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Thanksgiving

Practices and Prayers for Thanksgiving

Excerpted from Thanksgiving Practices and Prayers by Rabbi Haim Ovadia.

1. Even when they were under the heel of Babylonia, the empire which destroyed the First Temple, the Jews were directed by the prophet Jeremiah to settle in the land, prosper and succeed, and pray for the well-being of the Empire, for “when it has peace, you will have peace.” Our Sages also taught us in tractate Avoth, or the Teachings of our Fathers that: “one should always pray for the welfare of the government, for if not for fear of the government, society would have deteriorated into chaos.” Therefore, in all of their wanderings, the Israelites used to pray for the well-being of the local government, even when they were persecuted and marginalized. As a matter of fact, the famous prayer for Kings was first written, ironically, in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain. This is what Jews did under oppressive and hostile regimes, so there is a much greater obligation for those of us who, thank God, live under benevolent and just governments, to show gratitude to the Creator and solidarity with all citizens of our country. American Jews particularly should acknowledge the great miracle of the discovery of America and the subsequent founding of the United States of America. We must thank God for delivering us from belligerent and oppressive regimes and creating for us a safe haven, where we were given an unprecedented freedom of religion (there were exceptions, but they cannot compare to what we have experienced in the past). We also thank God for the United States’ unwavering support of the State of Israel, and the knowledge that it is our ally in the quest for peace and democracy.

2. For that reason American Jews, as well as Jews everywhere, should thank and praise God on the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Those who celebrate it in the traditional American way, with turkey, pumpkin pie, etc., are fulfilling the Mitzvah of showing gratitude. They also sanctify God's name as they show solidarity, loyalty, and comradery.

3. Even though eating turkey is customary, if one chooses not to do so because of dietary restrictions, health concerns, or on moral grounds, one could eat instead tofu-turkey or an all vegetarian meal. Even on Shabbat and Yom Tov, the Halakha exempts people from eating under such circumstances. 

4. There are those who say that one should not celebrate Thanksgiving because of the atrocities committed against the original inhabitants of the land, the Native Americans. It is true that this is a shameful chapter in American history, and one which should never be forgotten. However, the main idea of the holiday is to give thanks for the opportunity to find refuge from the religious and oppressive regimes of the Old World. One should therefore tell the full story of Native Americans on Thanksgiving, and find a way to contribute towards causes important to them.

5. One should not say Tahanun (supplications) on Thanksgiving because it is a festive day, and the prayer for the well-being of the government and the nation should be recited when the Torah is taken out of the Ark. The rabbi or cantor should recite a psalm of their choice (for example: 8, 24 or 46), as well as the following prayer: At the time of the wicked Torquemada, and Fernando and Isabel of Spain, all Jews were forced to abandon their religion or face torture and death. Many were tortured and executed and many more Jewish refugees perished in their excruciating journey out of Spain and Portugal. You have guided Bene Anusim, to discover a new world and a safe haven for them. The founding fathers then established a country based on the eternal values of Your Torah and declared freedom of religion for all humans. Though they have initially committed the sin of slavery, they were able to amend the constitution and to recognize the equality of all humans and their creation in the Image of God. More than any country or nation in history, The United States has proven itself to be a loyal ally and protector of the Jewish People and the State of Israel. May You continue to guard and assist this great nation and your faithful people in their quest for peace and democracy and in annihilating evil from the world. We thank You for Your great mercy and miracles and we praise Your name forever. Amen.


Happy Thanksgiving!

For a Special Thanksgiving Service in the Spanish and Portuguese custom by Hakham Dr. David De Sola Pool Click HERE

For George Washington's letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport click HERE

For more thoughts on Thanksgiving click HERE 
 

Sat, December 14 2019 16 Kislev 5780