sending each other prune hamantaschen? What is the message there? I thought we were friends!
This is also why people eat kreplach. Kreplach takes the spaghetti-and-meatball idea and says, “Yes, but what if we put the meatballs inside the spaghetti?” That’s like taking the chicken soup idea and saying, “Yes, but what if we put the soup inside the lukshen?”
There are other reasons for hamantaschen. One reason is that “Haman tasch”—Haman became weakened. There’s also a p’shat that I heard somewhere (if you need a maareh makom, I can be more precise: I heard it in an audio shiur in my car somewhere in New Milford) that Mordechai used to send messages to the Jews on small pieces of paper baked into their pastries. Apparently, Jews didn’t just invent the sandwich, they also invented the fortune cookie. So we still continue that tradition today, except that we use jelly, because you can’t just give drunk people pieces of paper wrapped in a cookie and expect them not to choke on it. And the lottery numbers on the back kept coming up “13th of Adar.”
Also, a lot of people say that hamantaschen have nothing to do with Haman, but rather the mun, or poppy seeds that some people put in them. (Sort of like Parashas HaMan, which has nothing to do with Haman either. He had a very unfortunate name.)
The downside of putting in poppy seeds is that cookies are supposed to be good. But the benefit is that, in one blow, you get sweet foods, hamantaschen (“Ha. Mun taschen.”), hidden insides, and seeds, all at once. So just because you don’t eat them is no reason not to make them.
But Esther also ate fruit, so jelly should be okay.
But other than that, are there any other traditional Purim foods? And I’m not talking about puns, like Turkey (or “tarnegol Hodu”), kakush (as in “kush”), vegetables (as in “choor, karpas, ut’cheiles”), and of course sherbet, for Achashverosh’s sherbet ha’zahav. It’s hard to find specific Purim foods, because Purim really has all the foods.
Also, the kosher supermarket near me, for some reason, has corned beef on sale every year around Purim. Why? Is this a minhag? Why corned beef? Is it because everyone is corny?
But you can’t always go by what stores think, because they’re trying to move merchandise. For example, Stop&Shop thinks that traditional Purim foods are tubes of bow-tie soup and matzah balls. And yahrzeit candles—always yahrzeit candles.
Oh, there’s a Jewish holiday coming up! Let’s put the borscht on sale again!
Stop it! How much square matzah do you think I need for Rosh Hashanah?
So I don’t go by stores. But should I go by the people around me? Because there are certain foods that, while I’m not sure if they’re a minhag, everyone around me seems to be giving out.
Like tea biscuits. I go to people’s houses the entire year, and not once has someone said, “Come in, make yourself at home. Can I offer you a tea biscuit?”
Another thing people give out is flavored tea. Why? Is it because of the tea biscuits?
And what about those Presidor wafer rolls? Is that a minhag? That’s another food that seems to exist only on Purim, which is a shame, because they’re delicious. Much better than regular wafers, which it seems also might be a minhag. If you don’t know what wafer rolls are, I should explain: Apparently, someone in your family is going through your mishloach manos before you are, and hoarding the good stuff.
Oh, and those squares of pareve chocolate with mint inside. Also, a lot of people give out tiny jars of jam.
What do you want me to do here? Make my own hamantasch?
And yes, they all give out hamantaschen, because everyone wants you to taste theirs and say that it’s “the best hamantasch I’ve ever tasted, despite the prunes.” But at the end of Purim you go through everything you got and make piles to put away, and your hamantaschen go in one big “we’d better finish this stuff before Pesach” pile, along with all the tea biscuits, and you have no idea who made which hamantaschen, because, by design, they all look exactly the same.
“How were my hamantaschen?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. You weren’t the only person who gave us hamantaschen.”
It’s hard to tell what’s a minhag and what isn’t, so we kind of just do what we want. So if Purim is on a Sunday, for example, you can just serve your Shabbos leftovers, and have everyone pick at it and then go back to eating tea biscuits. Sure, you can make fresh foods for the seudah, but how are you going to get them into the fridge, with the Shabbos leftovers already in there?
If only there were a way to get rid of your Shabbos leftovers sometime before Sunday night. Guess what everyone we know is getting for mishloach manos this year?
“So how was my cholent?”
“How would I know? You weren’t the only one who gave us cholent!” v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.