Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving

Posted on | November 16, 2006 | By Neil Harris | 29 Comments

When it comes to Thanksgiving, some families within Torah observant Jewry tend to have the attitude: “I’m thankful the whole year. I say Modeh Ani every single morning. Why should I celebrate Thanksgiving?”

The truth is that when I was growning up, as a third generation American with marginal Synagogue affiliation, my family ‘did’ thanksgiving, but it was never a big deal. When I got married, things changed (for the better).

As a married couple, Thanksgiving became a big deal. My wife is a first generation American and her family is totally into Thanksgiving. When we spend it with family or friends we go all out. Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, my homemade “I can’t believe the’re pareve” mashed potatoes, and apple pie.

For Baalei Teshuva, Thanksgiving is almost the best of both worlds-the secular and the holy. It provides an opportunity to be with family and friends whom we might not normally have a meal with,a meal without the pressure of: zimiros, accidentally turning off of lights, constant explaining of why we make tea or coffee differently on Shabbos, etc.

Over the years I’ve listened to my co-workers complain about the pressure of making such a lavish meal, “All that hard work just to eat food for one hour”. For the Torah observant Jew, Thanksgiving is a piece of cake. We make “lavish meals” every weekend.

I often tell friends of mine that I love Thanksgiving because we can eat like Shabbos, but still turn off the lights and watch TV (although I’m not a big sports fan, so I usually don’t watch the big games).

Over the past few years, due to geographical logistics we haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my wife’s family, but this year, Baruch Hashem, we will. There will be kashrus challenges, like a limited supply of kosher pots, pans, and utensils but they are letting us make the entire meal kosher. Armed with the ability to kasher an oven and several phone numbers of various Rabbis on speed dial, we’re looking forward to it. The zechus (merit) of the family members hosting our ‘kosher Thanksgiving’ is something they might never understand, but my wife and I do. The memories that my kids will have of spending Thanksgiving with family is something very dear to us. I am very thankful.

Comments

29 Responses to “Being Thankful for Thanksgiving”

  1. Bob Miller
    November 16th, 2006 @ 9:13 am

    Setting up this kosher zone is reason enough to party.

  2. Melissa
    November 16th, 2006 @ 11:54 am

    I also love Thanksgiving because it’s a great time to see the rest of my family and find some common ground. It’s a kiddush Hashem every time we see our families and show that we want to stay connected.
    It’s also a brachah that your family is so amenable to making the meal kosher.
    I think it’s important, however, to realize just how holy Shabbos is in comparison, for the very reason that we CAN’T turn on the lights and watch TV- it allows us to focus on the spiritual.
    Ever since my husband and I have set up our own home, we’ve tried to have our families over as much as possible on the holidays to share some of that spiritual stuff with them. Right now, Shabbos and Yom Tov is not a possibility for them, but we try to have them for the Purim Seudah, for a night of Chanukah, and sometimes during Chol HaMoed. Those times, even more than Thanksgiving, are very meaningful for us, and a great way to show our families the beauty of Judaism.

  3. Chesed Dollars & Coupons
    November 16th, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

    I think that a todah Hashem should also be made by relating a devar Torah during the meal. Adding a level of kedushah that would be absent had you not made teshuvah.

  4. David Linn
    November 16th, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

    While the advice to relate a dvar torah at the meal is well-meaning, I’m not so sure that it is always a good idea.

    The first thing I, personally, will look at is whether this is happening in my home or someone elses. If it is not in your home, you need to determine whether it is your place to give over a dvar torah at someone else’s table.

    The next thing I would try to discern is whether the audience will be receptive to a devar torah or if you will just be giving them reason to ridicule or find fault. If that is the case, simply being a kiddush hashem in your conduct and interactions may do a lot more than a dvar torah to a non-receptive audience. This would be different if the gathering was centered around a Jewish holiday.

    Just my humble opinion.

  5. Neil Harris
    November 16th, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

    Melissa,
    Obviously Shabbos and Yom Tov are totally on another level that a Thanksgiving. You’ve picked great times to have over your family, but for some, even those times are not an option. I’ve very lucky that my wife’s family is so easy going and sensitive to our needs.

    Just washing, making a bracha, or bentching at a table can have as much impact as a dvar Torah, to echo David.

  6. Miriam
    November 16th, 2006 @ 5:56 pm

    neil,

    I appreciate your wisdom. This time of year is so hard. In our community Thanksgiving is frowned upon and considered “goyish”. Yet, everybody feels compelled year after year to ask what we are doing for “Thanksgiving”. They ask in a very public and condesending way. Never letting me escape the fact that I am a “BT” and will never be able to mold to the “yeshivish” world. Even though we haven’t gotten together in years with family on this day, it is still hard to reconcile how the frum world considers Thanksgiving, T.V. and pets “goyish”. This ties into the last entry on changing our values. As a frum Jew, these are things I struggle with and have left me searching for a community which would not consider “Thanksgiving” so goyish.

