Throwing Candy in the Synagogue

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R. Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger has published a number of volumes of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, in which he presents exhaustive essays describing the history of various German (Yekke) customs. His studies are remarkable in their thoroughness and their sense of history. Their length, however, make them somewhat unwieldy, treasure chests for scholars. He recently published an English volume containing summaries of the multiple Hebrew volumes. Each English essay is only a few pages long, offering the highlights and main points of the longer originals. It serves as an entry point and a quick reference.

Below is one English summary that argues against one of my pet peeves, the throwing of candy in shul. I’ve seen too many injuries inflicted by this disruptive and indecorous practice.

In earlier generations, it was unheard of to throw candies in the synagogue, and, indeed, communities that strictly follow Ashkenazic tradition have not accepted this practice to this very day. There was an ancient practice to throw fruit on Shavu’ot, but the fruit was thrown outside, from the roof of the synagogue into the yard, and not inside the synagogue. Toward the end of the period of the Rishonim, it became customary throughout Central European communities to throw fruit inside the synagogue on Simchat Torah before the musaf service. The custom to eat and drink before musaf spread to Poland and Lithuania, as well. (This led many communities in this region not to conduct birkat kohanim during musaf on Simchat Torah, out of concern that the kohanim may have drunk intoxicating beverages before musaf.) These communities allowed throwing candies in the synagogue on Simchat Torah just as a number of otherwise forbidden activities were permitted for the purpose of celebrating the completion of the Torah.

In Ashkenaz, however, no fruits or candies were thrown in the synagogue at any time, not even on Simchat Torah. This was not done since it could easily lead to frivolity and lightheartedness, which would be wholly inappropriate in a synagogue, which the Sages call a “mini Mikdash.” Therefore, communities in Ashkenaz would throw fruits on Simchat Torah only after the completion of the entire prayer service, and only outside the synagogue. (And since nobody ate or drank until after the prayer service, there was no concern that kohanim would become inebriated before musaf, and therefore birkat kohanim was held during musaf as usual.) This practice – to distribute fruits specifically after the prayer service on Simchat Torah – was also followed in several Ashkenazic communities in Italy, Turkey, Hungary and Moravia.

Sephardic communities did not follow the practice of throwing fruits on Shavu’ot and Siinchat Torah (just as they did not follow the custom of throwing wheat kernels on the bride and groom). In later periods, however, the custom developed among some Sephardic communities to throw candies in the synagogue when a bar mitzva, chatan, chatan Torah or chatan Bereshit was called to the Torah. Some communities would also throw candies when a person recited the berakha of a ha-gomel, and for the father of a newborn boy.

The custom of throwing candies at a groom was unknown among Eastern European communities in earlier generations, and some view it as an outgrowth of the custom to throw fruits on Simchat Torah. This practice began with throwing only one kind of fruit – either raisins or almonds but eventually included other types of foods, as well. Some communities would throw a mixture of nuts, raisins, candies, almonds and as well as other fruits.

In the absence of a clear source for the custom of throwing sweets in the synagogue, attempts have been made to find some kind of homiletic reason or subtle allusions in Torah literature. Similar attempts have been made to explain why it became customary specifically for the women to throw the candies.

The emergence of the custom to throw sweets at grooms also led to the practice of throwing candies at a bar mitzvah boy when he is called to the Torah. A number of Eastern European rabbis opposed this practice, noting that there is no hint of such a custom in the Talmud nor any record of it being done in earlier generations. Moreover, it did not originate with pious, G-d-fearing Jews. Other factors noted in opposition to this practice include fighting amongst the children for candies, the unrefined character traits that this engenders and the dirtying of the synagogue. There are additional, halakhic concerns, as well, such as the fact that the children will almost invariably eat the sweets in the synagogue, which, in principle, is a place where eating is forbidden. Halakha also forbids eating on Shabbat morning before hearing or reciting kiddush. Moreover, in areas without a proper eruv, families celebrating a simcha may violate Shabbat by bringing the candies to the synagogue on Shabbat morning.

