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    Much has
    been discussed
    over the years
    r e g a r d i n g
    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 considered a
    religious or secular holiday. In order
    to determine this, we need to know
    the history of the Thanksgiving 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 nonJews. 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 nonJews.
    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 immodest.
    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 nonJews 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
    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.) Soloveitchik zt”l permitted
    turkey on Thanksgiving. The following
    are the words written by Harav Herschel Schachter Shlita in his sefer on
    the rulings of Harav (J.B.) Soloveitchik
    zt”l: “It was the opinion of Harav 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 turkey did not lack a tradition
    of kashrus (see later on in this article)
    and that eating it on Thanksgiving was
    not a problem of imitating 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 party.
    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 nonkosher 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
    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 hen.”
    Mesora on Turkey
    The mesora on turkey has some
    unique twists.
    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
    Although turkey does not have a mesora, many poskim maintain that it is
    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.