Dear Miriam | Ugly Judaica Gift Presents a Dilemma

Photo by Jon Marks

Dear Miriam,

I was given a very ugly piece of Judaica for a recent milestone birthday. I don’t want to disrespect the person who gave it to me or the intended religious function of the item, but I will never use this and don’t want it on display in my home. I’m not sure how much this matters, but I suspect this was already a regift. What is the right thing to do with it?


Not in My House

Dear House,

There is a concept in Judaism, hiddur mitzvah, which means to beautify a mitzvah. This means using or making something beautiful as part of one’s observance of Jewish ritual. Some examples of how this plays out can include serving wine in an ornate kiddush cup on Shabbat and holidays, or buying hand-dipped Chanukah candles instead of the cheap ones from the drugstore, or using a fancy plate specifically intended to hold matzah at your seder.

Hiddur mitzvah means there’s a whole industry of both handmade and mass-produced Judaica in every price range and to suit every taste and style. You’ve now received something that doesn’t fit your taste or style, and I’m here to tell you not to feel guilty about that. You will not be beautifying any ritual celebration if you use something that doesn’t spark joy.

However, as you note, the item — and the gift giver — are still deserving of your respect. First, you should try to give this away. Maybe you know someone who might like it, or maybe you’re part of a buy nothing group (that doesn’t include the gift giver!) where someone might appreciate it. A local synagogue or day school may have use for it in an educational context, but you’d have to check with them, rather than just drop it off, since you don’t want to burden anyone else with an item that they can’t use either.

If you can’t give it away to someone directly, then you should bring it to a thrift store. This will not be the first time, nor the last time, that a piece of Judaica has ended up being resold, and as long as it doesn’t contain the name of God written in Hebrew anywhere on it, you should have no qualms about getting it out of your house by whatever means necessary.

Since you suspect that this was already a regift, you can rest assured that the gift-giver didn’t pick this out with you in mind, meaning they didn’t see something ugly and immediately think of you. The gift may not have been thoughtful and it may not have been personal, but hopefully your relationship with this person transcends the gift anyway, and you can free yourself of this Judaica without any further consideration. And, if the person ever asks in the future where the item is when visiting your home, you can always say, “I’m sorry, I’m just not sure right now,” and leave it at that.

Be well,



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