The Jewish Thanksgiving Connection

“How can I repay Adonai for all His bounties to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the Name of Adonai.”  — Psalms 116:12-13 (Tree of Life Version (TLV))

I know we’re past Thanksgiving Day, but I figured I could still squeeze a related blogpost in before the long weekend ends….

Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”, “Blossom”) is one of those progressive liberals that uses her public “pulpit” to occasionally comment on social and political issues. Kinda like I do, I guess, except I’m not a celebrity and I am the opposite of “progressive liberal”. Anyway, I don’t usually listen/read or care what she says. But, the other day I read an article on The Daily Wire that commented on Bialik’s “4 Reasons I Don’t Like Thanksgiving” video, and it sparked my interest.

The First Thanksgiving 1621, by J.L.G. Ferris (1863-1930)

Two of her issues have to do with her vegan beliefs and Zinn-like accusations of genocide by the Pilgrims. In other words, the usual rubbish. Another is about gluttony. But the interesting one to me was the fact that the Thanksgiving holidays fall so soon — several weeks, really — after some Jewish holidays, so she’s just tired of planning, cooking, feasting, etc. (Fair enough, I suppose, but she could just go out for Thanksgiving or let someone else cook.) Specifically, she points out that the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), aka Succoth (or Sukkot), is basically “the Jewish Thanksgiving”. The DW article links to an article by food-blogger Tori Avey that looks at the holidays — technically, note that Succoth is a multi-day festival rather than a single holiday — and this connection. Avey goes into some explanation of what Succoth is/was all about and what it involved. Then,…

“You might have noticed that the Sukkot holiday resembles the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, the similarities between Sukkot and Thanksgiving actually have a historical frame of reference. Before coming to the New World, the Pilgrims lived for a short time among Sephardic Jews in Holland. In fact, our American Thanksgiving tradition may have been indirectly inspired by the Jewish holiday of Sukkot….

This possible tie between Thanksgiving and Sukkot is pretty intriguing, and can be seen on many symbolic levels. While harvest festivals were not unique during that time period (many Christian groups had their own harvest celebrations), there are some particular aspects of Thanksgiving that seem at least loosely connected to Sukkot. The first Thanksgiving meal in 1621 is said to have been eaten out-of-doors, which would correspond to the Sukkot tradition of dining outside in the sukkah. Sukkot, like Thanksgiving, is a holiday of welcoming; the Pilgrims welcomed the Wampanoag Native Americans to the original Thanksgiving table just as Jews are encouraged to welcome friends and extended family to dine in the sukkah. This was only fitting; the Wampanoag people and their leader, Massasoit, taught the Pilgrims vital harvesting and life skills after their arrival in the New World; the Pilgrims would not have survived without their help and guidance. The cornucopia, a Thanksgiving symbol of plenty, resembles the Jewish shofar that is blown during Yom Kippur (the holiday that precedes Sukkot). And of course, there’s the food: both Sukkot and Thanksgiving feature bountiful menus of delicious, seasonally-inspired foods….

While we may never know if the first Thanksgiving was directly inspired by Sukkot, it is fun to ponder!”

There’s a bit more, of course, so you might want to read Avey’s blogpost. I just found this Jewish connection to our American Thanksgiving feast interesting and thought I’d share.

I’d like to wish a belated “Happy Sukkot!” and “Chag Sameach” to my Jewish friends and readers!

And, for all Americans, Happy Thanksgiving!

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