Is Thanksgiving Kosher?

Applying Jewish law to Turkey Day.

Print this page Print this page

Like many areas of Jewish law where there is a diversity of legitimate approaches, individuals should follow the practices of their community, family or rabbi, all the while respecting and accepting as halakhicly permissible other community's practices. It is for the ability to respect and accept as legitimate the conduct of fellow observant Jews--sanctioned by rabbinic authority--that true thanksgiving to the Almighty is needed.

This article has so far avoided any discussion of normative halakhah. Such cannot, however, be avoided, at least in a conclusion. It is my opinion that this article clearly establishes that:

1)      Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with secular origins;

2)      While some people celebrate Thanksgiving with religious rituals, the vast majority of Americans do not;

3)      Halakhah permits one to celebrate secular holidays, so long as one avoids doing so with people who celebrate them through religious worship; and

4)      So long as one avoids giving the celebration of Thanksgiving the appearance of a religious rite (either by occasionally missing a year or in some other manner making it clear that this is not a religious duty) the technical problems raised by Rabbi Feinstein and others are inapplicable.

Thus, Halakhah permits one to have a private Thanksgiving celebration with one's Jewish or secular friends and family. For reasons related to citizenship and the gratitude we feel towards the United States government, I would even suggest that such conduct is wise and proper.

To most American Jews, even most Orthodox Jews, there is no question about the appropriateness of celebrating to Thanksgiving; to them, it is a secular holiday that represents values important in Judaism and in American culture. To many traditionalist Jews, however, commemorating any non-Jewish holiday raises questions about biblical and rabbinic law forbidding Jews to imitate non-Jewish customs and traditions. In the following article, the author looks at the question from this vantage point, demonstrating how one would apply halakhic (Jewish legal) reasoning to the issue of whether it is permissible for Orthodox Jews to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Michael Broyde

Rabbi Michael Broyde is an associate professor of law at Emory University and the rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills, Atlanta.