A mishloach manot is the Jewish ritual of sending and receiving gift baskets of food and drink on Purim Day. Hebrew for the “sending of portions,” mishloach manot ensures that everyone in the community has enough food for the Purim feast, a festive occasion for which they must have a lavish meal. It also reaffirms brotherly love and friendship among Jews and is considered a time to mend broken relationships. Purim baskets can be sent to relatives, neighbors, friends, teachers and other acquaintances.
Also called shalach manos, mishloach manot requires that each Jew send two items of kosher food to at least one person. These offerings can range from small, simple gifts to elaborate baskets, but they must contain only food or beverages, not money, clothing or other material items, and they must be ready to eat and drink so that they can be consumed on the same day. Typical beverages include wine and tea. Food might include salads, fruits, cooked dishes and canned foods. Pastries, snack foods and sweets are also commonly given.
As with many rituals there are certain conventions that should be observed, although these might vary based on the orthodoxy of the community. The amount given should reflect the standards of both the giver and the receiver; for example, one should send more expensive gifts if the receiver is a wealthy person, and likewise a wealthier person should send more elaborate gifts. Any gifts given, however, must convey regard for the person who receives it. It is considered commendable to give gifts to many people, but even more so to give to the poor, to whom either food or money might be given. If a person is very poor, he or she can exchange with a person in a similar situation to fulfill the obligation of mishloach manot.
In more Orthodox communities, men should participate in mishloach manot only with other men, and women with other women, although a family can send gifts to a man, a woman or a family. People can send gifts jointly, but the gifts must contain the same amount as though each were sending individually. Children over Bat and Bar mitzvah age, approximately 6-7 years old, also are expected to participate in mishloach manot, giving gifts to their friends as a preparation for adulthood. Gifts should not be sent to a person in mourning, although his or her family can both send and receive. The mourner himself or herself can send Purim baskets, but they must be simple and plain.
To properly meet the obligations of the ritual, a Purim basket must be both sent and received during the day. The sender and the receiver must also both be observing the Purim festival on the same day. It is traditional that mishloach manot be delivered by a third party, and children under supervision are often encouraged to fulfill this role. Although reciprocation of mishloach manot is considered admirable, it is not obligatory.