Some communities frowned upon the practice of throwing candies because it is entailed an unnecessary expense, and there were Sephardic rabbis who forbade it because of the physical harm it could cause to people in the synagogue.

German communities have emphatically insisted on maintaining strict decorum in the synagogue as required by its sanctified nature, and for this reason they never accepted the custom of throwing treats in the synagogue. On special occasions when the congregation wished to give children treats, they would distribute them after the prayer service and only outside the synagogue.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

26 comments

  1. R. Sperber has a chapter on this as well in Mihagei Yisrael.

  2. יישר כחך

    It is not only Yekkes who oppose this practice. Minhogei Ashkenaz are not limited to Yekkes and the sefer discusses much more than Yekke minhogim. It discusses variations of them in other parts of Europe, as well as other kinds of minhogim, such as various Sepharadic and Edot hamizrach as well.

    For a few examples of others that oppose this particular custom, some quick research online yields that such disparate places such as Telshe, Brisk Chicago (Rav Aharon Soloveichik z”l), Lubavitch HQ, and Hebrew Institute of Riverdale have banned or limited it.

    For more, see

    http://matzav.com/aufruf-ends-at-hospital-after-chossons-sister-gets-hit

    http://www.vosizneias.com/29385/2009/03/25/crown-heights-ny-lubavitch-to-ban-pelting-of-sweets-for-chosson-after-gabai-on-bimah-almost-blinded

  3. This new English volume is quite good. It was prepared by a David Silberberg, not Rav Hamburger himself, who writes in לשון קודש.

    The Hebrew volumes are out of print. Hopefully they will be republished and new volumes will appear as well.

  4. I believe that this is the R. David Silverberg with whom I went to high school and who writes the daily SALT.

  5. I don’t get this. Fetishizing old customs (which is what minhag books do, however historically valuable they are) while being opposed to new ones. He’s for decorum? Is he against klopping during Megillah? The Hannoverish Yekke, R. N.M. Adler abolished it in London – because it is so indecorous. But presumably that’s an old Ashkenazic custom (even if there are 17th century takkanos banning fireworks in schule).

  6. I certainly respect the right of shuls that follow the traditions of German Jewry to decide what minhagim and other practices they want followed or banned in their shuls. How about letting other shuls under their religious leadership decide for themselves? Personally, I’m not a big supporter of the minhag, but that’s because I’m an old fogey; none of the supposed halachic reasons in the article quoted in this post are particularly convincing to me. And so what that it supposedly “did not originate with pious, G-d-fearing Jews”? Plenty of God-fearing Jews, and God-fearing religious leaders of shuls and communities, support it now. So we should ignore them because it offends someone else’s idea of decorum? Take a deep breath, and if you see a candy wrapper thrown on the floor by some 12-year old (or his parent), simply pick it up and go back to davening (or reading).

  7. I can’t see how this custom can be sanctioned the way it is practiced today, with children wildly competing for the thrown candy as well as the inevitable noise that follows.
    I have seen the custom practiced in a much more tame and respectable way at a Sephardic minyan on Simchas Torah. There the candies were gently tossed and there was certainly no pelting. After the candies were tossed the children quietly and politely gathered them.
    I could understand how the latter could be sanctioned.
    In general, we could stand some improvement in the area of respecting the sanctity of the shul, both in following the specific halachos involved and in attitude.

  8. Larry Lennhoff

    I can’t speak of what actually happened in Germany, but when I was growing up in the 60s for several years I went to my yekke grandmother’s O shul on Simchat Torah. There we were pelted with candy during the hakafot to the point that the ‘take’ rivaled Halloween’s. This shul had a large number of Holocaust survivors in attendance (and many of the rest fled Germany in the 1930s), and I suspect to many of them the sight of a large number of Jewish children participating was a source of great joy.

