View current news articles, commentary, videos and more having an impact on Jewish culture, politics and religion at Rabbi Silverman's Sites to See
Should We Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Some celebrities have recently gotten on the bandwagon for not celebrating Thanksgiving because it glorifies a time at which the Westerner essentially inhabited and took over land and resources from the indigenous peoples of America. These same concerns have taken hold of those who decline to celebrate Columbus Day as well. My impression is that Thanksgiving celebrates the mutual help lent by settlers to Indians and vice versa, and that therefore, this day may be all the more needed. My focus here, however, is not to determine if we should or should not celebrate Thanksgiving for these reasons. Rather, let’s examine why some Jews don't celebrate this National holiday for Halahkic reasons; that is, reasons of Jewish law.
Some who are very opposed take the position that it is a case of Avodah Zara, that Thanksgiving is a holiday dictated by the worship of a foreign power, and that Jews should give their lives rather than in engage in such idolatrous worship. That viewpoint is disputed by the great Rabbi Moses Feinstein, who tells us first that some aspects of even foreign worship, like being compelled to drink a wine libation used for foreign worship, still would not require a person to sacrifice their life. But that aside, this is not worship of an idol, nor is it even worship dictated by religious authorities per se. This is a celebration that became a custom over time, with the help of secular authorities wishing to celebrate a national sense of thanksgiving at the end of harvest time and at the moment when we move determinedly into the winter months. Yes, there is a reflection of a good God Who shall help us, but it is decidedly generic and diffused, and therefore not a religious holiday per se.
Rav Feinstein rules, however, that Thanksgiving might be seen as a "custom of the Gentiles," as it seems to be followed with a particular rigor by many who don't have a logical reason for such a custom. He would regard a distinctive hair style that many take up for no particular reason in the same light. Finding that the laws in the Torah that state "don’t follow the customs of the Amorite" might be appropriate, he rules that it's advisable that Jews don't eat turkey on that particular day as a matter of principle. Others say that he may have softened his view over time and he certainly allows a festive meal on that day so long as it is understood in one’s mind that partaking of the meal is voluntary and not “obligatory” in any sense.
Some authorities bring up the rule of "Bal Tosif"– "adding Torah laws" with holidays that are not specifically specified in the Torah. That, however, might make Purim and Chanukah problematic, as they aren't specified in the Torah either! Furthermore, Rabbi Moses Isserlis (Rema), in the Shulchan Aruch, mentions that Jews may even participate in exchanging gifts at times of Christian holidays with their neighbors if it's for the sake of good will or the welfare of Jewish communities in their environment (Yoreh Deah, 184:12). The fact that this is not a Christian holiday but a national secular one, set in motion by the American government and society, makes it all the more permitted. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, another Torah luminary, ruled that, as such, there was really nothing wrong with celebrating with our fellow Americans. He himself had a Thanksgiving meal, although he didn’t cancel his Talmud classes that day!
I have yet to come across a Conservative Teshuva on the issue, probably because it was inconceivable that enjoying Thanksgiving was problematic. One might even make the case that Thanksgiving is a holiday we should feel is mandatory. Its features include giving thanks for the providential care God gives us in life, and a concomitant concern for those who are in need and without sustenance as they face the harsh winter. Both of those concerns are mitzvoth that we must perform each and every day. If we encounter a destitute person, the Torah tells us we must contribute toward feeding and clothing them. Deuteronomy tells us that you should take a poor person into your household and seek shelter for them. Each and everyday, every morning and noon, we pray from our Siddur that we are grateful to God for giving us the small miracles of body and soul, and declare thanks to God for being Mechadesh bechol Yom–He Who each and every day creates the world anew!
Therefore, one can make the case that Thanksgiving is not at all a holiday following gentile customs. It is simply an opportunity, on that particular day, to fulfill two important mitzvoth. Naturally, we should respect the views of others who hold otherwise. That, after all, is the American way and the Jewish way. Know, however, that if you do keep Thanksgiving, you have Halachic legs to stand on.
May we, at Thanksgiving, enjoy family and friends, and draw its important lessons of gratitude to God, country and empathy for the poor. Beth joins me in saying May your bounty be sufficient and our winter warm– Read More
Dear ENJC family,
I write to you today, on the far side of all the holidays of the month of Tishrei. Sure, we all knew about Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, and most of us remember the Sukkah we built for Sukkot or the poignancy of remembrance when we recalled those who passed with Yizkor on Shmini Ha’Atzeret. Finally there was the unbridled joy of singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls for Simchat Torah, but now we are faced with a month of no holidays. Just when we were getting USED to being in services all the time! So what’s a Jew to do?
Well, I’m glad you asked! On the lighter side, we have launched ENJC Shabbat Afternoon Boardgames, and will be moving it to a monthly or bi-monthly enhancement of our Shabbat Kiddush. There are some old standbys like Risk and Chess (and hopefully the Jewish Monopoly: Chutzpah! if I can refurbish my copy….) as well as some newer games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride and Anomia! Be sure to check your bi-weekly announcements.
Sue Kazzaz has done a lot of great work helping organize a whole slew of non-religious-service events at ENJC that are beyond the scope of my article to list, though I can say with confidence that there was an enthusiastic contingent of Canasta players/learners this past Sunday, and I look forward to helping to teach/run a Bridge Clinic in the Spring. Additionally, I will be helping to run a Cholent Cook-Off at the End of March, so if you have a recipe that you believe will knock the socks off of our congregants, please contact the office to sign up!
