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No, Thanksgiving just isn’t Sukkot

I as soon as had a pal who would often report on one thing that was occurring in her thoughts – an impression that she had, that she couldn’t show, however that she was fairly certain was true.

She would say: “I’m telling myself a narrative…”

At this season, and particularly this week, we American Jews inform ourselves a specific story — that the Pilgrims based mostly Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

Why wouldn’t we imagine this story? Sukkot celebrates the harvest, as does Thanksgiving. Sukkot is about gratitude, as is Thanksgiving. Sukkot carries inside it the theme of hospitality, as does Thanksgiving.

Besides, it isn’t fairly true.

First, the Pilgrims didn’t imagine in mounted holidays. Within the phrases of Jonathan Sarna, Professor of American Jewish Historical past at Brandeis College: “If it was a very good season, they might announce a thanksgiving, nevertheless it was not Sukkot.”

Second, there was an important aspect of Sukkot that the pilgrims uncared for — and that was to construct sukkot. Neither do we’ve any document of them shaking lulav and etrog.

However, third, the Pilgrims had been Christians. For them, the covenant at Calvary, sealed within the blood of Jesus, would have negated the covenant at Sinai. Whereas they may have discovered religious inspiration in what they referred to as the “Previous Testomony,” they might not have noticed any Jewish rituals, and positively wouldn’t have noticed any Jewish holidays.

So, was Thanksgiving the American Sukkot? Most likely not.

However, having stated that: there’s a Jewish linkage to Thanksgiving that we’ve not identified – and it is much better than the defective Sukkot linkage.

Allow us to ask ourselves a easy query.

How did the Pilgrims even know that they need to give thanks?

Was it merely that primary human intuition – to precise gratitude?

Truly, not.

The Pilgrim chief, William Bradford, had a replica of the Bible on the Mayflower. He would later develop into the governor of Plymouth Colony.

His version of the Bible contained handwritten notes {that a} Puritan scholar, Henry Ainsworth, had positioned throughout the margins.

Ainsworth had written out an inventory of occasions that require a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

The sick, when he’s healed; the prisoner when he’s launched out of bonds; they that go all the way down to sea, when they’re come as much as land; and wayfaring males, when they’re come to the inhabited land.

Whom does Ainsworth quote – as his authority for when you find yourself supposed to offer thanks?


Ainsworth had copied over an English model of Maimonides’ complete authorized code, the Mishneh Torah – particularly, the legal guidelines of giving thanks.

Subsequently, all the vacation of Thanksgiving just isn’t solely quintessentially American.

Additionally it is quintessentially Jewish, although not for the explanations that we’ve historically thought.

The truth is, it’s rather more highly effective than we’ve historically thought.

Why do I say that?

As a result of, we American Jews like to inform one other story about America – the “Judeo-Christian custom.”

I recently picked that “custom” aside — and my colleague Mark Silk has his personal tackle it — however the thought has a sure weight for many individuals.

What was the gist of that fabled “Judeo-Christian” custom? It was the idea that we Individuals believed within the Bible – in each testaments.

It was definitely true that America constructed itself partially on the tales of the Bible, particularly of the Israelites escaping from Egypt and coming to the Promised Land.

It was additionally true that this American nation constructed itself upon a deep sense of biblical and even Hebrew literacy.

  • The coat of arms of Yale College comprises the Hebrew phrases Urim and Tumim, the traditional biblical oracles.
  • Hebrew was a required language at each Harvard and Yale – primarily as a result of they had been coaching males, and solely males, for the Christian ministry.
  • The primary e-book printed on these shores was the Bay Psalm Ebook, printed in 1640 as a translation from the Hebrew.
  • Contemplate the preponderance of biblical place names in colonial America: Salem, Canaan, Bethel, Jericho.
  • Early Individuals cherished to offer Hebrew names to their youngsters: Nathaniel, Abigail, Jonathan – and so they gave these names in far larger numbers than they did the names of Christian saints.

So, sure: the founding of America was biblical. The Bible has been a part of American tradition. The notion of a Judeo-Christian custom enshrines that.

That’s the drawback with the concept of Judeo-Christian. Its thought of Judeo is severely restricted.

Most American Christians don’t perceive that Judaism is excess of the Hebrew Bible. Talmud, midrash, medieval and fashionable Jewish theology — effectively, in the event that they knew the phrase gornischt, that’s what they might say. For a lot of American Christians, Jewish historical past jumps from King David, or maybe Esther — on to the Shoah and the creation of Israel.

They don’t perceive that the Judaism that Jews apply at the moment is generally post-biblical in nature. The blessings that we are saying; the liturgy that we pray; even and particularly Hanukkah that involves us later this week – all are post-biblical.

That’s what is so wondrous in regards to the inclusion of this little marginal be aware within the Bible of the Mayflower. It was not biblical. It was an instance of post-biblical, medieval Jewish thought – that profoundly influenced this nation.

Or, to place it this fashion: Maimonides was the best Jewish thinker in historical past. He was so nice – that had been it not for him – this man who lived 4 centuries earlier than the invention of the New World – we’d not have been sitting down with our households on our turkey and stuffing laden tables.

I finish with the phrases of Robert Cushman. He had been a deacon when the English Puritans lived in Leyden, Holland. After they left Holland, he adopted his congregation to Plymouth, Massachusetts – and there, he declared that:

We’re all, everywhere, strangers and pilgrims, vacationers and sojourners; most correctly, having no dwelling however this earthen tabernacle. Our dwelling is however a wandering; and our abiding, however as a hastening away; and, in a phrase, our house is nowhere however within the heavens; in that home not made with arms, whose maker and builder is God.

Let that be the reality that we protect for ourselves, as effectively.

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