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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.

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    It's the thought that counts. Don't worry too much if you get something widely accepted and they in particular do something a little different. – Double AA Feb 23 '15 at 22:26
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    Tzedaka in their name is always welcome. For Purim for example, there are cards from many (valid) organizations that say that it is better to give a lot of matanos la'evyonim rathe than too much mishloach manos. – sabbahillel Feb 23 '15 at 23:07
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    @SAH Even better question: Would they have to tithe for tzedaka 10% of the amount that you gave to tzedaka in their name? – Daniel Feb 24 '15 at 2:29
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    @SAH I like what you're trying to ask but worry that a comprehensive list for all occasions is very broad. Maybe narrow this to one broad category, and feel free to ask others separately? By "category" mean, for example, Shabbat host(ess) gifts, or bar/bat-mitzvah gifts, or wedding gifts. – Monica Cellio Feb 24 '15 at 4:50
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    @SAH no but they get credit for causing you to do a mitzvah – sabbahillel Feb 24 '15 at 10:39
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I think that knowing what is socially acceptable to gift, you should be fine, but you have to know who you are giving to. It's always appropriate to ask if someone keeps cholov yisroel or does not listen to non-Jewish music. Most people who are more machmir tend to understand that they are more stringent and others ours, and will not find it insulting, but will be touched that you care enough to buy a present. However...

  1. FOODS : Dairy : Ask if your host is cholov yisroel. It avoids a lot of awkwardness, and it's not a weird or blunt question.

    Pareve : anything with a hechsher from this list http://www.crcweb.org/agency_list.php is acceptable

    Meat : Just avoid meat. I don't think it's wise to bring a piece of steak for someone's birthday anyway, unless explicitly asked

  2. CLOTHING : I would shy away from giving shirts, pants, or skirts unless you are close with the person. A nice sweater that you don't estimate would be too tight would be nice, but probably without any images or too-bright colors. Needing an undershirt is acceptable (in most places) but not that low-cut; know who you are giving it to, and if you see them wearing something of that style, it is probably okay.

    With jewelry, know the person as well. Just don't give anyone something too flashy, a red string (because people view ayin hara differently), or magen davids, unless you've seen them wear one previously. Most people, however, are fine with them.

  3. HOME DECOR : Try shying away from images of people, but a nice vase is always appreciated. With paintings, if you haven't seen the persons house and style of decoration, do not get; some people like to decorate with pictures of Rebbeim, others with Jewish-feel paintings, others with nature.

  4. BOOKS : Anything frum is always good. A Haggadah or a book about a Gadol is always a nice addition to every collection.

  5. GADGETS : I think these are good to go. Just because something can be used on shabbos doesn't mean you cannot have it at all.

  6. MUSIC : If you are honestly unsure of the family's hashkafa, either get Classical Music or the newest Jewish hit.

  7. TOYS : Books, brain games, board games, and blocks are always great gifts for kids. Most are okay with a non-kosher animal, but can be easily avoided.

  8. DISHWARE : I would stick to new dishes, but you do not have to toivel them yourself. I think some would prefer to do it themselves, just for the security of it, but if you bought it, toiveled it, and then wish to gift it, that's also fair game.

  9. QUILTS : Keep with couch decorations. Get nice pillows or a blanket that can also be used for the couch.

  10. GIFT CERTIFICATES : Any department store or a Bed Bath and Beyond-type place would definitely be all right.

  11. BOUGHT ON SHABBOS : Do not buy anything on Shabbos for someone else. They would probably not know, but if they did, would make them feel uncomfortable. Similarly, do not gift any chometz item on Pesach, as neither of you can own it.

I would suggest that for Shabbos gifts, you bring some pareve desert, fruit, or a flowers or candle (if brought before Shabbos).

For birthdays or Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, you buy a Siddur, Pirkei Avos, or a different sefer. Tzedakah in the person's honor is always welcome. A necklace or tehillim for a girl or watch or kiddush cup for a boy would always be appreciated.

For weddings, either check the registry, get nice, simple house decor (such as a vase or pillow set or quilt), a kiddush cup, Shabbos candle set, or a challah board and knife or cover. Of course, a blank check or gift card are also great.

Hope this helps! But remember to be aware of who you are giving a gift to; you usually have some idea of their hashkafa, you are not picking some random address from a shul directory and dropping a gift at their door.

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    What about Pat Yisrael? Yoshon? – Double AA Mar 20 '15 at 3:15
  • consider judaism.stackexchange.com/q/14213/759 – Double AA Mar 20 '15 at 3:17
  • Nice list, thank you! I guess I'll be buying vases from now on... – SAH May 13 '15 at 20:28
  • Although I disagree that "anything frum is always good" with books – SAH May 13 '15 at 20:29
  • It is probably worth mentioning that human sculptures may be problematic. Also drawings/paintings of complete human figures, though not sure about this – SAH Aug 5 '16 at 19:20

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