"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"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 rabbi?"

One of your supporters


Dear Supporter,
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" [Lev. 28:3].(2)

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, and prosperity.(3)

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.]

Yrachmiel Tilles
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.

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