Thanksgiving – Sanctifying Hashem By Being a Mentsch

This article was originally posted on November 19th, 2006.

For many BTs, Thanksgiving can be an easy or tortuous day to negotiate. R Gil Student posted a link to an article by R’ Michael Broyde that set forth the various views of Gdolim on the issue of partcicipating in the celebration and related issues such as the Mesorah of the Kashrus of turkey. I reccomend the article for anyone seeking a guide to the halachic issues.

We have always “celebrated” by having a shiur in the morning followed by getting together with relatives for a sumptuous repast. Assuming that one accepts the view that one should celebrate the day as a form of Hakaras HaTov for the amazing religious liberties and freedoms that Jews enjoy here, as opposed to any country,excluding Israel, , it can be an easy way of spending time with relatives if one utilizes a great natural resource-common sense.

Assuming that there are no kashrus problems, it is a great opportunity to show all of those relatives and assorted guests that a Torah observant Jew can interact with all sorts of people and engage in social chit chat, etc. Obviously, in such a context, your goal is to appear as a mentsch at all times. I would counsel against engaging in any conversation that even remotely touches on Torah and mitzos unless someone asks you directly for your point of view and you calculate that you can answer the query without sounding like you are on a soap box or being defensive in any way. It is almost like an office outing-politics and religion, among other issues, are not just issues to be discussed at such an occassion, unless you are directly asked a question.For instance, I was once directly asked how one could educate one’s children to avoid intermarriage.Once I realized that the question was meant as an openning to a discussion, I then proceeded to give a time honored answer-If one views every opportunity with one’s family to educate them on the supremacy of Torah and Mitzvos and does not rely on the formal educational processs-your children will have a much stronger probablity of marrying a Jewish partner as opposed to constantly harping on the negatives.On another occassion, I was asked about the interaction of the First Amendment and property rights vis a vis the erection of a sukkah in a coop. That led to an email correspondence on recent cases that dealt with that issue.

Like it or not, the currentlty prevailing ethos of pluralism and secular ethics allows Torah Judaism to compete with any and all humanly created ethical and moral systems. In that sense, while your family and friends are great that you can get together without any of the “stress” of a Shabbos or Yom Tov, IMO, Thanksgiving is not a day for kiruv based activities or engaging in any heavy discussions about different lifestyles. However, it is a day whereby you can be Mkadesh HaShem Brabim simply by being a mentsch.

It goes without saying that issues of kashrus, etc should be discussed and that not all issues in this regard can be easily negotiated,Yet, if these issue do not present a problem, then a social gathering has the potential to be a huge Kiddush HaShem.

14 comments on “Thanksgiving – Sanctifying Hashem By Being a Mentsch

  1. Thanksgiving Day in America is more Jewish than most people realize. The first official celebration of it was Thursday, November 26, 1789, as proclaimed by George Washington (a churchgoing Christian who was very favorable towards Jews). Less than a year earlier, the US Constitution had taken effect with a ban on any religious test for holding any public office. This was the first time anywhere in the world that Jews had been full citizens since the early Roman Empire. There was much for the small Jewish community in America to be thankful.

    So did that community observe the new holiday? Absolutely! Indeed Gershom Mendes Sexias, chazzan of Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York, gave a sermon that was so popular that it was published a few weeks later, making it the very first publication having to do with the official celebration of Thanksgiving Day! I understand that it was republished a few years ago but I haven’t been able to get a copy. Nowadays, many Christian churches have adopted the idea of having special programs for Thansgiving; it can be said with confidence that Jews did it first.

    Over a century later, Macy’s routed its famous parade directly in front of Shearith Israel’s “new” building (1890s vintage). Yes, you can pray shacharit and then walk just a few feet and enjoy the parade.

    Chag sameach!

  2. Michoel-thanks for your clarification. The footnotes ( #37 and 38) to R Broyde’s article clearly indicate that (1) RYBS celebrated Thanksgiving and (2) similarly advised talmidim. As far as Hakaras Hatov is concerned, I think that we would all agree that this Torah obligation is a major theme of many mitzvos including the Seder Leil Pesach. I would dissagree as to flag flying being a main or the only way of expressing hakaras hatov to a country that has enshrined religious freedom and supports Israel in the face of a hostile UN. Voting and complying with all laws that benefit all Americans regardless of religion would also seem to be in that category . Ditto for a family gathering on Turkey day if kashrus is not an issue. I would reiterate that if kashrus is not an isssue then one should ask a Posek whether one should absent oneself from an opportunity to get together-which may be a far more important issue than determining whether Thanksgiving is probibited or not as Chukos HaGoyim.

  3. Re my previous post: Someone might feel that this section is a stira beinei u’vei:
    “..and since my time for my family and learning is already very limited, I do not make a dinner just for my immmediate family and chose to show my hakaros hatov in other ways. ”
    By us, a seudah is sometimes domeh to a zoo. It is not necessarliy family time in qualitative sense. Family time means going to a park and letting the kids run around and trying to show them H’ briah a little bit.

  4. Chaim and Steve shlit”a,
    Ok let’s slow down and clarify before a new machlokes starts. First of all I also have great respect for Steve. In fact, bli neder, as soon as can budget for it, I am going to buy a sefer of either Rav Shachter of Rav Williger, mostly based on Steve’s say-so.

