Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

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Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 11-23-11

Thanksgiving

In 1789, in response to a resolution offered by Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, President George Washington issued a proclamation recommending that Thursday November 26th of that year “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; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation.”

In New York City, Congregation Shearith Israel convened a celebration on that day at which its minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas, embraced the occasion: “As we are made equal partakers of every benefit that results from this good government; for which we cannot sufficiently adore the God of our fathers who hath manifested his care over us in this particular instance; neither can we demonstrate our sense of His benign goodness, for His favourable interposition in behalf of the inhabitants of this land.”

While the celebrations at that venerable Orthodox synagogue continue unabated to this day, other American Jewish appreciations of Thanksgiving have ranged from the skeptical to the outright antagonistic. In an essay entitled “Is Thanksgiving Kosher?” Atlanta’s Rabbi Michael Broyde examines three rabbis’ halakhic positions on the subject: that of Yitzhak Hutner, who ruled Thanksgiving a Gentile holiday and forbade any recognition of it; that of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who regarded it as a secular holiday and permitted its celebration (particularly by eating turkey), and that of Moshe Feinstein, who permitted turkey but prohibited any other celebration because of reservations over the recognition of even secular holidays.

Newly presented historical information, however, may swing the annual autumnal pendulum back in favor of participation in what now appears to have begun as a holiday with both a patent Jewish theme and associated rituals. In his recent book, Making Haste From Babylon, Nick Bunker reveals an item of particular significance for both Jewish observers and critics of Thanksgiving….READ MORE

Puritans

And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8.

Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University, is the author of Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz (2008).

Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

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Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

Joshua S. ParensDr. Joshua S. Parens, professor at the University of Dallas presented “ and Philosophy: ’ Revolution” on Wednesday in the Memorial Drawing Room.
Ambika Kashi Singh | Lariat Photographer

The brought a Jewish scholar to campus Wednesday to give a lecture on how the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides helped incorporate philosophy into the Jewish theological tradition.

The speaker, Dr. , professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas, highlighted how Maimonides codified an enormous body of Talmudic law and introduced 13 principles of Jewish faith that were controversial at the time but have become foundational for the Jewish tradition in the centuries since.

Among the most significant of these principles, Maimonides wrote that God was a spiritual being, rather than one with a body, a belief that was not universally accepted before his time.

“This, in the end, is the moment where we start to see what is truly revolutionary about Maimonides: that he affirmed the Jews must believe that God is incorporeal,” Parens said. “Now, this will strike most of you, as Christians, as a little bit strange. After all, you have been raised with the notion that there is another life, and that other life is wholly incorporeal and spiritual.”

Before Maimonides, Parens said, the Jewish community had little interest in engaging in religious philosophy.

Maimonides, however, changed that by introducing the 13 principles and stressing the incorporeality of God and his existence as an eternal being, which Parens argued opened the door for philosophy in the Jewish life.

“In short, then, in Maimonides’ time, theology was nothing but defense of the faith against philosophy,” Parens said. “Consequently, what Maimonides then does by making a kind of home for philosophy within Judaism is incredibly radical and shocking.”

Parens also contrasted Maimonides’ contribution to Jewish theology with that of the 17th century Dutch philosopher , whose religious philosophy was far less particular to the Jewish scriptures than that of Maimonides and the orthodox Jewish community.

Dr. , professor of philosophy and faculty master of the Honors Residential College, said he thought the event was well-attended and the subject discussed was relevant for Christians, as well as the Jewish community.

“The importance that a talk like this has for Christianity,” Buras said, “is to be able to compare the way [the Jewish community] put it all together — philosophy and the Bible — with the way other traditions have.”

Several Jewish Baylor faculty members and other members of the Waco Jewish community were in attendance for the lecture including Stanley Hersh, president of the of Waco, and Rabbi of the in Waco.

They said they were pleased that Baylor, as a Christian institution, offered this forum and were also pleased at the turnout, which was standing-room-only by the time the lecture began in Memorial Hall Drawing Room and consisted mostly of students.