Giving an appropriate gift to a host or hostess is the topic of many an etiquette column. But when one is invited to a Shabbat meal, not just any gift will do.
Although “Miss Manners” might recommend that one bring flowers to a dinner host, gift bouquets can be somewhat awkward for a Shabbat observant host(ess), as placing the flowers in water falls into the category of planting, which is one of the 39 melachot (creative labors prohibited on Shabbat).(Click here to read more about flowers and Shabbat.)
Bringing house-ware type gifts (a pretty serving plate or a wine pitcher) leads to another quandary. Transferring possessions from one person to another constitutes a transaction, and thus may be performed only on weekdays.
With these limitations in mind, most people choose to bring a bottle of kosher wine or an edible treat.* Since these items can be consumed at the Shabbat meal, the guest is only adding to the feast rather than transferring ownership of the item. Given this consideration, however, one should not bring food that cannot be eaten at the Shabbat meal (such as a dairy desert to a meat meal or food that needs to be cooked). While candy, nuts or cookies are excellent ways of saying “thank you,” one should still keep "Miss Manners" in mind and check with the host or hostess before bringing an actual food dish.
If one has a particular gift in mind that is not food, Jewish Treats recommends delivering the gift before Shabbat.
*Any gifts can only be brought on Shabbat if both the guest and the host are within the eiruv.
Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.