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.