'Purim tradition puts women at center of gift-giving'

Research shows majority of people who send out holiday gift baskets exceed by far the minimum number required by Jewish law.

March 21, 2011 03:27
2 minute read.
Purim costumes

Purim costumes 521. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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How much do we spend on Purim gift baskets and who packs them?

A new study by the University Center of Ariel in advance of Purim probed these and other questions surrounding the near-ubiquitous gift baskets that range from a few pieces of bargain-basement chocolates, hamentaschen and a mini bottle of cheap wine to elaborate affairs that can senders cost hundreds of shekels.

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Dr. Ya’arit Bodek-Cohen discovered that the majority of people who send or deliver Purim gift baskets, one of the positive commandments surrounding the cheery holiday, choose to far exceed the minimum number required by Jewish law. One out of every 10 people who send the gift baskets send approximately 20 per year, and another two-thirds send between 10 and 12 gifts.

While providing other insights into our gift-giving, and presumably eating, habits, Bodek-Cohen’s study sought to explore the hidden social significance of the Purim tradition. Bodek-Cohen found that the average Israeli spends between NIS 35-65 per gift basket, and that most people make a variety of “levels” of gift basket with different degrees of “fanciness” in accordance with the specific intended recipients.

One-half of responders said that they prepare at least some of the baskets’ components at home, and all of those who said that they did indicated that the female members of the couple were responsible for the preparation. Gender differences did not end there – 78 percent of interviewees said that although they prepare the list of possible recipients together, female members of the couples were responsible for making the gift baskets. In some cases, couples reported that the woman prepares some of the components in order to demonstrate her culinary abilities.

Based on this and other data, Bodek-Cohen concluded that “the commandment of gift-giving is one of the commandments in Judaism that puts the woman at the center of the holiday. According to the findings, it seems that the woman is dominant in all of the stages of the process of preparing the gift baskets, except for the task of buying and budgeting the components.”

And what about the familiar situation in which you are gifted by someone deemed un-basket-worthy on your list? Bodek-Cohen’s survey indicated that approximately 95% of respondents said that they would send a basket to that person in return, even if they hadn’t initially planned to do so. Respondents reported feelings of offense and even injury in cases that were reversed – when they sent a basket to others but did not receive one in return.

Bodek-Cohen concluded that together with the religious core of the commandment, an additional wide social element has been added, in which the exchange of Purim gift baskets hides layers of social significance and messages. The practice, she said, has become over the years “an important tool to pass along messages of different types.”

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