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    Much has been dis-
    cussed over the years

    regarding Thanksgiv-
    ing dinner. We will

    discuss whether such a
    party is allowed, and if
    turkey may be served.
    The underlying point
    of the debate is whether

    Thanksgiving is con-
    sidered a religious or

    secular holiday. In order to determine this,

    we need to know the history of the Thanks-
    giving holiday. In addition, we will discuss

    the kashrus of birds in general and turkey
    Halachic Considerations
    In order to determine if eating turkey at a
    Thanksgiving dinner is permitted, we need
    some background into the halachos of
    following in the ways of the non-Jews.
    The Torah forbids following the ways of
    the non-Jews. The Rambam writes that

    one should be different than the non-
    Jews in his actions, knowledge and in his

    understanding. The Chinuch says the reason
    for this mitzvah is to distance the Jews
    from the non-Jews. There is a major dispute
    among the Rishonim and Achronim as to the
    parameters of this issur. A practice which
    the non-Jews do for their avodah zarah is
    forbidden for a Jew, even if the Torah says
    it is a Jewish custom. The Maharik writes
    that non-Jewish practices whose reasons and
    origins cannot be found are still forbidden
    to Jews, since it can possibly stem from
    avodah zarah. Furthermore, all immodest
    practices of the non-Jews are forbidden to a
    Jew. Most poskim agree with the guidelines
    of the Maharik. However, the G’ra says
    that we may only imitate a practice which
    possibly originated in Jewish circles, and
    was then adopted by the non-Jews.
    According to the lenient approach (which
    the halacha follows), foolish but secular
    customs are permissible so long as they
    have a reasonable explanation and are not
    The Opinion of Harav Moshe
    Feinstein zt”l

    In one teshuva, Harav Moshe Feinstein
    zt”l maintains the following: “Concerning
    the question of celebrating any event on a
    holiday of non-Jews, if the holiday is based
    on religious beliefs by the non-Jews, such
    celebrations are prohibited if deliberately
    scheduled on that day; even without intent,
    it is prohibited because of maris ayin. . .
    The first day of year for them [January
    1] and Thanksgiving are not prohibited
    according to law, but pious people should be
    stringent.” Therefore, one should preferably
    not schedule a chasuna or a Bar Mitzvah on

    the night of Thanksgiving, since it may be
    maris ayin. However, a seuda for a Pidyon
    Haben or a Bris Milah is permitted, since it
    is obvious that the seuda is a seudas mitzvah.
    Nevertheless, one may schedule a chasuna
    on Thanksgiving because many people are
    off from work that day.
    In another teshuva he writes (paraphrased),
    “In regards to joining a Thanksgiving party,

    since this is not brought down in the non-
    Jewish writings as a holiday, and it is just a

    remembrance of those who lived here, there
    is no issur to make a meal and eat turkey at
    the meal. However, it is forbidden to make
    this a required act, but it should be voluntary,
    which means not all the time – each year. In
    addition, there is also a problem of adding
    mitzvos . . . even though one can question
    the source, it is still a real prohibition.”
    Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l says the
    following in regard to the non-Jews doing
    something they enjoy (this was said in
    regard to going without a head covering).
    “Therefore, it is obvious, that even in a
    case where something would be considered
    a prohibited non-Jewish custom, if many
    people do it for reasons unrelated to their
    religion or law, but rather because it is
    pleasurable to them, there is no prohibition
    of imitating non-Jewish customs. So too, it
    is obvious that if non-Jews were to make
    a religious law to eat a particular item that
    is good to eat, halacha would not prohibit
    eating that item. Any item of pleasure in the
    world cannot be ossur because non-Jews do
    it out of religious observance.”
    According to this, if a non-Jew eats turkey
    because he enjoys it then there is no need for
    a Jew to refrain from eating it either.
    In yet another teshuva Harav Moshe
    Feinstein zt”l seems to take issue with
    celebrating Thanksgiving. He says the
    following: “The reason why it is forbidden
    to make a party on this day is because one
    is going in the ways of the non-Jews, even

    if this is not a religious holiday. The non-
    Jews do it for no reason. Nonetheless, eating

    turkey is permitted.
    Clearly, Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l does
    not agree to Thanksgiving celebrations, but
    places no restrictions on eating turkey on
    this day.
    Opinion of Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita
    Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita adds the
    following: “If such parties were made as
    a sign of patriotism to the United States, it
    would be acceptable for Jews to make them
    as well as a sign of loyalty to their host
    country. This does not seem to be the case
    however, and there is no reason that a Jew
    should make them.”

    Approaches of
    Other Gedolim

    Harav (J.B.) Soloveit-
    chik zt”l permitted

    turkey on Thanksgiv-
    ing. The following

    are the words written
    by Harav Herschel
    Schachter Shlita in

    his sefer on the rul-
    ings of Harav (J.B.)

