Jewish prayers to recite on Thanksgiving
(A) “Thanksgiving Day” “Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayerbook”, p.79, CCAR, 1977, Ed. Chaim Stern.
(B) Some rabbis have proposed this order of tefilot: Page numbers are from “Siddur Sim Shalom” (Ed. Jules Harlow, 1985). Most can also be found in the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Weekday Prayer Book” (Ed. Gershon Hadas), the “Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book” (Ed. Morris Silverman.), “Siddur Hadash” (Ed. Sidney Greenberg) and Siddur Sim Shalom.
a) Pslam 100 (Mizmor L’Todah) [p.60]
b) Prayer for Thanksgiving. p.816. One version has verses from Psalms, Ben Sirah/Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah
c) “America: Founded on Biblical precepts”, p.821-823. Verses from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and Biblical verses which inspired these documents.
d) Shulkan Orekh: The Thanksgiving meal
f) End with the traditional grace after meals (Birkat HaMazon)
Some Orthodox rabbis hold that there are issues with Jews observing Thanksgiving as a holiday – as “observing a holiday” is a theological and halakhic issue within Judaism. This isn’t an issue of fundamentalism; they are asking deep questions about (a) what does it mean when the government asks us to observe a holiday in general, (b) especially one involving prayer, and (c) does accepting this annual celebration as obligatory become tantamount to adding a new holiday to the Jewish calendar?
The majority in Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism accept Thanksgiving as valid and meaningful. An overview of the issue is here. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/is-thanksgiving-kosher/
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Jews should not say tachanun (penitential supplications) during Shacharit (morning prayers) on Thanksgiving.
Question: Why would Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, as we already give thanks every day in prayers?
Answer: Jews have three separate Thanksgiving / harvest festivals in Judaism: Shavuot (feast of weeks), Sukkot (feast of tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover).
The first Thanksgiving was actually based on Sukkot by the Pilgrims, who were very much influenced by the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.)
Question: Why commemorate a holiday instituded by Pilgrims, as they were Protestant Christians, who neither shared our faith, nor shared our belief in religious and national freedom?
Answer: It is true that first Protestants that came here were not seeking a country in which to have religious freedom, but rather to have religious freedom for themselves only. All other religions, including all other forms of Christianity were anathema to them. Their thanksgiving was on July 8, 1630, and marked the first Thanksgiving of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However, this was only the beginning of an evolutionary process. Overa century later, the first issue of the First Continental Congress as they met at Carpenters Hall was “Can we open the business with prayer?” Despite their diversity of religions, after fierce debate, inspired by delegate Sam Adams, their first official act was prayer. The First Prayer Proclamation of 1775 asked the whole continent to set aside a day to pray and fast together. It had an electric effect, uniting the American people in spirit, a year before the Declaration of Independence.
The next act in the evolution of Thanksgiving was from the era of President George Washington. A few months after his inauguration, he issued “Presidential Proclamation Number One”, his Thanksgiving. He voiced his personal conviction that “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.” His last Thanksgiving in 1795 captures a nobility never exceeded by any president when he asks God to: “…impart all the blessing we posses, or ask for ourselves, to the whole family of mankind.”
Thanksgiving was celebrated by Americans for a number of years, but eventually fell into disuse. Then in 1863 president Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven…we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God.” He restored the neglected Presidential proclamations of prayer and thanksgiving during the tragic years of Civil War. “Intoxicated with unbroken success,” he wrote, “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and reserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in many years; since then every President has issued at least one a year. And it is _this_ which is the root of the modern Thanksgiving.
Some material quoted and adapted from the Thanksgiving Square homepage: