Jews and Thanksgiving
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
There are strong historical connections between Judaism and Thanksgiving. Most of the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving were Puritans, a branch of the Protestant faith. The Puritans strongly identified with the historical traditions and customs of the Israelites in the Bible.
In their quest for religious freedom, the Puritans viewed their journey to America as exactly analogous to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean their Red Sea, and the Puritans were the Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land. In fact, most of the Puritans had Hebrew names and there was even a proposal to make Hebrew the language of the colonies!
Of course, the main theme of the holiday of Thanksgiving comes from the name itself, reminding us of the importance of giving thanks. Saying “thank you” is a primary Jewish value. When a Jew sits down to eat, he or she says: “Blessed are you God, for bringing bread from the earth.” To say a blessing over bread affirms that God played a role in creating the universe where the sun rises each day, and the rain falls and the growth of food is possible.
On this Thanksgiving, when we are gathered around the table, I might suggest that we offer a special blessing: Blessed are you God, who has given us the bounty of food and the blessing of family.”
(10:8 Deuteronomy(י (וְ אָ כַלְ תָ ָּ֖ וְ שָ בָ ָ֑ עְ תָָּ֖ ּוב ֵֽ רַ כְ תָ ָּ֖ אֶ ת־יְ הוָ ָ֣ה אֱ ֹלהֶֶ֔ יָך עַ ל־הָ אָ ָ֥ רֶ ץ הַ טֹּ בָ ה אֲשֶ ָ֥ ר נֵָֽ תַ ן־לֵָֽ ְך׃
Give thanks to the Lord for your food and for the good land HE has given you.