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What's Jewish About ThanksGiving?

11/19/2018 12:28:43 PM


What would Thanksgiving be without the hearty meal and football on TV…While football on TV is a relatively recent Thanksgiving tradition, the meal and the thanks we offer to God on that day have deep roots within Jewish tradition.  In fact, more generally, food and prayer are deeply entwined throughout Jewish practice

Giving thanks for our food is an integral part of Judaism.  We recite perhaps  the best-known blessing before eating bread … which ends with the words HaMotzi lechem min ha’artetz, which praises God for bringing forth bread from the earth.  The pilgrims who arranged the first Thanksgiving meal were following the long-held idea in the Talmud which teaches, “It is forbidden to benefit from this world without uttering a blessing,” (BT Talmud Brakhot 35a-b).  Similarly, the Book of Psalms states, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein” (Psalms 24:1). These teachings remind us that God has allowed us to benefit from the world, and we must not take its blessings for granted.  Rabbi Meir used to teach that a person should recite 100 blessings per day to express sufficient gratitude for the world to God.  However, whether we recite one blessing or one 100 blessings each day, saying a blessing can heighten our awareness of the wonders in our daily lives and help us to respond to them with gratitude.  In our tradition, every day there is something to be thankful for and if you actively seek out that reason to be thankful and acknowledge it with a little prayer, our view on life will be decidedly more positive. In these anxious times, the notion of seeking out the positive has seldom been more relevant.

This year, before we settle down for our Thanksgiving meal, it’s a good time to recall that the rabbis did not allow Jewish celebrations to begin until the community’s poor were seated and fed. The Jerusalem Talmud includes the following commandment, “In a city where non-Jews and Jews live, the tzedakah collectors collect from Jews and non-Jews and support Jewish and non-Jewish poor; … to promote the ways of peace.”   It’s a worthy goal that drives organizations like MAZON (, which is a Jewish nonprofit agency that allocates donations from the Jewish community to prevent and alleviate hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds.  MAZON was founded by Jewish leader Leonard Fein who noticed the disparity between lavish Jewish community celebrations and the rampant hunger throughout the world So this year, as we go about preparing our Thanksgiving meals, let's recall this teaching and consider donating to MAZON as a way of giving thanks for the abundance we enjoy on Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

As we come upon Thanksgiving week, take the time to look at the world around you and think about all the things there are to give thanks for. Enjoy your friends, family and good health and the little wonders we see each day if only we pay attention. May you all have a wonderful holiday filled with love, laughter, good food and of course, a little Jewish learning and tzedakah thrown in as well… 😊

Interested in this topic? Here is another article about the historical links between Judaism and Thanksgiving....

Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782