I have a couple of questions regarding the American Holiday of Thanksgiviing and Chukas Akum.(A Disclaimer: I cannot necessarily follow the Rav’s ruling but please try to respond).
First of all, in times of old, pagans used to celebrate harvest festivals to their “gods”. Does this make all harvest festivals chukas akum? The reason I ask is because the holiday of Thanksgiving seems to be based on this.
In early New England, people used to celebrate two distinct holidays. One was the solemn thanksgiving which was spent in church for many hours and the other a harvest festival. At various times through the years the govener of each state would declare a harvest festival of thanks. Even though the proclamations of those thanksgivings made by the governers had religious content, many did not celebrate it religiously. They did go to church and had a meal later but was mainly just a harvest festival. In November, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a declaration to have the last thursday in November as a thanksgiving to G-d. Most people, though did not celebrate it relgiously but much more like a harvest festival.
Who do we go by, to determine relgious vs secular holidays? The people or the starters?
I read in the Iggros Moshe that “even though in the early generations they worshipped their Avodah Zara, this cannot be compared to the later generations that don’t because the later ones who started it to make a seuda on this day were not doing it for their Avodah Zara of them. In Abraham Lincoln’s thanksgiving proclamation he does not mention J, he just says G-d or Father. Does this make a difference? It also seems that the small minority of Jews at the time did acknowldge the holiday? Does that change anything?
I saw a Rov argue that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was misinformed because it was declared religiously by Lincoln. But I just feel that since it was started by a president and for all Americans, not just Christians, its fine. Also, most customs of Thanksgiving are secular or can be assumed to be secular. The only religious part is that they did go to church, but still it seems to have been instituted as a non denominational day of thanks. Also in our times, most do not even go to church.
Can we divide a holiday into two parts, chukas akum and secular? Are all the customs which were instituted securaly or can be assumed to not have anything religious in it of itself (Turkey, Pumpkin Pie, Football) be permitted and may they be done even in honor of the holiday because the holiday was never intituted just for Christians but for everyone?
By Thanksgiving it is hard to determine if it’s religious or secular. Also as I mentioned above it wasn’t taken on too relgiously. I understand the Shulchan Aruch says that when a gentile celebrates a completely secular holiday and thanks his “gods”, it is forbidden to join with him on this day. It seems to me that Thanksgiving was in a sense like that. A mostly secular holiday but people would give thanks. In conclusion can a non denominational holiday of thanks ever be considered a Chok L’ Avodah Zarah since it wasn’t specificaly for Avodah Zara but for all Americans regardless of religion<
There is no problem in commemorating Thanksgiving, and many good Jews have done so over the years.
Rav Moshe writes in several places (see: Even Ha’Ezer 2:13; Yoreh De’ah 4:11 – 12; Orach Chaim 5:20) that Thanksgiving is a national and not religious holiday. The fact that the founding fathers might or might not have used religious terminology when declaring the day is irrelevant to this point: Naturally, a religious person will use religious terms even when declaring a national holiday. Moreover, it is certainly perceived by all as a national holiday, and therefore there is no problem in commemorating it.
At the same time, if a religious non-Jew will celebrate the festival in a religious way, it is not permitted to join in his celebration. It is only permitted to celebrate in a non-religious way (such as by eating Turkey).
Note that Mishnah Halachos (10:116) comes out against Thanksgiving celebrations, raising the issue of this being an idolatrous festival, and also adding that it can involve a problem of following non-Jewish customs.
However, since this “custom” has a positive connotation (of thanking Hashem for bringing America its freedom) and since there are no idolatrous or immodest overtones, the ruling of Rav Moshe is easily understood and can be followed without concern.