Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Acculturation? Just Say "No Thanks(giving)"!

In which I fisk radio pundit and bestselling author Dennis Prager

In last weeks English Forward Mr. Prager opined that ALL American Jews celebrate a heartfelt Thanksgiving. In his op-ed piece he addresses the concerns of both Ultra-secular and Ultra-religious Jews who have yet to embrace Thanksgiving. While I can't appreciate or defend the ultra-secular POV I am, after all ,the Bray of Fundie and herewith fisk him as only someone ultra-religious can:

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite national holiday.
Mine has always been Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I guess it's G2 thing.

In fact, although I am a religious Jew (or rather, because I am a religious Jew), it rivals my favorite Jewish holidays for my affection.
Torah Judaism is a jealous lover. It tolerates rivals for affection poorly.

It does so because it is quintessentially American, it is deeply religious without being denominational
Study your history. Quintessential mainstream US culture was by turns, hostile to all non-Protestants and Jews until the 1950s and/or had replaced all denominations of X-tianity with a secular religion of "love of country". This secular religion was, arguably, the ultimate in replacement theology (cp Manifest Destiny, the Shining City on the Hill, "Zion" Utah etc.). While certainly less violent, US replacement theology has been no less dismissive of Judaism than historical Catholicism.
and it is based entirely on one of the most important, and noble, traits a human being can have — gratitude.
Agreed. Cp Khovos HaLevovos in Sha'ar Habekhina

It says an immense amount about America and its value system that it long ago began, and later officially enshrined, a national holiday just for the purpose of giving thanks.
Really? Does it say the same for a host of other countries that celebrate "thanksgivings" including Germany?
First, and most obvious, nowhere in Jewish history have we had it is as good for so long as we have had it in America.
Debatable. especially if we are makhmir like those historians who define the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry as lasting from 711 to the mid 1100s

No individuals or groups have better reason to celebrate Thanksgiving in America than we Jews.
A. If you view the Gilded-Golus America as an unmitigated boon you might have a point. But when you realize that "Brother Dearest" Esav can kill as adeptly with kindness as with cruelty, (click and scroll down to אור החיים הקדוש) if not more so, we ought to pause long and hard before extending an unqualified "Thank you"

B. Gee, I'd say that Japanese-Americans, German Americans and Muslim-Americans might have better reasons. All are members of ethnicities and/or faiths that have sworn death to the USA in the past and present, something that Jewish Americans have never sought to do. Yet they too enjoy full civil and human rights here. As such I think that they might just possibly owe an even greater debt of gratitude. Golus Jew! Your talking like an abused wife who is grateful that in her second marriage she found a spouse who only abuses her verbally instead of battering her physically.
Second, Thanksgiving is the one day of the year in which we Jews celebrate the same religious holiday with the rest of America.
Balderdash. Being American, and "celebrating things" in common with other Americans means respecting the constitution, a secular document, which erects a high wall between Church and State. It is not about shared religious experiences but about unique ones that protect each individuals freedom of conscience.

By definition, Jews do not share a religion with the non-Jewish majority of Americans. But we do share our God (the God of Creation and the God of Israel) with the Christian majority.
News to me. You mean that I share a theology in common with trinity believing Catholics and Protestants? Just remember that Unitarians believe in "the fatherhood of G-d the brotherhood of man and the neighborhood of Boston"! Their monotheistic beliefs do not extend much beyond Beantown

Obviously, while Jews may honor their non-Jewish friends’ celebrations of Christmas, Jews do not celebrate Christmas.
Why not? Because the holiday of X-mas celebrates something/someone that Jews hold to be a fraud, a lie and an anathema. While Thanksgiving celebrates nothing similarly antithetical to Judaism it is at best, redundant and at worst, deeply rooted in New England Calvinist Protestantism and Jews ought not to celebrate it and, according to some respected Rabbonim, are forbidden to celebrate it.

So Jews share with the rest of America only one day a year of a family-based holiday — Thanksgiving. This day therefore joins us with our fellow Americans in a unique way.
Transparently trying to argue that house-of-worship-based=bad whereas family-based= good. This ignores the Jewish teaching that every Jewish Home is a micro-Sanctuary and so the difference that you posit becomes moot.

