What Issues are You Confronting This Thanksgiving?

What issues will you be confronted with on Thanksgiving?

Kosher food issues.

Inappropriate discussions.

Inappropriate dress.

Hostility towards Orthodoxy.

General discomfort.

Everything is fine.

And if you don’t have any issues to share, here’s our BBT Thanksgiving Roundup from last year.

It’s clear that Thanksgiving is an “issue” for many Baalei Teshuvah. In addition to Neil Harris’ Being Thankful for Thanksgiving, the issue has come up in numerous posts and comments. We have highlighted some of those posts and comments below.

In Can You Really Get Everything You Want at Alice’s Restaurant?
, Rachel Adler sought advice on her first Thanksgiving in someone else’s non-kosher home:

“Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was one of the few holidays that I could spend at home with my family. For the past 10 or so years, we’ve hosted our extended family for Thanksgiving, with our cousins from New Jersey, California, and sometimes even Guatemala coming to the meal. Usually there are over 20 people. This was convenient when I started keeping kosher, since my parents started keeping a kosher house and no one had to make any special arrangements for me… I have a younger cousin, who just got accepted to Washington University in St. Louis, where she’ll be going next year. She’s among the cousins who usually visit us for Thanksgiving. This year, however, her parents want to host Thanksgiving since this is the first time she’s been away from her family and they want her to be able to go home for her first school break. This is understandable, but when my mom told me this yesterday, I asked “What am I going to eat? And what about Shabbat?”… My cousins don’t have a kosher kitchen and, as far as I know, they don’t even know how to keep kosher (besides the basics of no milk and meat) since they, unlike my parents, were never raised keeping kosher… I know that this would be a good opportunity for me to do a kiddush Hashem if I can figure out a way to make this work without causing strife. I really love my cousins. I just have no clue what to do. Any advice?”

Some advice from the comments:



If your aunt is open to you bringing your own food that is what I usually do in these circumstances. In my experience, it is better to discuss this directly with your hosts than have your parents advocate for you. Thanksgiving is usually celebrated Thursday afternoon, right? Could you be with your family Wednesday and Thursday night and then go to an observant family for Shabbat? …I have been doing stuff like this with my family for several years, and I have found that there is usually a way to compromise. I think you are taking a great attitude by thinking of the potential for kiddush Hashem.

Bob Miller:

As an aside, the kosher traveler can now find packaged kosher items in virtually every supermarket, convenience store, and Wal-Mart in the US. La Briute self-heating TV dinners are available in some stores and on-line (check www.labriutemeals.com )

Out of Town:

Thanksgiving can be a difficult holiday for BTs. I know my parents were very offended when I wouldn’t eat the turkey at their house when I started becoming frum. I would definitely agree that you should talk to the hosts in advance and warn them that you will be bringing your own food. Those La Briute meals are pretty good and I think they even have a turkey one. Another option is to either buy or make a meal at home, freeze it, then heat it up at their house. Or, maybe you could volunteer to bring one of the side dishes, that way you will have something to eat that everyone else will eat, then just bring your own turkey or whatever. Good luck!


I have the same problem as well…

I would first discuss the situation with the appropriate family members. If you are comfortable, discuss the issue with the hosts. Since you love them and I am sure they love you, they will be happy to help come up with a compromise. This is a ‘better’ situation than one where the hosts refuse to compromise at all. I have done this in the past, and I have found it to be extremely helpful as it eliminates surprises and opens the lines of communication and sets expectations. Especially since Thanksgiving is an eating-oriented holiday, no one would want you to be left out of the eating.

Determine what is the most that you can do on your end. Bring a cold salad, plates & utensils, dessert, appetizers, etc. Do the max that you can do. When we went to a non-kosher house for Thanksgiving last year, I brought appetizers, side dishes, and dessert to ensure that we would at least have something to eat!