    Soloveitchik zt”l: “It

    was the opinion of Ha-
    rav Soloveitchik that

    it was permissible to
    eat turkey at the end
    of November, on the
    day of Thanksgiving.
    We understood that, in

    his opinion, there was no problem that tur-
    key did not lack a tradition of kashrus (see

    later on in this article) and that eating it on

    Thanksgiving was not a problem of imitat-
    ing gentile customs. We also heard that this

    was the opinion of his father, Harav Moshe
    Soloveitchik zt”l.”
    The opinion of Harav Dovid Cohen Shlita
    is that to eat turkey for the sake of a holiday
    is prohibited by the rule of Tosfas in
    Meseches Avodah Zarah since it is improper
    to follow an irrational rule of the non-Jews.
    Nonetheless, there is no prohibition for a
    family to get together on a day when people
    do not go to work and to eat together. They
    may eat turkey because they enjoy it, but
    not for the sake of thanks. Nevertheless, the
    spirit of the Chachomim does not approve of
    such conduct, since it appears as if they are
    following the ways of the non-Jews.

    There are some who felt that Thanksgiving
    dinner should be avoided. However, the
    custom of many people in Klal Yisroel
    is to eat turkey on Thanksgiving (see
    below regarding the kashrus of turkey). As
    mentioned above, one should not have a
    Davening Later on Thanksgiving
    Some poskim maintain that one should not
    change the regular time for davening to
    a later time even though it is a not a work
    day. However, making a later minyan
    is permitted if it is not at that time on a
    regular (non-holiday) day. Others maintain
    that since we all know that the reason for
    davening later is because everyone is home
    from work and they may wish to sleep later
    they do not focus on the cause of why they
    are off from work. Harav Yisroel Belsky
    Shlita says if one normally davens late when
    he has no work (i.e. Sunday) then he may do
    so on a legal holiday such as Thanksgiving
    as well.

    Attending a Thanksgiving Parade
    The question of observing or attending a
    Thanksgiving Day parade is an interesting
    one. It depends on the following definition:
    If Thanksgiving is a non-Jewish holiday, it
    would be prohibited to participate or benefit
    in any way from the parade honoring the
    day. If one concludes that Thanksgiving
    is a secular holiday, there would seem to
    be no problem in attending a parade, as a
    Thanksgiving Day parade is no different
    from an Independence Day parade. Although
    it may be permitted to go to a Thanksgiving
    parade it is not with the spirit of a Jew to
    attend such parades. One who has young
    children who insist on going to the parade
    do not have to refuse.
    Kashrus of Turkey
    As mentioned above, many people have
    the custom to eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
    However, the kashrus of turkey is a
    complicated issue.
    Kosher Signs – Birds
    There is a discussion in the poskim if there
    is a mitzvah d’raisa or d’rabannan to check
    birds for signs in order to maintain if the
    bird if kosher or not.
    The Torah identifies twenty-four classes of
    birds which are not kosher. If a bird is not
    one of the twenty-four it is kosher. However,
    we cannot clearly identify these non-kosher
    birds. Therefore, in order for a bird to be
    kosher it has to have certain simonim. The
    Torah does not give any identifying signs.
    However, the Chachamim provided us with
    a way to tell if a bird is kosher or not. Any
    bird which is a dores, a predator, is not
    kosher. Kosher birds have the following
    signs: an extra finger, a crop, and the inner
    layer of the bird’s gizzard can be peeled
    off by hand. It should be stated that not all
    kosher birds have all four signs. There is a
    discussion in the poskim if a kosher bird
    needs all four signs or if one or a couple or a
    few are enough. If one knows that a specific

    bird is a dores then
    even if it has any of
    the kosher simonim the
    bird is not kosher.
    A number of poskim
    maintain that a bird with
    the correct simonim is
    kosher even if there is
    no mesorah and no proof
    that it is not dores. The Gemora mentions
    a story that certain people in a town ate a
    non-kosher bird because they though the
    bird was kosher. Therefore, we only eat a
    bird with a mesorah that it is kosher and was
    eaten by Jews throughout the ages in that
    place. The Rama says this is the custom and
    it may not be changed. If a bird has a mesora
    then there is no need to check if it has any
    of the simonim which indicate its kashrus
    status. However, if one finds that it is a dores
    then he should not accept the mesora. The
    Aruch Hashulchan uses the word “chalilah”
    to permit a bird without a mesora.
    Who is Qualified to Testify on a
    Kosher Bird

    One may only accept testimony that a
    specific bird is kosher from one who is both
    a chacham and a baki. Some say that there
    is no one around today who would qualify
    for this.
    Mesora in a Town
    Once a mesora is established in a certain
    town one can be very lenient regarding
    this as follows: The Shulchan Aruch says
    one who comes from a town where there
    is no mesora on a bird and goes to a place
    where there is a mesora can eat there even
    if he plans on coming back. In addition, if
    his hometown has a mesora on a bird and he
    goes to a town where there is no mesora on
    the specific bird he may eat the bird in the
    latter town. However, this is only if he plans
    on returning to the first town.
    There are those who maintain that one who
    is in a town where there is no mesora on a
    bird should not eat the bird even if there is
    a mesora on the bird in another town. The
    custom is to be lenient.
    Relying on Names
    Many poskim are of the opinion that
    one cannot rely on a name of a bird for a
    mesorah. The reason for this is because a
    species which was called by a specific name
    hundreds of years ago may not be the same
    today. There is a discussion if the mesora can
    be transmitted with diagrams or verbally.
    Goose – Duck

    There are those who maintain that if a bird
    has a wide beak and feet (goose, swans or
    duck) it is known that it is not a dores and

    permitted if it has the other three simonim
    as well. However, the Rama says that we
    should not rely on this if it does not have
    a mesora.


