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.