Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz
There has been much talk about Thanksgiving in Jewish circles.
“To participate or not to participate”; that is (just one of) the (many) questions.
As I have mentioned before, I probably get more questions about ‘Hilchos Thanksgiving’ than about Hilchos Chanukah!
The reason is simple.
Since so many of ‘us’ come from homes where Thanksgiving is ‘celebrated’ and many of our ‘not-yet’ (?) frum relatives can drive on Thanksgiving without any halachik question, it certainly is a convenient time for families to share quality time together.
And that is good-Families should spend time together.
Yes, I know, that others claim, ‘Well, you can spend Chanukah together and relatives can drive on Chanukah as well’.
That is true; however, both “Chanukah Sundays” this year have candle lighting in the evening (December 6th and 13th) and that obviously limits ‘our’ ability to travel to non-frum relatives.
Therefore, today, the legal holiday of Thanksgiving affords many of us the opportunity to get together with parents, friends and relatives in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.
If you are ‘participating’ in the festivities, I have one piece of unsolicited advice for all of you:
When you go to your ‘not-yet-frum-almost frum-long-shot becoming frum-’ relatives and your realize that they have made a serious attempt to make you and your family feel comfortable; e.g. they bring in kosher food; they don’t mind if you bring your own food; they kosher the kitchen for the day; they allow you to cook for all…. Then please, please respond accordingly. Show your gratitude!!!!
Meaning, HaKoras HaTov (GRATITUDE) is a MOST basic Jewish concept; and if your relatives have made an earnest attempt to make you and yours’ feel part of the family; then make sure you earnestly and sincerely express your gratitude to them!
In some ways I feel that Thanksgiving is a much better opportunity for ‘kiruv’ (whatever that means; perhaps we will deal with this in another Short Vort) than Chanukah or any ‘authentic’ Jewish holiday.
Why do I say that?
The reason is simple.
Most of us don’t enjoy being lectured or preached to.
  • Today is a day when you can show your ‘not yet/coming closer/almost there/far-away from becoming/ frum’ relatives that your becoming frum did not turn you into a Martian.
  • Today is a perfect day to show your relatives that you are still a caring, loving person who can engage in small talk and good quality regular family conversations with people who are wearing a Shaitel or have multiple earrings.
  • Today is a day where you can show your relatives that you still remember how Uncle Jerry carved the turkey and how all the kids would laugh and how Aunt Rose would make cranberry sauce and her hands would be red from the preparation.
  • Today you can show all that being frum is really being normal; and the first and best way to show this is to say ‘thank you’.
Appreciate what your mother is doing for you today to make you feel at home.
Appreciate the fact that your brother drove three hours just to see you.
Bring them ‘close’ to your heart; after all isn’t that what ‘kiruv’ (‘to bring closer’) is really all about?

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Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey. His book, “The Elephant in the Room,” is available either directly from the author or at


  1. The late R Harold (Tzvi) Kanatopsky taught for many years at BTA – Yeshiva University's Brooklyn High School. In his class he once told students that there is a proper Jewish way to celebrate Thanksgiving. After the meal, bentch with kavana.

    That's still the message which applies

  2. Hakarat hatov to G-d, is the foundation of Thanksgiving. As Jews, we are truely blessed to live in this medina shel chessed (a compassionate state) where we are legally first class citizens.

    We also have a halachik concept of Dina Shel Malchusa Dina, that decrees that we observant Jews must abide by the laws of our host country (assuming they don't conflict with halacha). In light of the fact that we have no offical state religion in the USA, every person is assumed to be thanking God as they elect to worship him/her. We too should be giving thanks to G-d for this wonderful country and not elect to distance ourselves from our fellow Americans by rejecting its traditional observance. Let us show our Jewish religious foundations of Hakarat Hatov and participate fully in recognizing G-d's blessing that he has bestowed and continues to bestow on this country in a traditional manner.

    President Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation includes the following verse; '…..To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God….'

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