  7. Ilanit
    November 16th, 2006 @ 6:14 pm

    Miriam – I don’t believe that speaking condescendingly and embarrassing someone in public are Jewish values. My community recently had a family visiting us from a community similar to yours, and they said that instead of being brought closer to Torah observance, they are actually starting to turn away from it because they find the community so stifling. It is so important to find a community where you are not stigmatized and branded. I hope you relish your Thanksgiving as much as you want to. Please feel free to visit Houston, and my community, anytime.

  8. Matys
    November 16th, 2006 @ 9:55 pm

    Am’ I missing something? Is calling holiday of thanksgiving “goish” stiffing? Was the pilgrims Jewish?

  9. Neil Harris
    November 16th, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

    Miriam,
    How turkey day is looked up is very much based, as you wrote, on the community and your cirlce of frieds. Plenty of people look down upon Thanksgiving, yet do they feel guilty when they don’t have to go to work? What about the day schools that have off for next Thursday and Friday?
    On a different note, when we moved to Chicago we were impressed to see so many frum families with dogs.

  10. Miriam
    November 16th, 2006 @ 10:54 pm

    Neil,

    Yes. It does amaze me that everyone in my community makes Turkey and stuffing for the Shabbos after Thanksgiving. So in the end they do have their “Turkey” and yes, the school does close for Thursday and Friday. I guess there is hypocracy no matter which way you turn. I am on the path to finding friends who are supportive not in a “condesending” way. Our community is so into “kiruv” yet in a round about way they still look down on people who might be a little diffrent and not so “yeshivish”. There are a very few who truely are on the right derech and see Hakadosh Baruch Hu in everything…and that is who I am finally identifying with in order to grow on the right spiritual path (even if it is a path which might also be frowned upon in the yeshivish world).

    Miriam

  11. Ora
    November 17th, 2006 @ 6:26 am

    While I don’t look down on Thanksgiving, I don’t really understand the first paragraph of this post either. Why should I celebrate Thanksgiving? I honestly see no reason to. Also, how is Thanksgiving a mix of the secular and the holy (more than any other weekday)? It’s just another day. I can see how it’s a nice time to celebrate with non-religious family, but other than that, why bother?

  12. Shayna
    November 17th, 2006 @ 7:10 am

    I’ve been hesitating to chime in because I know what everyone’s reaction will be. Here I go… After a major faux pas (I assigned my students to each bring in a dish with historical ties to that era), I was informed that the American godolim consider Thanksgiving a non-Jewish concept. There is a published booklet about it somewhere out there. With my background as a midwestern, totally assimilated, proud American, I had a lot of trouble with this. I mean, it’s not overtly non-Jewish, like Halloween. It’s not even half-and-half, like December 31. I’ve given in (and consider it a brocha that there’s one less feast to prepare in the year).

  13. Menachem Lipkin
    November 17th, 2006 @ 8:10 am

    Shayna,

    I think the information you received was a bit simplistic. There were varied and nuanced views of how to deal with Thanksgiving put forth by several American gedolim of the last century. You can see an excellent analysis of their positions here: http://www.tfdixie.com/special/thanksg.htm

    Furthermore, as a critical issue for baalei teshuva, it requires maximum flexibility.

  14. tffb
    November 17th, 2006 @ 9:08 am

    Up until relatively recently, every major yeshiva in nyc with the possible exception of chaim berlin celebrated thanksgiving and served turkey

    as far as i can make out most of the opposition comes from students of R Hutner who was opposed. of course as you say, thanksgiving comes on the heels of sukos and before chanuka, and people are not up for using a free day for another seuda, and that is one reason opposition to thanksgiving is not countered.

    I dont think you should worry much about the gedolim though given that they clearly didnt oppose it too much ,as above.

    I wrote some more initially on why i think thanksgiving is not goyish, but the comment didnt go through. What is wrong with thanking god? The god the pilgrims thanked is the god of abraham. We have separation of church and state in this country – people are expected to thank god in whatever way is meaningful and atheists not to thank god but celebrate in a way meaningful to them. I think it’s wrongheaded to characterize thanksgiving as goyish. We have much to be greatful for as Jews in America, and I think thanksgiving is an appropriate holiday to celebrate. When goyim do something right, why should we oppose it

  15. Bob Miller
    November 17th, 2006 @ 10:37 am

    Thanksgiving in my youth (Staten Island, late 1950′s and early 1960′s):

    In the morning, go to the big PSAL high school football game (Curtis vs. New Dorp) at Weissglass Stadium or later Port Richmond HS Field. Thousands of people packed the place. Bands, cheerleaders, twirlers, you name it. Both teams used the old single wing formation that had been abandoned by everyone else except Princeton U.

