kosher bookworm

Thanksgiving in the Jewish tradition


With the Thanksgiving holiday now upon us I would like to bring to your attention a wonderful and most informative literary work entitled, “Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience” (Encounter Books, 2016) by Melanie Kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Within this book we find the following piece of history that is of some interest:

“In his lovely book, ‘The Thanksgiving Ceremony,’ published in 2003, Edward Bleier, a Jew and the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe, describes a ritual he composed for use around the Thanksgiving table. Bleier’s 20 minute ceremony acknowledges G-d but is nonsectarian. The ceremony is inspired by the Passover Seder which celebrates the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt as told in the biblical book of Exodus. ‘The Thanksgiving Ceremony’ recounts the Pilgrim story, and includes brief readings from the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, a speech by Martin Luther King, and other notable American texts. It concludes with the singing of ‘America the Beautiful.’

“Bleier’s Thanksgiving ceremony reflects another aspect of Thanksgiving Day gratitude that has become part of the holiday: love of country. Since the Revolution, Thanksgiving has become a patriotic holiday, a time to give thanks for the blessings of liberty as enshrined in the American system of government.”

These sentiments are further reflected in an essay by Rabbi Marc Angel of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (he is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel — the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue — and was just appointed interim rabbi of the Lido Beach Jewish Center), entitled, “Thoughts for Thanksgiving,” in which he shares with us the following:

“When President Washington called for a day of Thanksgiving, Jews observed this day with joy and pride. At Shearith Israel, the Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas arranged a suitable service of prayer, and delivered an address in which he called upon Jews ‘to support that government which is founded upon the strictest principles of equal liberty and justice’.”

Further on, Rabbi Angel shares this personal sentiment:

“It is sometimes heard in Orthodox Jewish circles that Thanksgiving Day is a ‘non-Jewish holiday’ and should not be observed by religious Jews. This view is historically wrong and morally dubious. Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday for all residents of the United States, of all religions. Jews participated in Thanksgiving from the very beginning of the United States’ history.

“This holiday belongs to Jews as to all other Americans. 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 G-d for the opportunities and freedoms granted to us in the United States.”

With these sentiments in mind, we should note that within our daily is found the recitation of Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving.

In his classic commentary on this psalm, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, of blessed memory, teaches us the following:

“When one day in the new future that is to come, all things on earth will be in such an ideal state that there will be no more cause for prayers and offerings; even then, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving-offerings will never cease. For it would be only under such conditions that these acts would attain their true significance.

“Therefore, this Psalm of Thanksgiving is put here as a finale, as it were, to the preceding psalms which sang of the advent of the new era on earth.” 


Please note of the following related articles that you will surely find of interest:

•“Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims’ American Jewish Holiday,” by Ed Simon, at [].

•“The Untold Story of Jews and the First Thanksgiving,” by Marnie Winston-Macauley, at [].

•“The True Meaning of Thanksgiving,” by Daniel Horowitz, at [].