Thanksgiving and Halacha By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times Some call it the great MO versus Yeshivish Community Divide. However, the question has not yet entered the list of “Shidduch questions” that are generally posed to parents of children who have now entered the phase of dating. Is it halachically proper to formally celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner with one’s family? This is not to say that the Yeshiva community does not express appreciation for the wonderful freedoms that this country has championed both for its citizens and for peoples throughout the world. The greatest of our Rabbis have stated that the United States is a “malchus shel Chessed – a Kingdom of Lovingkindness” and that our thoughts and prayers should express appreciation for the wonderful nation in which we live. Indeed, one Rosh Yeshiva once stated, “I would rather be a street-sweeper in America where I have the religious freedom to learn Torah, than a Rabbi in Communist Russia.” THE QUESTIONS The questions rather, however, are, is it permitted to express one’s appreciation within the context of following the rituals of the Thanksgiving holiday? We may further ask, what is the exact nature of the Thanksgiving holiday? From a halachic perspective, is it a religious holiday or a secular holiday? And what, exactly, is the halachic definition of a religious holiday? It is clear that these are the questions that must be resolved and addressed. They must be addressed using logic and reason rather than emotion. No question of law or halacha should be addressed with emotion as the underlying motivation, as noble as the motivation may be. Each person should, of course, address the question to one’s own Rav or Posaik. So, let us begin. The issue at hand is the prohibition of “Ubechukosaihem lo sailechu” (VaYikra 18:3). What are its ramifications? The Shulchan Aruch and Rama (Yore Deah 178:1) discuss the parameters: “We do not walk in the customs of the Ovdei Kochavim..(Ramah) Rather, one should be separate from them in one’s dress and in his other actions. This is only prohibited in matters that they do which involve immodesty.. or in a matter that they do as a custom or law with no basis to it.. and it contains within it a smattering of Avodas Kochavim that they have from their ancestors..” The underlying issue is, therefore, does the holiday in question contain within it a smattering of Avodas Kochavim that they have from their ancestors? THE DIFFERENT VIEWS The Gedolim have issued their opinions on the matter. Rav Yitzchok Hutner clearly forbade the celebration of Thanksgiving (heard from his student, Rabbi Yaakov Feitman), while Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Mordechai Gifter had more lenient approaches. TRANSLATION OF RAV MOSHE’S RESPONSUM Below is a translation of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s view found in his Igros Moshe (YD 4:11). “And in the matter of participating with those who consider Thanksgiving as a sort of holiday to make a feast. It would seem that: (1)Since in the books of their religion this day is not mentioned as a holiday, and also that they are not obligated in holding a meal and; (2)Since it is a day of commemoration for the people of the country, in which he is also happy in the country that he came to … Continue reading Thanksgiving and Halacha By Rabbi Yair Hoffman