    The Gemora says that a kosher and non-
    kosher animal cannot interbreed and

    produce viable offspring. There are those
    who maintain that this may apply to birds.
    Based on this, some opine that a bird which
    breeds with kosher birds and looks like a
    kosher bird may be eaten even if there is no
    mesora on it. Others are not convinced that
    this is a valid argument.

    Egg Signs

    The opinion of the Avnei Nezer is that
    if an egg of a specific bird is identical to
    another bird it is a sign that they are from
    the same species. Based on this, if the egg
    of an unknown bird is identical to a known
    kosher bird, the unknown bird may be eaten
    without a mesora. Nonetheless, this leniency
    was not accepted by other poskim.
    Other Birds (Pheasant, Muscovy Duck etc.)
    Many poskim dealt with the permissibility
    of eating other birds and questioned their
    mesora status. This discussion is beyond the
    scope of this article, but references may be
    found in the footnotes.

    Chickens were eaten as early as the seventh
    century BCE. The chicken is a kosher
    bird. There have been many poskim who
    discussed the different kinds of chickens.
    Most referred to a chicken as a “kibitzer
    Mesora on Turkey
    The mesora on turkey has some unique
    Turkey is indigenous to America, and was

    brought to Europe as a product of trade
    with the new land. It was at first thought
    to be the larger American version of the
    European chicken. Since Columbus thought
    he had landed in India, the bird was called
    tarnagolet hodu in Hebrew and hendika
    hen in Yiddish, both of which mean Indian
    How can we consume turkey if it apparently
    does not have a mesora? We know that Jews
    today eat turkey but why? In addition, turkey
    eggs are larger and different than other kosher
    birds and it is difficult to crossbreed them
    with other chickens. Therefore, the above

    heterim do not apply, and its permissibility
    remains in doubt. Nonetheless, the poskim
    offer various reasons to permit turkey. We
    will list them below:
    Some argue that the Rama only requires a
    mesora on a bird which was not eaten by
    Jews in the past. However, a bird which
    was eaten for many years and has all three
    simonim of a kosher bird is permitted even
    according to the Rama. There is no reason
    to say that all the people who ate turkey did
    so in error. Others say that we do not hold
    like the Rama’s opinion, and if a bird has the
    simonim which indicate a kosher status we
    may eat it.
    The Meishiv Davar says that when the
    turkey (indik) was brought from India
    there were questions regarding its kosher
    status, and therefore people refrain from
    eating it. However, since the majority of
    people accepted it as kosher, unless there
    is evidence that it is not kosher we are not
    going to say that it is prohibited (especially
    not to tell people who where eating it for
    many years that they were doing so in error).
    The Arugas Habosem says that the mesora
    is only required to prove that it is not a
    dores – a predator. If the bird is monitored
    for at least twelve months one may rely on

    the kosher status of the bird even without
    having a mesora on it, as it obviously is not
    a predator.
    The Mei Be’er maintains that we can rely
    on the Jews of India, the place of origin of
    the turkey, who had a clear mesora dating
    back to Moshe Rabbeinu that the turkey was
    kosher. The only concern that ever existed
    was if one can rely on the Indian mesora,
    and he maintains that it is indeed reliable.
    Both the Kaf Hachaim and the Zivchei
    Tzedek say that it originated from India and
    is permitted.
    The Tzemach Tzedek says the fact that a
    specific bird is eaten is a form of mesora.
    The Devar Halacha says that the Rama
    required a mesora only for a new category
    of birds, but turkey is the same category as
    a chicken even if there are some differences.
    Some say that from the fact that turkey
    entered the Jewish menu without an apparent
    mesora indicates that the Gedolim in those
    days did not hold like the Rama and it was
    enough that the bird had the simonim which
    indicates its kosher status. There are those
    who say that turkey was accepted before
    the Rama was born (1540). Therefore, there
    is no need for a mesora since that rule was
    not yet imposed at that time. However, this
    is a chiddush since there are poskim who
    maintain the need for a mesora even before
    the Rama’s times.
    In his discussions about Thanksgiving,
    Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l indicated that
    there is no issue with eating turkey.
    Although turkey does not have a mesora,
    many poskim maintain that it is permitted.
    There were those who refrained from eating
    turkey because of the uncertainties regarding
    the mesora issue. It is reported that Harav
    Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l did not eat turkey.
    Most major kashrus agencies both in
    America and in Eretz Yisroel give
    hashgachas on turkey.