  9. About the only thing that I can think of in schul that may be worse than the throwing candy is women hijacking a sefer Torah to dance with as a toy.

  10. >I can’t see how this custom can be sanctioned the way it is practiced today, with children wildly competing for the thrown candy as well as the inevitable noise that follows.

    It’s one of the few things which attracts kids to shul.

  11. Mycroft, you’re 0 for 2.

  12. MiMedinat HaYam

    fireworks in shul is mentioned by MB (no loose powder, must be arranged in a casing with a fuse, due to chillul yom tov of fire going out.)

  13. “I’ve seen too many injuries inflicted by this disruptive and indecorous practice.”

    R. Gil, I am intrigued by your words. Can you elaborate? Is the pelting in NJ more dangerous than in NY? 😉

  14. “Joseph Kaplan on December 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm
    Mycroft, you’re 0 for 2.”

    I am not surprised.

    “S. on December 30, 2010 at 10:37 am
    >I can’t see how this custom can be sanctioned the way it is practiced today, with children wildly competing for the thrown candy as well as the inevitable noise that follows.

    It’s one of the few things which attracts kids to shul.”

    The problem is not attracting little kids to schul-in fact it may be long range counterproductive to get kids to schul before they can undersatnd and appreciate what schul is all about. Have tfilat yeladim, youth services etc. The trick is attracting people to schul when they are teenagers and beyond.

  15. Mordechai: I’ve seen bar mitzvah boys and grooms injured by candy bags hitting them in the eye.

  16. “Mycroft, you’re 0 for 2.”

    On the contrary, I think he told a very funny joke.

  17. I’ve also seen hard candy hitting the baalkoreh, knocking his glasses to the floor and injuring his eye.

  18. Anyone else thing its time to remove Rabbi Waxman’s tweeters from this blog?

  19. The above is related to and best understood together with the section of the sefer entitled “Throwing Wheat Kernels Upon The Bride and Groom”, which follows it.

  20. From the last paragraph:
    “German communities have emphatically insisted on maintaining strict decorum in the synagogue….. On special occasions when the congregation wished to give children treats, they would distribute them after the prayer service and only outside the synagogue”

    Not all German communities follow the above:
    At KAJ of Washington Heights (Yekkish ala FFDM) on Simchas Torah a ton of candy is given out a) during the hakafos/davening and b) inside the shul.

  21. In my parents shul a while back there was a simcha where they threw candy. The candy is thrown from the women’s section, which while not a balcony is slightly elevated compared to the men’s section. One of the candies hit a sprinkler head. It discharged. Everyone and everything in the area (people, siddurs, chumashim, the rug….) was soaked almost instantly.

    That being said, fluke accidents do not make a case for banning something. (halakhic issues are of course another issue altogether), but if you were to allow a few fluke accidents to make you ban something, you’d also have to ban walking to shul, any sport anyone has ever played, children’s pants, pencils, and jumping jacks in gym class.

  22. I would wager that more people, by a factor of 100, have been injured dancing at weddings than by candies thrown in shul.

    Common sense is odif.

  23. Also, when did the “Sealing of the Minhogim” occur? I must have missed the memo.

  24. In our shul on Staten Island back in 1960, candy was thrown only at an aufruf after the chasan-to-be’s aliya. At my Bar Mitzvah , I happened to be on the bima (leining) when a chassan had his aliya, so I got to experience the candy thrown from the balcony. Only later, elsewhere, did I see this done for a Bar Mitzvah, complete with the wild child melee to disrupt the service. Using soft candies should reduce the lawsuit potential.

  25. How about pelting the groom with walnuts? I presume that the kids won’t go crazy for walnuts, so much of the decorum will be preserved. Additionally, walnuts are round and easy to throw with great accuracy, so everyone can try to hit only the groom.

  26. I recently attended shul in a nursing facility where the residents are infirm. The bar mitzvah boy was pelted with soft bags of marshmallows.

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