King Solomon teaches us that "He who hates gifts will live"[1] which essentially means that one should always strive to make ends meet through one's own efforts and not through the handouts of others.[2] The Talmud notes that the average human lifespan seems to have gotten shorter when people became accustomed and comfortable to living off the gifts of others.[3] A number of our sages were noted for refusing gifts in even the most compelling circumstances.[4] Some authorities have even extended this idea to include declining dinner invitations which one may receive.[5] Although accepting gifts is ultimately permissible according to halacha,[6] we are taught that one whose philosophy in life is to refuse them is considered to be a "tzaddik."[7]

Although as a general rule one should not give or receive gifts on Shabbat,[8]there are those who maintain that it is permitted to do so if the gift has a Shabbat[9] or other mitzva-related use.[10] One who serves as a rabbinic judge is strictly forbidden from accepting any form of gifts from the individuals he judges – even after the proceedings have concluded.[11] This is because when one receives a gift from another person it forms a bond between the donor and the recipient that did not previously exist. In such a situation the judge is seen as actually judging himself and will certainly find no wrong in the one who gave him the gift.[12] One should not accept charity or gifts in order to be able to study Torah, either.[13] As a general rule, one who can't afford to sit and study Torah is required to go out and work.[14]

It is taught that shying away from gifts displays faith and confidence in God's Divine providence.[15] The prophets have warned us against putting our faith into our fellow man for our sustenance and livelihoods.[16] Making the effort to be gainfully employed is a proven method to ensure that one will not require the gifts of others.[17] One who is poor and must live off the generosity of others is considered as one who is dead as his life is essentially not in his own hands.[18] A person always appreciates the things he worked hard in order to acquire more than those he received with no effort at all.[19]

Some authorities suggest that the blessing "shehecheyanu," traditionally recited when purchasing expensive or distinctive items, is not recited when one acquires such things as a gift. This is because the shehecheyanu blessing is reserved for those things that bring a person a high level of happiness. It is taught that a person only reaches such a level of happiness when enjoying the fruits of one's own labors and not from having received such items as a gift.[20] Even engaging in menial jobs is considered to be far more dignified than taking gifts.[21]  It is best not to take gifts from others even if it means that one must suffer somewhat.[22] One who is sincerely needy, however, is permitted to take gifts from others.[23]

Nevertheless, there are a number of situations where giving gifts is in certainly in order, and even mandatory. For example, it is acceptable to give a gift when one does so in order to achieve something which may otherwise not be attainable, similar to any other "business" transaction or agenda.[24]So too, one is obligated to give a gift to a bride and groom whose wedding one attends and one who neglects to do so is in poor halachic practice.[25] In fact, giving gifts in honor of a wedding is actually considered somewhat of a trade rather than a true gift because weddings gifts are both expected and reciprocated.[26] There is also a legitimate custom for a bride and groom to send each other gifts throughout their engagement.[27] A guest should always bring along a gift for his host.[28]

In Biblical times it was customary to give gifts to the prophets[29] as well as to the officiating Kohen Gadol. It was actually a requirement that the Kohen Gadol be considered a "wealthy" individual and gifts from the masses would ensure that this was achieved.[30] Let us also recall that Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, was provided with gifts to be given to Yitzchak's future wife, Rivka.[31] So too, Yaakov gave many gifts to Esav in an effort to make peace with him.[32] We are told that giving gifts to Torah scholars is equivalent to bringing an offering in the Beit Hamikdash.[33]

After Avraham Avinu conquered the four kings, he declined any of the spoils of war for himself.[34] While there are a number of interpretations as to the meaning of this decision, it is noted that Avraham was one who believed strongly in the teaching of "He who hates gifts will live."[35]Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that the concept of "He who hates gifts will live" is one which seeks to prevent us from growing accustomed to receiving effortless profit. When one regularly receives gifts without investing any effort, one begins to constantly expect gifts and further receive things which one does not deserve. Such an expectation can often be the first step on the path towards theft.

In our day and age, the giving of gifts is often a natural component of social behavior and expectations. As such, one should be sure to conform to such social norms and customs when called for.

[1] Mishlei 15:27

[2] C.M. 249:5

[3] Sota 47b

[4] Megilla 28a, Kiddushin 59a

[5] Chullin 44b

[6] Yam Shel Shlomo;Chullin 3:9

[7] Rambam Zechiya U'matana 12:17

[8] Rambam Mechira 30:7, Mishna Berura 306:33, Divrei Malkiel 1:100, Shraga Hameir 5:52:2

[9] Magen Avraham O.C. 306:15

[10] Beit Yosef O.C. 527, Seridei Aish 1:33, Yechaveh Da'at 3:21

[11] C.M. 9:1,2

[12] Ketubot 105b

[13] Rema Y.D. 246:21

[14] Rambam Talmud Torah 3:10

[15] Rambam Zechia U'matana 12:17

[16] Yirmiyahu 17:5

[17] Rashi;Abot 1:10

[18] Nedarim 64b,

[19] Rashi;Bava Metzia 39a

[20] Damesek Eliezer O.C. 4, cited in "Bishvilei Haparasha" by Rabbi Elyakim Devorkis p.17

[21] Pesachim 113a

[22] Rambam Matanot Aniyim 10:18, O.C. Y.D. 255:1

[23] Rambam Matanot Aniyim 10:19

[24] Chaim Shaul 1:44, cited in cited in "Bishvilei Haparasha" by Rabbi Elyakim Devorkis

[25] Berachot 6a

[26] Mishne Halachot 15:215

[27] Rama E.H. 45:1, Magen Avraham O.C. 444:9

[28] Orach Meisharim 18:2

[29] Shmuel I 9:7,8. See also Ralbag ad. loc.

[30] Nedarim 62a

[31] Bereishit 24:52

[32] Bereishit 32:13-20

[33] Ketubot 105b

[34] Bereishit 14:23

[35] Derisha C.M. 249