Include your family in your Shabbat plans. Since it’s also a family-oriented holiday, maybe your relatives would like to ‘do’ Shabbat with you, or whatever. See what their thoughts are. Maybe you can organize something! (which may be a relief for the hostess from all the cooking)

Now may be the time to be creative… It is obvious that you are willing to do that which maintains family harmony while also staying true to yourself. Being honest will help with that. Good luck!


Something that is definitely worth doing is really learning about kashrut, the foundations behind the halacha, and the very practical end of kashrut (what must have a heksher and what products don’t need a heksher, what is considered sharp/hot and what is not, steam, kashering burners, ovens, microwaves, bishul, and more).

As it is said, knowledge is power, and with some ingenuity, resources, and knowledge, it is more than possible to create kosher meals in a non-kosher home without upsetting everyone.

Goodluck and enjoy Palo Alto. The frum community there is very nice.


Ah – Thanksgiving, the holiday of the BT :) . At least it is for our families.

Neither my, nor my husband have parents with kosher kitchens, yet we have managed to make a totally kosher Thanksgiving meal in their homes. Self cleaning ovens, tin pans, disposable plates and ’silverware’ with maybe a few pots brought in. If your relatives are game, it can be done. This also prevents the issue of ‘why do you have different food’ and ‘what, did I contaminate your food with my fork?’ and so on.


Shayna spoke about how she “lost Thanksgiving” in Painfully Cutting Ties to the Past and the commentors offered support and some insight on the halachic parameters of the holiday.

Thanksgiving was supposed to remain a lifeline with my Before Teshuva world. At first, I stubbornly held on to New Year’s, defiantly rationalizing that we live by the secular calendar, too. But in truth, I’d long been uncomfortable with the idea that we kept our dates by their relation to the death of the Christian deity. (That’s pretty weird for a supposedly secular country.) Halloween was no great loss with the introduction of Purim. And, on Fourth of July, I usually serve my family something sweet and patriotically decorated and take the kids to a quiet spot to watch fireworks.

Then I lost Thanksgiving.

Rabbaim have poskuned that Thanksgiving has non-Jewish roots. Someone unhelpfully provided us with a pamphlet spelling out the problem. And since no one in the kids’ yeshivas does it, and, more importantly, I’ve lost my rebellious spirit in the realization that no matter how much I bristle, the frum way is usually best, after all…we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either.

And now I feel a loss on that late November Thursday. I miss the politically uncorrect Pilgrims, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Milchig.

Some advice from the comments:


It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Thanksgiving is a “treif” holiday. There was a diversity of opinion among gedolim in the last century on the subject. Rabbi Michael Broyde wrote an excellent analysis of the subject which you can read here http://www.tfdixie.com/special/thanksg.htm

There are enough things baalei teshuva must give up without going overboard and giving up things we don’t have to.


See my response to another post on a similar topic on the suitability of Thanksgiving for BT’s!

Also, I think that some ties must be cut, and other ties do not need to be, or should not be. Here one needs the advice of a posek who “gets it” and who is familiar with your family situation in most cases. We should strive to make “yesses” wherever possible.

This year my parents could not make it,so we were spared some stress with non-Jewish cousins. But my wife still made some traditional dishes, and we talked about Squanto and mekoras hatov.

On the other hand, she refused to make me roast chestnuts, which my Dad always insists on- oh well.

David Linn:

Great comment. I wholeheartedly agree with the need to find a possek or rav who is familiar with one’s particular background and avoid making decisions, especially regarding restrictions, without first asking (we will be discussing the issue of finding a rav a sometime over the next few weeks). Sorry about the chestnuts, Melech.

Shayna – I think that the fact that no other kids in the yeshiva are celebrating is not, in and of itself, a reason not to do it. Sure, we feel peer pressure and we don’t want our kids to be singled out or made fun of. At the same time, we also need to teach are kids the importance of family and permissive individuality.