    Come home after Curtis loses, watch Macy Day Parade on TV. This, of course, was the opening of the big shopping season, the device by which America supported Jewish merchants.

    Early afternoon watch the NFL, Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers, on TV. Maybe a college game, too.

    Early and mid-afternoon, major food prep activity, such as broiling and slicing the turkey.

    Late afternoon and evening, eat a very big kosher meal with other family members.

    To be frank, there was not much spiritual content to the above. No deep analysis of our thankfulness, no arguments about “is this some offshoot of avoda zara”. We felt we were just doing the American thing like everybody else.

    Now, for us, it’s a day off and we do day off stuff. It’s clear what the real holidays are.

  16. A Newcomer
    November 17th, 2006 @ 10:56 am

    Menachem Lipkin, thanks for the link you provided. It provided some good background for me. Ever since I got married to my MO wife, we’ve been discussing the holidays. Her family never celebrated Thanksgiving, but she was willing to make a Thanksgiving dinner after we were married. We never did anything elaborate the first couple of years, just a small turkey dinner. Then her sister came to visit us two years in a row during Thanksgiving (once with friends, and once with her fiance, and the dinners got a little bit bigger. This year my wife’s parents are coming down. Should be interesting to see how that plays out.

    I wonder though, are there any disagreements about having hot dogs and hamburgers, and shooting off fireworks on the 4th of July? (In the US, that is).

    But the other part of the website that really caught my interest was the halloween discussion. I admit, when I was a kid, I’d go out yearly and load up on candy. My wife and I agreed that our kids would not be trick or treating. But I still wanted to pass out candy to the kids in the neighborhood. The website gave some reasoning why that is okay to do. That helps.

  17. David Linn
    November 17th, 2006 @ 11:19 am

    While there seems to be a split developing in the comments here, we may be talking about the same thing.

    I don’t think that anyone is claiming that Thanksgiving holds some level of kedushah beyond any other week day.

    However, for some (many?) BTs, getting together with their family on Thanksgiving is important, if not to them, then to their non-religious family members. If that’s the case, then the point many people are trying to make is that there is nothing halachically wrong, “non-Jewish” or “unfrum” about doing so especially if kibbud av v’em is involved.

    Such an idea seems to have support from Rav Moshe Feinstein whose opinion was summed up as follows in the link mentioned in comment 13 above:

    “While Rabbi Feinstein’s objections to adding observances will be discussed later on, it is clear that he sees no problem in Thanksgiving’s celebration as a Gentile holiday, and he appears to see no problem with eating a turkey meal on that day as a matter of choice, and not obligation.”

    Rav Moshe also addresses the question of whether something should be considered a Gentile custom simply because many gentiles do it when he states

    “Thus, it is obvious in my opinion, that even in a case where something would be considered a prohibited Gentile custom, if many people do it for reasons unrelated to their religion or law, but rather because it is pleasurable to them, there is no prohibition of imitating Gentile custom. So too, it is obvious that if Gentiles were to make a religious law to eat a particular item that is good to eat, halacha would not prohibit eating that item. So too, any item of pleasure in the world cannot be prohibited merely because Gentiles do so out of religious observance.”

    The article also states that RYBS agreed that a Thanksgiving meal with turkey is permissible quoting RHS that:

    “It was the opinion of Rabbi Soloveitchik that it was permissible to eat turkey at the end of November, on the day of Thanksgiving. We understood that, in his opinion, there was no question that turkey did not lack a tradition of kashrut and that eating it on Thanksgiving was not a problem of imitating gentile customs. We also heard that this was the opinion of his father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik.”

    In the same article, you will also find Rav Hutner’s opinion in which he clearly rules that it is nor permitted to have such a feast.

    I think the discussion here centers around how and whether to participate in a Thanksgiving meal and the concomittant kibbud av v’em and family strains that may be engendered by doing so or refusing to do so.

    This is an issue that may be unique to BTs and therefore requires that the decision be made keeping in mind the issues of kibud av v’em, etc.

    Of course, everyone should consult their own LOR for his/her particular situation.

    I also find it interesting that many people who don’t have a Thanksgiving meal davka have a Turkey meal with all the trimmings the Shabbos night immediately following Thanksgiving. I personally ate at someone’s house who did that (after having eaten the same meal the day before, oy!)

