"I read in your calendar that you had a Thanksgiving
event. Although this get-together may be purely Jewish, please be informed
that some rabbinic authorities have forbidden any form of marking Thanksgiving
because it originated as a Christian religious festival. Did you ask a
One of your supporters
Yours was one of three letters we received on this subject, and easily
the most pleasant. By "rabbinic authorities," presumably you
are referring mainly to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the well-known authority
in Jewish law in America, who passed away a few years ago. He ruled that
although it is permissible to eat turkey on Thanksgiving as long as you
don't make a party out of it, it is better to be strict.(1) Interestingly,
he also stated that Thanksgiving Day can not be considered in any way
a religious holiday, since it is not mentioned in their religious books.
The problem, rather, is whether eating turkey on Thanksgiving would be
included in the prohibition of: "You shall not follow their customs"
Turkey-eating aside, the intent of the occasion, designating a day for
expressing gratitude to G-d, is certainly compatible with Jewish values.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has pointed to Thanksgiving Day as a manifestation
of something that is basic to the essence of the USA itself, and which
has stood for that country as a great merit.
The founding of this country is connected with faith in G-d, and more
specifically, that He is not only the creator of all but also its Director,
in contrast to those who label themselves as believers, but say [Psalms
113:4] "G-d is exalted above all nations, in heaven is His glory
[but not in daily, earthly life]." For this purpose the founders
and builders of this country designated a special day for giving thanks
to G-d, the creator and director of the world, for their safety, success,
Our seminar takes place on Thanksgiving, not for Thanksgiving. It is
a big attraction for American Jews. We turn the Thursday night dinner
into an official mitzvah meal by preceding it with a siyum [completion
of a Talmudic tractate]. We also conduct workshops on various Jewish expressions
of thanksgiving such as the after-meal blessings and Birchat HaGomel
[blessing for deliverance from critical danger].
In fact, we asked a local rabbinic authority, one who, it happens, was
also raised in America, and he sanctioned our program and promotion. (This
ruling applies to our specific situation and may not be automatically
extended to others.) Nevertheless, we decided this year to remove the
turkey from our advertisements...and perhaps from the menu as well: a
significant number of the participants in last year's highly successful
seminar were vegetarians!
Thank you for your friendly admonition. We are sorry you did not sign
your name. [Ascent always likes to hear from readers who want to "talk
turkey" with us.]
1. Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer (2), Tshuvah 13 (Vol. IV,
p. 326). There are also seven as yet unpublished responsa on Thanksgiving
Day, according to Rabbi Moshe Tendler.
2. For a detailed discussion in English, see "Chukat Akum: Jews in
a Gentile society," by Rabbi Zvi Y. Teichman, as printed in Halacha
and Contemporary Society, edited by Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen, Ktav, New York,
1984, p. 258-259.
3. Yud-Tes Kislev, 5747 Sicha 3.