We are perhaps one of a handful of families in our school that actually has a Thanksgiving meal (my mother made a mean turkey this year, delicious!). At the same time, I think we would certainly be considered “more to the right” than the overwhelming majority of families in the school when it comes to many other social and parenting issues. My wife and I are constantly struggling to strike the balance where our kids understand that just because we don’t allow a particular activity until a certain age and their friends’ parents do doesn’t mean that we are better or frumer than they are. I think that equips them to handle the “peer pressure” when we do things that others don’t, i.e. Thanksgiving.

Teaching tolerance isn’t easy but as BTs that has got to be a priority especially when half of us are here complaining about how many sectors of the FFB world are intolerant of us.

All the talk of turkey and sushi on this site is making hungry!

Moshe Silver:

Hey, BT! Lighten up! FYI, what we now observe as Secular New Year’s Day – 1 January – was observed in the ancient world before the birth of Christianity, and was co–opted by the Church. The reason Christmas Day falls eight days before the New Year has to do with making the beirth of the year correspond with the circumcision of Baby J. As to Thanksgiving, one way to look at it is to say it has Christian Roots. Another way is to recognize that its roots really lie in the quest for relgious freedom. I believe it was the Chofetz Chaim who exhorted his own children to go to America, stating that the future of religious Judaism would be there. The Founders of this country were more religion-oriented and G-d oriented than they were Christian oriented. They were Deists and Freemasons, for whom belief in a Deity superseded adherence to a religion. To this day, there is no country on earth more positively disposed towards religious observance, and more religiously tolerant. You couldn’t be a BT in most other countries in the world – not throughout human history, and not even today – without exposing yourself to physical danger. Here, all you have to worry about is embarrassing yourself by not knowing when to stand up and sit down during the services. Are you going to pasken yourself out of recognizing the blessing that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has given us, to be able to be BTRs in the world today? Or are you, like me, going to embrace the one holiday that celebrates G-d and belief, and America all at once?


Rivkah cut to the chase with her American Holidays – Thanksgiving Survival Guide, really short version

For the last several years I have not had to face being around my family during any of the chagim because I had lived in Israel. Saying no to attending family holidays, for many people it is an extremely difficult burden to face. How do you say no when it is family? But how can you say yes to the Pesach Family Seder that lasts about 15 minutes and the Rosh Hashanah Meal both First and Second Night that isn’t kosher or Sukkot Chol Hamoed Lunch that isn’t in a Sukkah even when it isn’t raining. It is so hard because we love our family and we bend over backwards not wanting to alienate them from frumkite, chas v’shalom. But lets face it…knowing that the chagim are all about our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu and we just can’t get “there” to the loftiest of places in a home where there isn’t Kiddusha…or at least the brand of Kiddusha we need especially on a Yom Tov.

So how do you get out of the holiday of Thanksgiving? It never falls on a Shabbat…ok and it isn’t a Yom Tov… no problem there. The truth is, at least for me, Turkey-Day is the one holiday I don’t want or need to “get out of”. This year, for the first time in many years, I was able to and did attend the Family Thanksgiving Dinner. So here is my Survivors Guide, really short version, to spending Thanksgiving (or July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, New Years Day fill in the blank __ Day) with your family.

It is really important that you are able to do the most important thing on Thanksgiving and that is of course EAT. Waking up early on Thanksgiving, my kosher turkey went in the oven. Quickly the house was filled with all the smells of my childhood. I made everything I needed to feel good at the table… I was able to sit next to my cousins (of course still at the children’s table) and stuff my belly with yummy Thanksgiving delicacies. I even had enough leftovers at home in the fridge to feel very American on “Black Friday”. The mashed potatoes were my “contribution” to the cornucopia feast. Of course they were parve. I couldn’t bring the traditional buttery potatoes to set along side the table of turkey and spiral-cut-you-know-what! At the end of the evening as we all reclined in our chairs, everyone wanted to know how I made the yummy dilled mashed fluffy stuff. They were all stunned to hear about my secret to make them creamy with out milk or butter (margarine and light mayonnaise). Smiling to myself I thought of my own theory. They tasted so yummy because they were the only kosher thing on the table…of course other than my shiny aluminum pan, double wrapped foil peeled back filled with all the essentials: half a turkey breast, a mini portion of yams with marshmallow, challah stuffing, string bean casserole and of course parve mashed potatoes. FYI … you can follow the Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the label but instead of condensed milk, replace with soy milk and Rich’s cream frozen.