    If anyone out there does this, can you offer us some insight as to the reason. Is it particularly to show that “there is nothing wrong with eating a turkey meal but that I don’t want to do so in accordance with a secular/non-jewish holiday set by the Gregorian calendar?

  18. Bob Miller
    November 17th, 2006 @ 11:35 am

    Some companies give out Thanksgiving turkeys to employees, including Empire turkeys to Jewish employees. So then it becomes a matter of what’s the best occasion to eat it.

  19. Jacob Haller
    November 17th, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    Bob,

    How about the immediate following Shabbos?

  20. Bob Miller
    November 17th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    I have no direct interest in this, since I have not received a free turkey, or bought one either for that matter, for years.

    Turkeys do take up an amazing amount of freezer space, which could be a consideration.

  21. tffb
    November 17th, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

    If anyone out there does this, can you offer us some insight as to the reason. Is it particularly to show that “there is nothing wrong with eating a turkey meal but that I don’t want to do so in accordance with a secular/non-jewish holiday set by the Gregorian calendar?”

    I think it is probably to avoid a thursday feast before a friday one and to allow the day off to be used for errands and similar!

  22. Neil Harris
    November 17th, 2006 @ 1:35 pm

    Re: comment # 11
    I had casually mentioned this in my previous comment to David, but when I wrote ‘secular and holy’, I was referring at the most basic level to the act of elevating any Kosher meal with the act of the proper brachos before and after, and the Kiddush Hashem factor.

    As family (I’m not writing as a Baal Teshuva) my wife and I do not live close to either sides of our respective families, so we don’t have the opportunity to share Shabbos or Simchas Yom Tov with our non-oberservant relatives. Thanksgiving is a ‘pareve’ day that we can get together.

    In terms of treating next Thursday as a normal day without any hoopla and not celebrating,one of the things that BeyondBT fosters is mutual respect and understanding, which is what any BT or FFB wants. I appreciate your point of view.

    I wrote this prior to seeing David’s comment, but hope this clarified what I wrote in the post.

  23. DK
    November 17th, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

    My father wanted to pay tribute to the question of celebrating Thanksgiving while still remembering we were in Exile, so he always wryly notes over a toast, “If you’re going to be in Galus, better here than Poland.”

  24. M
    November 17th, 2006 @ 4:45 pm

    “If anyone out there does this, can you offer us some insight as to the reason.”

    We get a free turkey, and eat it on Shabbos because there’s no room in the freezer for the huge thing! :)
    I know lots of families that do the same.

  25. DK
    November 19th, 2006 @ 12:43 am

    “I personally ate at someone’s house who did that (after having eaten the same meal the day before, oy!)”

    Just think of it as Yom Tov Shanie!

  26. JR
    November 19th, 2006 @ 5:36 pm

    For Baalei Teshuva, Thanksgiving is almost the best of both worlds-the secular and the holy. It provides an opportunity to be with family and friends whom we might not normally have a meal with,a meal without the pressure of: zimiros, accidentally turning off of lights, constant explaining of why we make tea or coffee differently on Shabbos, etc.

    Sounds like a Chanuka party would fit the bill!

  27. LC
    November 22nd, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

    I also find it interesting that many people who don’t have a Thanksgiving meal davka have a Turkey meal with all the trimmings the Shabbos night immediately following Thanksgiving. I personally ate at someone’s house who did that (after having eaten the same meal the day before, oy!)

    If anyone out there does this, can you offer us some insight as to the reason.

    I grew up in a family where Thanksgiving was the one day when the extended family (across state lines) all arranged in advance to meet at one house for the extended weekend and enjoy the traditional meal as well as the time together. My husband’s family pretty much ignored the day, New England roots aside.

    But I enjoy turkey and the other seasonal foods, so I started making such a meal for Shabbos “that weekend” when we weren’t doing anything “for” Thanksgiving, as a seasonal excuse to prepare and enjoy the foods. . . the one year we went to my brother’s in-laws (mostly to visist my brother & SIL), we got kosher Chinese take-out; the family time was worth much more than the choice of menu.

    But I’m not willing to go to all of the effort for a Thursday night meal to just start all over again – or serve leftovers for Shabbos.

  28. Judy Resnick
    November 25th, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    My father was niftar in 1985. My mother was niftar in 1994. I still miss them greatly, even though I now am a grandmother myself. If you are still fortunate enough to have your parents, and plan to see them over the Thanksgiving holiday, give them an extra big hug. Love them!

  29. Bob Miller
    December 1st, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    Relevant to my comment 15 above:

    Here’s an excellent blast from the past about “old Staten Island”:
    http://thanksgiving1959.com/

    Ironically, we didn’t go to the big game in 1959.

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