Jewish Turkeys

November 25, 2016

Are there any traditions for the Shabbat after Thanksgiving? No. But we could probably make something up. Certainly, we can think about whether or not we’re eating turkey leftovers for our Shabbat dinner. The expression in Hebrew “Hodu laShem” means “Thank the Lord,” but the word “Hodu” can also mean “Turkey!” So . . . Praise the Turkey? Granted, the connection is weak, if not outrageous. But how did the word for turkey translate to Hodu? As you might imagine, there’s a Jewish Legend about Turkeys in America. Columbus, as we know, set sail from Spain, expecting to reach India. When he arrived in the New World, he saw a typically American creature: the turkey. Not realizing that he discovered a new world, he assumed this exotic creature was, in fact, some sort of Indian Hen. His translator, linguist, interpreter, was a Jew. According to the legend, that Jew was Rabbi Isaac Abravanel, advisor to Ferdinand and Isabella, and an actual friend of Columbus. This part of the legend is clearly impossible, since when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, Abravanel left for Naples, not the New World. In any case, the translator took note of this creature, and translated Columbus’ nomenclature to Hebrew. The word for India is “Hodu” (you can read it in the Book of Esther), and hen is “Tarnegolet.” Hence “Turkey” is “Tarnegolet Hodu” or just “Hodu” for short. So . . . by eating Thanksgiving leftovers on Shabbat, we can say, “Hodu laShem” – which can be translated either as “Thank the Lord,” or “A Turkey for the Lord.”

Shabbat Shalom