Some advice from the comments:



You did all that on a Thursday night? I am impressed. Did you have turkey for Shabbos?


Thanksgiving is the last holiday one should try to “get out of”. In my mother’s extened family there are/were two huge gathering each year that go back at least 2 generations; Pesach Sedar and Thanksgiving. Both gatherings included 3 to 4 generations, often 50 or more people.

As soon as I became frum the Pesach sedar had to go as it was not even kosher let along pesadik. It just wasn’t an option.

Thanksgiving was another story. Since driving and housing were not an issue, I saw no reason not to continue attending this annual “seudah” in order to maintain ties with my extended family. It was usually held in a treif restaraunt and for a few years my mother would order special meals for us (my two siblings and I, and later my wife). Later on we decided to forgo the special meals as they were more hassle than they were worth and we realized the main thing was just to be together with family, not the eating.

David Linn:

I’ve been doing Thanksgiving at my Mother’s the past 15 or so years (that’s a lot of Turkey!) I’m fortunate in the fact that my Mother is now Shomer Shabbos (a story for another time) and kashrus is not an issue.

If you’re going somewhere where you can’t eat, make sure to bring something that you can eat and that everyone else can eat as well!

Conversation is just as importnat as food. O.K., almost as important as food. O.K., conversation is important too. Thanksgiving is just not the time to synopsize the daf for your non-frum cousin. Neither is it the time to sit on the side with your head buried in a sefer. Try to find common ground. If you follow sports and your family does too, voila. Reminiscences of childhood days may work (if you have good ones). Bottom line is to give it some thought before you get there.


Hey, one of my favorite topics! I once heard an FFB make a crack to a very chashuv Rav, “Jews don’t do Thanksgiving, we thank Hashem _every_ day.” The Rav- very insightful and knew who he was speaking to said, “So what’s wrong with taking one day and doing it a little more?”

In my family, Thanksgiving persists because it provides few challenges. True, it has to be at our house so we can ensure the kashrus, but that’s not a challenge to my non-frum family and some of their non-Jewish spouses. We get together, eat, thank G-d for obvious blessings, sit around and talk, and don’t watch any football since we don’t own a TV. Then they all leave.

My own Rav has told me on many occaisions that BT’s have to work hard to find “yesses” since so much of what we do becomes “no’s” for them. Thanksgiving is a very easy “yes.”

Except when my wife served turkey on shabbos, my son, then 5 or 6, “poskened” “You’re not allowed to serve leftovers from a goyishe holiday for shabbos!”

That’s BBT’s, folks.

Oh, and there’s no kiruv either.

Originally published on 11/18/2006

25 comments on “What Issues are You Confronting This Thanksgiving?

  1. Thanks to Charles B. Hall for his informative post about how the first synagogue in New York City (which I assume was Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue) adopted the idea of Thanksgiving Day back in 1789. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews were grateful to Gd for escaping the dreaded Inquisition (which did not end until the 1800’s) as much as Polish Jews in 1920 were grateful for escaping pogroms and German Jews in 1933 were grateful for escaping Hitler. Many rabbis have echoed the idea that American Jews should give thanks for being in this “medinah shel chesed,” this kindly nation that allows us to be Jews. Also, a big “thank you” to Neil Miller for his clever Dvar Torah on Tehillim 136, especially for pointing out that “hodu” means “turkey” in Ivrit. We Baalei-Teshuvah have a lot to be thankful for.