On the other end of the religious spectrum, some among the ultra-Orthodox deem it un-Jewish to celebrate a non-Jewish holy day.
Damn straight. Un-Jewish for two primary reasons. It is redundant. Imagine if a family oriented American Holiday had been enshrined in the years following the Civil war to celebrate human liberation from bondage. We Jews would answer "No thanks, we've already got Passover." Similarly we already have a Thanksgiving festival. It's called Khanukah. Just look at the nusakh of ahl haNisim. Secondly even if Judaism lacked a festival of thanksgiving learning anything of religiosity in terms of timing, ritual or mode of celebration/observance from non-Jews, even a generic, vanilla non-denominational religiosity for so benign an idea as gratitude constitutes חכמה בגוים אל תאמין= "Don't believe that there is Torah by the nations of the world"

"But a religious Jew who refuses to celebrate Thanksgiving ought not tell anyone — it would most likely constitute a chilul hashem (a desecration of God’s name before others). Just imagine how it sounds — “We religious Jews refuse to celebrate a day thanking God for our blessings because non-Jewish Americans celebrate it.”
A. I fail to see why this response is any more offensive than saying : "We religious Jews refuse to celebrate a day of nativity for our lord and savior because we absolutely deny that he was either"

B. That is a libelous misquote of our reasons or, at best, a half truth. A diplomatic and honest answer goes like this: "We religious Jews do not celebrate a day thanking God for our blessings when non-Jewish Americans celebrate it because we religious Jews celebrate a week plus thanking God for our blessings and have done so for a millennia. Our Thanksgiving antedates Jesus by several centuries and the USA by several millenia. We see no reason to suddenly modify or adjust our observances that have demonstrated such staying power.”

In 1789, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation with these words: “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”
What could possibly be un-Jewish about that?
And eating a turkey dinner and watching 6 hours of NFL football is a JEWISH way of "serving that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be"…? What could possibly be LESS Jewish than that?
I recall with pride that in my Orthodox parents’ home on Thanksgiving we ritually washed our hands before the Thanksgiving meal and sang the Birkat Hamazon — the grace after meals — afterward as if it were a yom tov meal.
Did you include ahl hanisim? if yes...why and what liturgy did you use? If not, how was it different from a weekday meal?
Indeed, Thanksgiving is literally a yom tov, a good day. The best there is.
I beg to differ. That honor goes to Yom Kippur. The holiest of holy days that there is.

Have you had YOUR Qedusha-Havdala today??? Hmmm? Apparently Mr.Prager has yet to have his!


JS said...

Oh please.

I've got to say, that fisking was rather tame.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday for the Jews if for no other reason than the fact that it allows us to enjoy a holiday, a day off, without sitting in shul all day. A holiday with malacha. That alone is great.

You're also confusing the religious aspects of Thanksgiving with religious Christian thought. Thanksgiving is a day of giving thanks to God for this nation. Whatever God you choose to pray to is your business. Furthermore, I would have fisked the very premise that Thanksgiving is a religious holiday. Sure, Washington thanked "that great and glorious Being" but that was then, this is now.

Also, your whole premise about "we already have a holiday for that" doesn't ring true. Why have Purim and Hannukah at all? They're both stories of our peoplehood's salvation and thus redundant given Pesach. Why have so many fast days? We have Tisha b'Av or even before that, we have Yom Kippur as a fast day and atonement.

We're chock full of redundant days in Judaism. The point is each day has a different flavor and character given what it is meant to represent. We don't have "catch-all" holidays. Thus, there's nothing wrong with another day to give thanks.

Also, the fact that others watch football for 6 hours and gorge themselves for 4 hours doesn't mean Jews must do the same. Learn Torah all day. A lot of shuls near me have learning programs and shiurim specifically set up because people have the day off.

I see absolutely nothing wrong, and everything right, with people sitting around a table and having traditional Thanksgiving fare as they go around the table and express thanks not just to God but to each other for the good in their lives.

What Jewish holiday provides for thanking our fellow man?

The Bray of Fundie said...

Now it's time to fisk you. As you are NOT a bestselling author...off come the gloves.

The Bray of Fundie said...

A holiday with malacha. That alone is great.

