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By November 28, 2019 Read More →

Thanksgiving, Ha’Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and cheese lasagne

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I remember when I was in Yeshivah after high school here in Israel, the American Rabbis often make a point of eating cheese lasagne (rather than turkey..) on Thanksgiving.

The question of whether Jews in America should celebrate Thanksgiving and how is discussed at length and I even put a listing here of what all the views are.

I’m talking more about here in Israel. Does our calendar in Israel need more narishkeit? We already have enough, no?

Yes, the central ideas of Thanksgiving of showing appreciation and gratitude etc is a central tenet to Judaism.

Futhermore, as Rav YB Soloveichik poined out, America is a ,’ Malchut of Chessed’ which accepted Jewish refugees after the Holocaust (including members of my own family) and for that we need to be grateful. And yes, Thanksgiving is a time when families can get together and enjoy quality time – this is also a central Jewish value.

But, my question is more for Americans living in Israel – do we really need it here?

When Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ZT’L made Aliyah, it’s known that he had an open door to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT’L. When Rav Aharon asked Rav Shlomo Zalman about shaving in the 3 weeks period between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, Rav Shlomo Zalman told him it was the custom in Israel for Ashkenaim not to shave from the 17th of Tammuz and therefore Rav Ahron changed his minhag and didn’t shave for the whole 3 weeks and not just the 9 days from Rosh Chodesh Av.

Furthermore, on Thanksgiving at Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rav Ahron would allow the Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving but only if it not disrupt normal seder. It was important for the American students when learning in an Israeli Yeshiva to fit in – after all they are in Israel!

I think in this behaviour, Rav Ahron was teaching us an important lesson. That, once you leave America and come to Israel you are supposed to be culturally sensitive and fit in to your new spiritual environment. Part of the religious experience is breaking away, standing alone and distinguishing between ‘ikar’ and ‘tafel.’

In Halacha, we see this in many contexts, when it comes to taking on and respecting the custom and mode of behaviour of your host community. For instance, with regards to wearing tefilin in chol hamoed the halacha is when you come to Israel you don’t wear them. Similarly, the texts of certain tefilot are different in Israel and the halacha is when you live in Israel you adapt your tefilah to fit in with the custom of where you are davening.

Yes, the core tenets of Thanksgiving are also those central to Judaism and yes, America saved Jews at various stages of our modern history, particuarly through being a safety net for Jews fleeing the Holocaust and for that we must be eternally grateful.

But, when living in Israel, maybe it’s more appropriate to eat lasagne on Thanksgiving and save the turkey for Friday night!

Shabbat Shalom!

Benjy.

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