    As for actual Turkey Day observances, my nonreligious sister and her husband go to her husband’s cousins for Thanksgiving dinner, they never come here (that’s another week’s topic for discussion). So it looked as though my husband and I would just have a quiet day off resting at home. We actually wound up with three of the married children, two spouses, and six grandchildren invading the house. Since nobody can stand turkey (it’s not a frumkeit thing, it’s personal taste) we made broiled steak and broiled chicken with boiled corn on the cob. Everyone loved it; the company swirled in at 5 PM and was fed and happy and out of the house by 7 PM. My husband manned the broiler, tossing out done steaks and chicken pieces, and I was busy hugging the grandchildren as they ran past me holding their little corncobs. It was a simply wonderful Thanksgiving Day, minus the turkey.

  2. “May HaShem give us all the insight and strength we need to weed out foreign ways that creep into our lives (including thanksgiving observance).”

    Giving thanks to HaShem is goyish? Chas v’shalom!

  3. I second most of Gary’s post, notwithstanding the attire of some of the women present which was not Bderech Tznius under even the most Meikil of Halachic views. That being the case, one should never confuse Thanksgiving with Shabbos or any of the Yamim Tovim. IMO, anyone who views it as anything more than a nice day to spend some time with relatives and a nice meal may be able , as noted by R M Shapiro,ZL, the founder of Daf Yomi, to make Kiddush, but grossly unable to make Havdalah.

  4. What issues will you be confronted with on Thanksgiving?

    Kosher food issues.

    Inappropriate discussions.

    Inappropriate dress.

    Hostility towards Orthodoxy.

    General discomfort.


    Everything WAS fine.
    However, I often encounter one of more of the above issues at “frum” events such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and fundraisers, and rarely leave with the feeling that everything was fine.

  5. Bob

    WOW so when are you moving to Israel? it seems that could be the only place for you.

    Whats keeping you – the water is fine here


  6. In response to Bab Miller’s request for sources for not eating fancy meals during weekdays:

    • Mezudath David,Commentary on Proverbs 23:20.
    • Rabbi Eliezer Papo,Peleh Yo’etz, Inyan Basar.
    • Rav Tvi Hirsch of Ziditchov,Sur MeRah V’Asei Tov, Prishus HaAchillah,p24.
    • Rav Yehudah Tiktin,Ba’er Heitiv on Orach Chaim 134:1,sect3.
    • Rav Avraham Azulai, Chesed L’Avraham, Nahar 6: the Mystery of the Purgatory of the Grave.
    • Various commentaries on Avot 6:4.

    (This is a very incomplete list). Eating fancy meals during the week is not ideal, and it is a common practice in Torah communities to limit consumption of delicacies during the week.

    In response to your second question about other American practices that perhaps I may do,you raise a good point which has some merit. The prohibition of “chukas goyim” is a much bigger issue than if it applies to thanksgiving day observance. All of of hopefully are growing and eliminating goyishe customs and practices in our lives that have naturally crept in since we live in exile in a foreign land.May HaShem give us all the insight and strength we need to weed out foreign ways that creep into our lives (including thanksgiving observance).

  7. Reuven

    1. What are the sources for never eating “fancy” meals on weekdays other than specifically for Jewish simchas?

    2. Do you do or wear anything whatsoever that looks specifically American?

  8. While there are different viewpoints on the celebrating thanksgiving issue,I am opposed to the idea and don’t do so personally. We are forbidden to “go in the way of the nations” which many Torah sages interpret as a prohibition against “observing” non-Jewish holidays such as Thanksgiving.Thanksgiving is an American holiday not celebrated in other places. American Jews are not Americans, but Jews who temporarily are living in the United States until returning home to Israel.Celebrating Thanksgiving is encouraging assimilation into a foreign culture and will only bind us closer to goyim in America through the shared experience,and separate us from Jews around the world who don’t have a Thanksgiving experience.Also, eating a fancy meal (seudah)is only appropriate for Jewish simchas,not on a regular day of the week.

  9. It’s almost comical how some Jews go on about the “goyishness” of Thanksgiving. Are they similarly agitated when some of our people are found to have absorbed Esav’s manners in financial and interpersonal matters? Agitated about the crime, that is, not about its exposure.