I am happy to announce a ENJC Klezmer band organizational meeting on Monday November 18th at 7:45 PM in the Beit Midrash. We’ll be discussing scheduling and repertoire, as well as talk about what our goals are. Hope to see you there!
The 2019-5780 Yom Kippur Appeal
Young David asked his rich grandfather, Paul, how he had made his money. Paul said, "Well, David, it was 1955, and I was down to my last penny. I went to the local market and invested that last penny in a large apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for 2 pennies. The next morning, I invested the 2 pennies in two large apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and I sold them at 5pm for 1 dollar. I continued this system for a month. Then Grandma’s father died and left us two million dollars.”
Six retired men were playing poker one evening in Abe’s house when Shlomo loses $650 on one big hand, clutches his chest and drops dead at the table. The other five continue playing, but this time standing up to show respect for their departed friend. Later, Abe asks, "Who's going to tell his wife, Hette?" They cut cards and Moishe loses. Before he leaves, he is advised to be discreet and kind and to try hard not to make a terrible situation any worse. "Discreet?" says Moishe, "I'm the most discreet man there is. Discretion is my middle name. Just leave it to me and don’t worry about a thing." So Moishe goes over to Shlomo’s house and rings the doorbell. Hette opens the door and asks, "Nu, so what do you want?" Moishe replies, "Your husband just lost $650 and is afraid to come home." On hearing this, Hette yells, "SO TELL HIM HE SHOULD DROP DEAD." "OK I'll go tell him," says Moishe.
A friend was in front of me coming out of the synagogue one day, and as always, the rabbi was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside. The rabbi said to him, "You need to join the Army of G-d!" My friend replied, "I'm already in the Army of G-d, Rabbi." Rabbi questioned, "How come I don't see you except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?" He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."
This joke leads me to a different aspect of my Yom Kippur appeal. I will get to the money later. My appeal is to make your membership more valuable this year. As Hazzan mentioned during Rosh Hashanah, the goal is to have you come to our facility more times than you ever have attended ENJC or any other synagogue, making the ENJC more than just a building where you come to pray. We will be having activities for all ages. Shabbat afternoon games, Mah Jongg, cooking classes, Canasta, golf lessons. If you have an idea, we will do our best to do it. Get involved – help make ENJC the place to be!!
I want to say thank you to all the new members that haven chosen to join us at ENJC!! Let me tell you and remind the rest of the congregation of the deal that I offer you: We now come to the part on Yom Kippur where everyone is thinking- I can sit back and relax- I do not have to stand up and then sit down every other minute. I am sure all of you have come today, knowing what your commitment for the appeal will be. I will not mind if you take a nap as long as you double your commitment. Since I am a napper- I already doubled my appeal before I began this talk.
Today I want to not only give the Yom Kippur appeal but I want to appeal to each and every one of you. I am very excited to be the ENJC President this year. After a tough chapter in ENJC's history, it is awesome seeing the children learning and enjoying themselves in the Religious School. Also seeing how quickly Hazzan Walvick has adapted to the ENJC family is terrific. You can feel the ruach!
It has been a pleasure being on the bima during the High Holidays this year. The teamwork of Rabbi Silverman and Chazzan Walvick has been impressive. You would never believe that this is their first High Holiday together. Yasher Koach to both of you and we can feel the ruach in the building. We have a wonderful staff starting with Mary, our executive secretary, and our custodians, Todd and Glen. Our Religious School is in great hands led by Ellen, our Principal and her secretary Emily. Next time you are in the building- say Thank You!!
I want to thank all the people of ENJC who have helped make this the Hamish synagogue that we are today. Rather than run the risk of upsetting someone by not naming them, I am choosing not to mention any names individually this year. You know who you are! Whether your help is financial with generous donations; your commitment is in coming to services–for the daily minyan, Shabbat or Sunday morning; being on the board as a VP or trustee, or if you are one of the many that we know can just be called upon and you will be here for whatever needs to be done - Thank You.
A very special thank you to all who have contributed in any way toward this year’s High Holiday services. From chair and book set-up, coordinating babysitting, the various children services, ushering, coordinating all the honors and aliyahs, Sukkot set-up and I am sure that I left off a couple of things. If you are not involved, it is time to get involved. We can never have enough people to help. Everything is easy when there are many to do it.
I want to remind all that our Yom Kippur Appeal is our major fundraiser of the year. Please be generous. Last year I asked that you help by increasing your donation, since we were using a lot of money to make repairs to the roof. I am happy to say that you were very generous and the roof repairs worked perfectly. I need to ask your help in being generous again. We have a portion of the roof still to do and we are in the process of finishing the upgrading of our lighting to LED in the building. I would rather help raise the money during this appeal than have to add an additional surcharge to your bill.
If you fell asleep, it’s now time to wake up. Remember my deal–you sleep, you commit to doubling your Yom Kippur appeal. But doubling your appeal is not limited to just those who fell asleep. Remember the roof project! Your appeal can be paid out over the year and does not have to be paid in one payment.
Have a happy and healthy New Year! Read More