    The article in question is a fairly technical article that your average BeyondBT reader may or may not be able to follow. I think that Steve’s original piece seems to imply that the sources sited in the article say that making a thanksgiving dinner shows “that one accepts the view that one should celebrate the day as a form of Hakaras HaTov for the amazing religious liberties and freedoms that Jews enjoy here”. In fact, no one says that. Could well be that Rav Soloveitchik held that. In any case, one must first deal with the halachic issues BEFORE involving oneself in the hashkafic issues.

    I agree with Menachem Lipkin that Thanksgiving is not the place for BTs to be machmir. If my family would make kosher, I would also go to a Thanksgiving dinner. But since they don’t, and since my time for my family and learning is already very limited, I do not make a dinner just for my immmediate family and chose to show my hakaros hatov in other ways.

    Furthermore, hakaras hatov is (l’cheora) p’shat that you do me a tova so I either say thank you to directly or do a tova for you that you are aware of. If I say to may self “That was so nice of Chaim or Steve to do that for me” I am yotzei only a small part of the inyon of hakaras hatov. The ikkar is not the mussar sh’bo. The ikkar is that YOU know that I acknowledge and appreciate what you did. So if I want America to know that I appreciate her, I should fly my flag. I am certain that the Rav spent his Thanksgiving seudah speaking in learning and being m’chazek his family. That doesn’t meant that he would advocate baalei t’shuvah being cought for 4 hours in a house were everyone else is watching the Detroit Lions and drinking beer. Each case needs its own answer.

    I am, most often, not a fanatic.

  5. Michoel-Read the most recent Commentator. R A Rakkafet wrote an article in which he mentioned that RYBS told him that he would be giving an early shiur and then flying home to Boston for Thanksgiving Dinner with his family. R Rakkafet then went home and informed his family that he would be also partaking in his family’s dinner for the same reason. RHS relates the same incident re RYBS giving an early shiur, etc in Nefesh HaRav.

    Like it or not, having Turkey dinner this Thursday is simply a nice way of saying hakaras hatov for the simple fact that America has extended more liberties and opputrtunities for Klal Yisrael than anywhere else in our history. WADR, it neither requires a Kvias Yom nor “making a whole religion” ala Hallel but merely common sense and logic-unless one applies urban myths and stereotypes to American history in the same way that some do to RYBS’s Mesorah.

  6. Michoel-

    I’m no talmid of RYBS but I do think that true talmidim can take lessons from examples set by their Rebbeim. I believe it’s called godol shimushom yoser m’limudom. Especially since I presume that RYBS was well aware of how controversial this particular hanhaga was, even in his era.

    As a matter of fact I think that you and I both know that among the various righter-wing critiques of the MO camp is their perceived lack of d’vekusand bitul to their Rebbeim. IMO to make the argument that unless RYBS “publicly told other people to do so” that one ought not replicate his z”l behavior is to diminish him as a Rebbe (says a brilliant shiur but not-emulation worthy)and his students (who w/o overt instructions should be able to pick up lessons b’derech dai l’khakeemah b’rmeeza )

    There is much that SB writes here that I disagree with vehemently. Yet over the first year of this blog I have come to respect him for his incredible b’kius in the Torah and works of his Rebbe and his dedication to realizing his Yiddishkeit in a way that is consistent with that indisputably (though one may be a respectful dissenter from his shittos) great man’s Weltanschauung as evidenced in so many of Steve’s comments.

  7. I read the entire article and that is why I commented. You make it sound like it is a groyseh inyon to be koveah a thanksgiving seudah according to those that are mattir. Fine, Rav Soloveitchik made a thanksgiving dinner. Did he ever publically tell other people to do so? If you want to make one, mah tov u’mah naim. I wouldn’t make a whole religion out of it.

  8. Michoel-Read R Broyde’s article.Take a look at the view of RYBS cited therein. It is well known that RYBS always gave an early shiur and went home for Thanksgiving Dinner.


    This link from several months back on BeyondBT from some guy named Michoel. There are good points made in both directions regarding your issue. Personally, I agree with your wife. Seeing non-kosher being eaten (at young age) can weaken their sensitivities. Hearing about it is somewhat different. See over there for some good counter-points from Menachem Lipkin and others.

  10. Steve,
    You wrote:
    “Assuming that one accepts the view that one should celebrate the day as a form of Hakaras HaTov for the amazing religious liberties and freedoms that Jews enjoy here”

    Just in case someone doesn’t go to the linked article, I want to point out that your view is not stated in any of the views in the article. Two of the opinions permit to observe Thanksgiving but neither (at least in segments quoted there) give your reasoning. I am sure you didn’t intend to misrepresent anyone but it is good to be clear.

    Great post, Steve. Thanks

  11. Daniel-If I were you, I think that you and your wife should consult a rav on this issue for a resolution that meeds the expectations of one’s non-observant family members and your wife’s objections.

  12. Here’s an issue I haven’t seen addressed – it applies to Thanksgiving and any other get-together with non-observant family. We have a 3 1/2 year old and my wife is very much against us going to any family function where the host is not serving kosher food to everyone. She says that seeing Jews eating non-kosher is bad chinuch for our child. I say, its family, and our child has to learn at some point that his extended family/other Jews don’t keep kosher. (We’re sitting this Thanksgiving out.)

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