  10. I dont understand what would be the problem with thanksgiving – it is just an excuse to have a large meal, watch some sports or perhaps its a wonderful life, and be together with family, no religion required.

    “It is altogether fitting that Jews join fellow Americans in observing a day of Thanksgiving to the Almighty for all the blessings He has bestowed upon this country. Jews, in particular, have much reason to thank God for the opportunities and freedoms granted to us in the United States.”


  11. What about eating too much food?

    Many of us are already overweight, the last thing we need is another holiday when we overload on food.

    Since Thanksgiving is Thursday, that means eating a very large meal followed by large Shabbat meals only one day later.

  12. The idea that Thanksgiving is “non-Jewish” is at best misleading and at worst an outright falsehood. The small Jewish community in America enthusiastically embraced the very first official Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by President George Washington on 1789. The one synagogue in New York added additional psalms to their service that morning (I’ve been told that to this day they skip Tachanun), said a prayer for the government (in English!) and the sermon (also in English) by Gershom Mendes Seixas was so well received that he published it a few weeks later, making a Jew the author of the first American religious publication dealing with Thanksgiving Day. I found a copy of it, scanned it, and uploaded it to my facebook site. It is in the public domain so feel free to download it and distribute it.

  13. One problem BT’s with kids in yeshiva face is that many right-wing Yeshivos treat Thanksgiving as total treif: don’t you dare mention it, don’t you dare take off from school on it, etc. Since it’s a regular day of school except for no English, and Friday is a short day anyway, most frum parents wind up not traveling anywhere. Of course, getting off from work is always a treat, so we BT’s can go do chores for a few hours while our kids attend yeshiva like any other day. I was just looking at my kids’ old vaccination records; they ended up getting most of their shots on secular holidays, which was the only time I ever had to take them to the pediatrician. So much for dreams of turkey!

  14. WADR, the queries re this thread are posed as if getting together on one day which arguably has its origins not in Christian theology but in what we call Hakaras HaTov presents insurmountable obstacles as opposed to a great opportunity for Kiddush HaShem, which every Torah observant Jew who works out of their home confronts on a daily basis-FFB or BT. For those interested, R M Broyde has an excellent summary of the halachic and hashkafic issues re Thanksgiving

  15. Albany Jew,
    How about a d’var Torah based on the first few lines of Tehillim 136:
    Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov, Ki L’Olam Chasdo
    “Give thanks to Hashem for He is good, for His kindess endures forever”

    Hodu is Hebrew for turkey. :)

    al oeste: That is great!

  16. simple dvar tora from this week’s parsha would be to tie Leah’s naming of Yehudah— now I will praise the L-rd. why? because the 4th child is one more than her share.
    we are named jews-yehudim-children of judah; we should always have that attitude that Hashem has blessed us beyond what we could possibly deserve, and that includes the medina shel chessed that is the US of A

  17. AJ,

    But make sure you start eating the Turkey before Shkia (sundown), because there are many who are machmir (stringent) about this.

  18. one of these articles said that her rabbis forbade tgving for non-jewish origins

    this of course is the -haredi- position.
    in modern orthodox circles, of all branches of it , thanksgiving is a GIVEN.

    part of this is that Modern Orthodox jews live in america . haredi jews live either in europe
    or in the torah. i don’t mean physical existence–i mean metaphysical….

  19. Finishing all the cooking before sundown, um wait a minute, I don’t need to do that

    Actually, I do like to give a small, very unassuming D’var Torah, any suggestions?

    Other than that, with both my brothers coming, I have real competition for the food.

  20. Bob,
    Can I eat my Thankgiving meal and still be a prince? lol

    We’re have the meal with our closest friends (as we’ve done in the past) and bunking in with them for the long weekend.

    Our biggest issue will probably be, B”H, to cook enough so that we will have to make very little for Shabbos Kodesh.

    For me the highlight will be being able to catch up on what my kids have been learing in Chumash and Mishnayos.

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