Halacha Berurah: Thanksgiving Celebrations and Adapting Customs of Akum


rabbi_bohmBy Rabbi Elli Bohm

Reviewed By HaRav Yisroel Belsky

It is vital to make two points clear at the onset of this article. Firstly, we will deal primarily with pagan worship.  Secondly, in this chapter we will not be discussing our affiliation with non-Jews on a personal level. In another article, we already discussed the requirement to help needy non-Jews, give charity to their poor, visit their sick, and bury their dead. The Torah requires one to be compassionate to all mankind.  The Gemara quotes a number of sages who displayed acts of respect and extended a supporting hand towards gentiles.    Additionally, the Gemara states that righteous gentiles have a share in the world to come.  Chazal repeatedly single out virtuous non-Jews as exemplars of appropriate behavior.   Nonetheless, in protection of the very essence of the Jewish religion, the Torah takes a strong stand to prevent any interaction with or benefit from other religious practices.

The Guidelines

The Torah writes ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו, forbidding one to follow the ways of the Akum. As an introduction to the discussion of this topic, the Rambam writes the following: “The Yid should be distinguished from them (i.e. from the Akum), and distinct in his dress and his actions just as he is different from them in his knowledge and in his understanding.” There is a major dispute among the Rishonim and Acharonim regarding the parameters of this issur, which customs are included and which are not. Firstly, the basic halacha is that any of the practices that akum have for their avodah zarah are forbidden to be done by Yiddin, even if Yiddin had practiced this prior to the Akum doing so. Furthermore, even if the Torah sanctions this as a Jewish practice, Yiddin may not continue doing so if this practice was subsequently adapted by the akum as a part of their idolatrous rituals. Tosafos discuss the usage of a matzeivah, a single stone upon which korbonos were brought. The use of a matzeivah in such a fashion is mentioned many times in Sefer Bereishis. Yet, the Torah in Sefer Devorim prohibits its use, since it was eventually adapted by the Akum for avodah zarah.

A Thanksgiving Celebration

At first glance, it would seem that the source of celebrating Thanksgiving was not for any religious reason, and was instituted merely as a token of thankfulness for the success of the colonies. Consequently, it would seem to fall under the guidelines of the Maharik and taking part in celebrating Thanksgiving should be permitted. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that he has questions with regard to halacha whether the fact that a few colonists decided to celebrate their success should be a valid reason to continue having a celebration on that day for many years after. Therefore, Rav Moshe writes that he is hesitant to permit it and recommends that one not establish Thanksgiving as a day on which to eat turkey each year. However, if the reason why one wishes to eat turkey is not because of Thanksgiving but because he received a free turkey from his company or from someone else, then it is certainly permitted without making a party. However, one who wishes to act even more stringently should eat it on another night. Rav Moshe writes that one should preferably not schedule a chasunah or a bar mitzvah on Thanksgiving or New Years if one can make it on a different night, since there may be a problem of maaris ayin. However, one is definitely permitted to make a seudah for a pidyon haben or for a bris milah, since it is obvious that the scheduling of the seudah on that day is not because of Thanksgiving.  If one would like to schedule a chasunah or a bar mitzvah seudah on Thanksgiving since it is a day that many people are home or come home early from work, he is permitted to do so. Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein himself attended numerous chasunas that were made on Thanksgiving.

{Rabbi Elli Bohm is a Rosh Chaburah at Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ and author of the Halacha Berurah publications}

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Playing Music in Shul  During Davening – Placing Flowers in Shul for Shevous – Wearing Modern Day Clothing – Placing Bimah in the Center of the Shul – Placing Flowers On a Gravestone – The Wedding Ring and the Proper Place for a Chupah – Speaking a Secular Language Building Structures that Resemble Churches -Covering Our Heads

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  1. It is well known that the Rav held a different position concerning Thanksgiving. He would specifically make a Seudas Hodo-oh on Thanksgiving.

    Another question is, if one does not say Tachanun (and some say Hallel)on Youm HoAtzmous and Youm Yerusholoyim, one should al achas kamo v’chamo, not say it on July 4th, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day! To give thanks to HaKodoush Boruch Hu that in America, Jews enjoy rights that even some in Israel want to outlaw (i.e. Sheenui Party and Bris Miloh).

  2. We should celebrate Thanksgiving Day and eat turkey exactly because of “the fact that a few colonists decided to celebrate their success” which opened the doors to today’s ultimate “Golden Era of Judaism and Torah” in America (and in the United States of America). We must also celebrate our freedom to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, even with Conventions and parades.

  3. PLease— we are celebrating as AMERICANS and thanking Ribono shel olam for this country – of which ALL of us are enjoyinging religious freedom. THe Jews – Yidden as the article keeps saying- are especially enjoying a freedom and growth unprecedented in any other part of the world- with perhaps the exception of erets Yisroel. So any opportunity to give thanks is appropriate – especially on the NATIONAL HOLIDAY of thanks when we are uniting as AMERICANS not as religious observers per se.
    After this article I will have a double serving of turkey.

  4. Thanksgiving can be seen as a proof that we have done our job to make the world aware that there is a Creator from whom we receive our sustenance. It is also a day in which we can observe hakarat tov – that this country has given us the opportunity to blossom.

  5. Any FFB that sits down to have a Thanksgiving seuda today lishem thanksgiving, is an immature baby! Goyim, I can understand. They don’t have a Shabbos, Yom Tov, Bris, sholom zachor, pidyon haben, sheva berachos, siyumim, etc… But frumah yidden?! We have a Seudahs Shabbos coming up in 30 hours!

  6. There is an excellent article (can be accessed online) regarding Thanksgiving in the Halachic sphere. There are three accepted ‘derachim’ written by Ravs zt”l Moshe, Hutner and JB Solevetchik. Good read, insightful for those who are intellectually curious.

  7. commentator #7 writes:
    “Good read, insightful for those who are intellectually curious.”

    Well, obviously this includes none of us regular Matzav readers/contributors. We all just like to “ployter” on and on about what I heard, what I think, and what I feel, and in staying in line with the “party line” w

  8. Well said #5, member of the tribe. From what I heard, Rav Soloveitchik, z’t’l, would have Thanksgiving dinners, but sporadically. In other words, one year, yes, and another, he might be committed to other things, so as not to make it a fixed yom tov date, so not to, c’v, compare it to a YomTov.