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SERMON: American Culture, Jewish Culture, Arab Culture

December 1, 2014

Should a Jew celebrate Thanksgiving? I know the answer seems obvious, but it’s not as obvious as it seems. Some of the major halachic sages of the 20th century disagreed on this question. After all, Thanksgiving can’t simply be dismissed as being a secular holiday, when American court decisions have ruled Good Friday and Christmas and Chanukah as being secular as well. So how is one to view Thanksgiving?

– On the one hand, my teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik, used to conduct the Talmud class for his students earlier on Thanksgiving Day so that he could fly home to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.

– Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said that as long as you don’t consider yourself obligated to eat turkey, then you can celebrate the holiday.

– But Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner felt that the establishment of an annual holiday that is based on the Christian calendar makes it a Gentile holiday and, therefore, a Jew should not observe Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Soleveitchik’s position has certainly become the most accepted one, although truth to say, in some Orthodox homes no big deal is made over the Thanksgiving meal. After all, Orthodox Jews have a Thanksgiving meal every Friday night with family, friends and all of the trimmings. I don’t remember Thanksgiving being a major event in my youth. In fact, I remember the first year we were married … Sherry invited her parents and mine for dinner on Thanksgiving Day … and served chicken cacciatore! READ MORE

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