I am interested in examples of things one might into account when buying gifts for religious Jews of various stripes. I always have trouble buying gifts myself because I am worried that something I buy will violate either Jewish law, the person's minhag, or his group's engrained cultural preferences. Some examples I have run up against include:
- Food or drink -- Here, pretty much everything can be a problem, including spirits
- Clothes and accessories -- Does it contain shatnez? Is it tznius enough to wear, right down to the colors? Does it contain any symbolism or associations that could possibly be offensive or unwearable for any reason? (For example--I was going to buy a Magen David necklace for a girl, only to be told that her community doesn't "do" that. Same with red string)
- Home decorations -- Is art or craftwork by a non-Jew acceptable? Are there certain themes or motifs that should be avoided? (Again, the concern of problematic symbols/associations) ...Is a picture OK if it contains an image of a woman's face, or perhaps a non-kosher animal, for example?
- Books -- Presumably, this is forbidden territory, unless you are very familiar with the person or family's preferences and hashkafa
- Gadgets -- if it is intended to be a full-time-use gadget, is it usable on Shabbos/Yom Tov?
- Music -- Are recordings of music composed or performed by non-Jews generally acceptable? What about kol isha?
- Toys for children -- What if it's a dinosaur/a non-kosher animal/a too-anatomically-correct doll? What if it's something related to a television or popular culture character?
- Dishware or kitchen appliances -- Can it be kashered? Toiveled? Will there be any problems from a kashrus perspective?
- Quilts or bed linens -- Presumably, these should be avoided as a wedding present, since one doesn't know what size(s) they use (unless it is on their registry)
- Gift certificates for a store or an experience -- How do we know for sure that their community has not forbidden it, and/or that the company is not one accused of non-kosher attitudes or actions? Are any stores "safe"?
- Items brought on Shabbos that would involve a melacha for the guest or host to bring or use or prepare (for example, flowers)
- Something chametz-containing during Pesach
- In general: items with possible connection to avodah zara, hukkat ha-goyim, non-Torahddik manufacture, or any number of other prohibitions and quasi-prohibitions that could potentially be of issue. Also: Stuff where the manufacturer may be on the wrong side of debates related to Israel and/or issues involving Jews (A necklace from Zara? A recording of Chopin?)
...Clearly, one shouldn't buy a shaving set for a frum man, a hair decoration for a frum (married) woman, or a honeyed ham or a poinsettia plant for anyone. But the extent of the "rules" is vast; they are complicated, and not easily gleaned by anyone who has not interacted for years with frum communit(ies).
Can anyone add to my list, and/or give guidelines for navigating it? Perhaps there are some categories which should be avoided wholesale, such as food or drink. Alternatively, please suggest some "safe" gifts that should be welcome in all groups--keeping in mind that one can't, or may not want to, give a check for every occasion (and there isn't always a registry).
Further examples of "ok" and "not ok" gifts or categories--globally or for particular groups--as well as any general pointers that have not been mentioned, would all be welcome as standalone answers.