Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: For Jews?

Unlike other traditions such as Halloween, which has pagan roots, and Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christianity’s founder, Thanksgiving has grown out of a motivation to thank G-d for the good people have gained in America, and is not associated with a particular religious group. As such, it would seem that it would be unproblematic for Jews, even those who are faithful to traditional Halacha, to celebrate Thanksgiving. Indeed, the article “Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Purim” posted on OU.org states that the majority of American rabbis did not prohibit celebrating Thanksgiving, including such Torah giants as Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik zt'l.

While Thanksgiving isn’t forbidden, should Jews still embrace it, or even celebrate it? From my own perspective, I can only say that I don’t celebrate it, nor do I think Jews should or even need to. One reason is that thanking G-d is a daily, some would even say constant, affair in Judaism. The first words we utter in the morning are “Mode ani lefahnechah,” literally “I give thanks before you,” an act of thanking G-d that is performed even before we get out of bed. The liturgy is full of praises of thanks and of acknowledgements that we cannot live without G-d’s loving help. An excellent example of this is the "Asher Yatzer" blessing said after using the bathroom. Even in such a mundane situation, we acknowledge what G-d does for us. We should focus our energies on daily thanksgiving, not just being thankful one day a year.

A second reason grows out of practical considerations. Thanksgiving Day always falls out on a Thursday, a day where much of the cooking for Shabbos begins. To stage a large meal or gathering on Thursday takes away from Shabbos, both in terms of prep time and in terms of quality. Shabbos is meant to be the height of the week, and a voluntary event of similar proportions can make Shabbos seem less special. In fact, I try to use the extra time I have off during this season to invest even more time on Shabbos, for example by making extra dishes or going more in-depth with the Parsha. Shabbos is actually a gift from G-d to the Jews, and to truly value, appreciate, and invest time in a gift one has received, is probably one of the highest forms of thanksgiving one can show.

What is your view? Comments welcome!

9 Comments:

Anonymous Thanksgiving: The Jewish Perspective said...

There is a great article on the Jewish perspective on Thanksgiving at http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=448177

Thu Nov 23, 01:39:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Thanks for the link!

I actully read the article when I was writing my post, but didn't use it as it does not really address the question of whether or not American Jews should celebrate Thanksgiving.

A post at Chabad's askmoses.com affirms that "Chabad or Judaism for that matter certainly supports celebrating American national holidays such as Thanksgiving, The Fourth of July, President's day, Memorial day and the like," and goes on to state that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory,was "very patriotic." That being said, I don't know a single born and bred Lubavitcher who marks Thanksgiving in any way, although I would love to hear from one who does.

I highly recommend this article which goes into the halachik issues involved in celebrating Thanksgiving. Interestingly, it also give evidence that suggests that Rav Soloveichik might have had an annual Thanksgiving meal.

Thu Nov 23, 03:28:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Rabbi Yisroel Gordon said...

Adam? Is that you?

Loved the post. I feel exactly the same way, but not strongly.

Thu Nov 23, 09:03:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oy Vey!!!!!!


I say live and let live. If you don't want to celebrate Thanksgiving, than don't, but I'm skeptical of your "religious reasons." Frankly, I think it's an identity issue because engrained in the religiously, observant (and most especially Ashkenazic) mindset is a wish to be as separate from all things "goyisha" as possible. You mentioned that it interferes with Shabbat, but there are lots of things that interfere with the preparation of shabbat, including other Jewish observances. Second, it's not like a day is too long to prepare another meal for Shabbat. Third, you mentioned that giving Thanks is a constant part of Judaism, so there is no need for a holiday. Fine, but there's still nothing wrong with marking a special day for "extra prayers." I hypothesize that if Judaism had a similar day for giving "Thanks" that you would rise with all might, religious fervor to give great thanks on that holy day because saying it everyday would not be enough.............


While I accept that reason someone else might give to not celebrate Thanksgiving (though wouldn't personally agree with it), and I'm sorry to be disrespectful, but I would like you to just be honest with yourself and your psychology.

My intuition is that this piece was written by a bal t'shuvah.

Fri Nov 24, 04:09:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Thanks for the comment Anonymous.

I think that you are right about some very important issues. There are things such as holidays and simchas that can come in the way Shabbos preperations. A good example is bris on Friday morning, for which it is a mitzvah to have a seudah, i.e. a festive meal of some kind. The preperations for this meal would of course be in addition to those of Shabbos. As mentioned in the chabad.org article above, we did once have the obligation to bring bikurim and voice thanks to Hashem, and act that can rightfully be compared to Thanksgiving. And you are right, that if it were possible to perform this mitzvah, I would "rise with all might" to do it.

Yet note that the points you mention are themselves mitzvos, just like Shabbos, and if a mitzvah makes Shabbos a bit more difficult one week, then so be it. Thanksgiving is not a mitzvah, so one can question doing it right before Shabbos. Perhaps I make more Shabbos food than you do, or perhaps you just have better cooking skills, but I don't want to attempt two major feasts like that, if I don't have to.

Please also not that many major rabbonim, people who live and breath Torah daily, did not forbid Thanksgiving.
Many times Halacha gives us the option to freely do something or not, and the point of my post was to see whether there was any reason to do Thanksgiving even if it is not forbidden. Indeed, as I mentioned above,it seems that Rav Soloveichik might have had Thanksgiving and marked it with some sort of seudah, and he is a man I deeply respect and I would be proud if I could simply reach 1/10th of his level.

I agree with you that psychology and habit has much to do with my avoidence of Thanksgiving. I never celebrated Thanksgiving growing up, so I have no special attachment to the day, no good (or bad) memories of Thanksgiving dinner, and perhaps most importantly, no family to offend by not comming to a Thanksgiving event.

Fri Nov 24, 10:41:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

Gut voch, FB! I don't know if it's actually relevant, but Ascent of Tsfat had a phatty Thanksgiving dinner, and it's run by Lubavs.

But in general, here in Israel, Thanksgiving came and went withought fanfare. Surprise surprise.

Sat Nov 25, 03:59:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

G-man:

Thanks for the link. Looks like they had a fun program. Where you able to attend?

Sun Nov 26, 08:45:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

I was going to attend, but then I read your post and it sobered me up. No, just kidding.

In any event, no, I didn't go, and Thanksgiving pretty much came and went without fanfare, as I said previously. Although, at the Sheva Brachos that I attended on Friday night, they did serve a whole turkey, which was out of the ordinary.

Sun Nov 26, 09:51:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Interesting about the turkey. We a whole turkey this shabbos as well, not because of Thanksgiving, but because we found a whole kosher turkey, that was less than what we usually pay for kosher chicken, and at Safeway's no less!

Sun Nov 26, 10:27:00 AM 2006  

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