Not only is it very possible to bring Judaism into Thanksgiving, in fact Thanksgiving very likely has its origins in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Many people believe that, when the pilgrims wanted to celebrate the fall harvest, they looked to the Hebrew Bible for inspiration, and took the idea of the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot as their model for the first Thanksgiving. I think there are many ways we can incorporate Jewish ideas and rituals into our Thanksgiving celebrations. First, it is entirely appropriate to say Ha-Motzi, the blessing over bread, at the beginning of the meal, and Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after a meal, at the end. Giving thanks to God for the bounty of the earth is a very Jewish thing to do, as is spending some time during the meal talking about the things we are grateful for in our lives. Time spent with family and friends reflect the Jewish values of family and community. The pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom, something we Jews can relate to in a very particular way. This can be a focus of conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. It is also a great time to focus on the Jewish value of tzedakah, as many people take time in this season to help out those less fortunate, by volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens, running food drives, and raising funds for Mazon and other organizations that fight hunger year-round.
I would favor consulting Traditional Siddurim [Prayer Books] Jewish Prayers are filled with expressions of thanks. Any recitation using them would accomplish Thanksgiving and incorporate a Jewish aspect.
For example, one could recite one or both of the "Modim" prayers. Or the morning Modeh Ani prayer
My own favorite is Psalm 100 Mizmor leTodah, a Psalm of Thanskgiving. In particular I enjoy Louis Lewandowski's awesome choral composition of same. It is a most inspiring way to express gratitude.
And following dinner as we recite the "Birkat Hamazon" the 2nd Blessing is based upon the theme of thanks - "Nodeh Lecha"
My in-laws "Did Thanksgiving" on the Friday Night Shabbat Dinner on the Day after the Secular Thursday. There is perhaps no more Jewish way to celebrate Turkey Day than by having it as a Friday Night Shabbat Feast
How can Jews bring Judaism into celebrating Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because it focuses us on the things in life we have to be thankful for. Take a moment to think of those things for yourself. If you are like me, you may think of family, friends, a safe house to live in, and having plenty of food to eat. Many families have a Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and having each person say something that they are thankful for before eating the festive meal. I find this tradition moving each year.
It is not a stretch to bring Judaism in to your Thanksgiving celebration since being grateful for what you have and saying thanks is a core value in the Jewish tradition. The prayer “Modeh ani Lifanecha” a prayer recited by religious Jews every morning upon waking up thanks God for the ability to wake up. Another prayer thanks God for allowing our bodies to function, and another thanks God for restoring our souls to us each morning. In fact, almost every blessing we utter is in fact a way so saying thank you to God.
Lets look at the Motzei, the prayer for eating bread “ Baruch ata adonai, melech ha olam, hamotzei lechem nim ha’aretz.” Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for bringing forth bread from the earth. We bless God and thank God for giving us bread. Therefore an easy way to bring Jewish traditions to your Thanksgiving table is to add some traditional Jewish blessings. I would recommend saying the blessing over the bread above. You can also bless wine, “Baruch ata adonai , melach haolam, boreh pri hagafen” Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for creating the fruit of the vine.
I would also recommend reciting the Shehechianu prayer. Which is “Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for sustaining us, and keeping us, and bringing us to this time.” I can’t think of a better Jewish prayer to recite in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for bring us here, for allowing us to celebrate with friends and family, and for putting food on the table.
If none of these traditional prayers feels quite right to you, then by all means make up your own prayer. Judaism values prayers of thanksgiving said from your heart as much as the prayers we find in the prayer book.
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