A. Purim Khanukah
B. You have little taam in qedusha if you still feel oppressed and constrained by prohibitions against melakha

You're also confusing the religious aspects of Thanksgiving with religious Christian thought.

you and Prager are practicing Historical revisionism. the reason Washimgtons call to thanksgiving reads in so non-sectarian a way is because he meant to be inclusive of all PROTESTANT sects extant in his time and instrumental in the rebellion against England. he was NOT adressing Catholics, Jews and Muslims

Why have Purim and Hannukah at all? They're both stories of our peoplehood's salvation and thus redundant given Pesach.
Pesakh=חרות וקנין שם עבדי ה'
Purim=ניסים נסתרים ונקמה בשונאי ישראל-שונאי ה'
Khanukah=ניסים גלוים וגדלות חכמת התורה מול חכמות חיצוניות

All this is qedusha hazamn 101. No redundancy here.

The Bray of Fundie said...

Why have so many fast days?

Considering the amount of teshuva we need as a community and as individuals I think the better question is why have so few?

Learn Torah all day. A lot of shuls near me have learning programs and shiurim specifically set up because people have the day off.

had this been Dennis' suggestion, or even part of his suggestion, I doubt I'd have fisked him. But noooooooooo...He wants us to celebrate the day as our fellow non-Jewish US citizens do.

I see absolutely nothing wrong, and everything right, with people sitting around a table and having traditional Thanksgiving fare

Nor do I... providing you do it next Wednesday or any time other than Thanksgiving Thursday. But to do so when Prager suggests that we do ought to be offensive in the extreme to anyone with a modicum of Havdala Concsiousness. It is Khukos HaGoy straight up. I'm not in Golus America to be an ingrate nor a traitor but neither am I here to become a US patriot.

The jewsih mussar literature provides us with ample ways and means to develop the midah Tova of hakoras haTov. How does it enhance my identity or further my goals as a Jew to take my cues in these matters from George Washington, or as you correctly point out, from Madison Avenue?

The Bray of Fundie said...

express thanks not just to God but to each other for the good in their lives.

What Jewish holiday provides for thanking our fellow man?

You're adding a whole new wrinkle here that Prager does not even touch upon. If this were the emphaisi of the holiday the ultra-secular Jews would have no problem with it. But it isn't. The historical roots of the holiday are about thanking a deity and a Protestant one at that.

Not Brisk said...

The Rav would give his shiur earlier in order to celeberate Thanksgiving with his family - not merely in order not to conflict with his talmidim's schedual.

50 years ago, we were more patriotic and had a stronger appreciation for the benefits bestowed upon us from this great country. Now, due to a misplaced sense of complacency and a short term collective memory, our appreciation has diminished.

We are taught that if one doesn't modify his behaviour and attitudes in other areas, it will have an adverse affect on its spiritual application. Z"O: if we lack hakarat HaTov in other areas, it is an indicator that our level of Hodah to the Aibeshter is not on the level that it should be on

Tzipporah said...

Meh. His justification is lame. Your fisking is lame. The best response to Thanksgiving is this PETA video:

The Bray of Fundie said...

For my gratitude millions of innocent fowl have to die?

I'm no bar plugta for the Rav but I take issue with your justification. Rakhmanus is a good midah. Rakhmanus muscles can atrophy if not used, but if the only object upon which to exerciase them is an akhzor better that they waste away.

Similarly we ought not to thank those who may deserve reciprocal contempt. Did you see the Ohr HaKhayim that I linked?

Why couldn't the Rav be kollel his gratitude to the USA in his Khanukah seudos?

The Bray of Fundie said...


Do you and Bad Kohen celebrate it? if yes...how?

me personally I'd love to watch the NFL but wish that the perennial doormat Lions was NOT one of the featured teams.

E. Fink said...

There's actually no reason to "knock" Thanksgiving...

Why are you so passionately against it?

The Bray of Fundie said...

though my mind could think I still was a madman.

ya aint seen nothin' yet.

Tzipporah said...

I don't know that we celebrate, so much as we accommodate it. Or, rather, we go along with the family traditions, to the extent we can stomach them. ;)

We attend dinner with one family, dessert with yet another, make delicious pastries that nobody will eat because they've gorged themselves on turkey, and then get to eat them ourselves for several days in a row.

BC decided I wasn't allowed to host family Thanksgiving when I started threatening to read excerpts from James Loewen. Smallpox, anyone?