Jewish Turkeys?

November 24, 2017

Are there any traditions for the Shabbat before Thanksgiving? No. But we could probably make something up. The expression in Hebrew “Hodu laShem” means “Praise the Lord,” but the word “Hodu” can also mean “Turkey!” So . . . Praise theTurkey? 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 aboutTurkeysinAmerica.Columbus, as we know, set sail fromSpain, expecting to reachIndia. When he arrived in theNew 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 ofColumbus. This part of the legend is clearly impossible, since when the Jews were expelled fromSpainin 1492, Abravanel left forNaples, not theNew World. In any case, the translator took note of this creature, and translatedColumbus’ nomenclature to Hebrew. The word forIndiais “Hodu” (you can read it in the Book of Esther), and hen is “Tarnegolet.” Hence “Turkey” is “Tarnegolet Hodu” or just “Hodu” for short.

And . . . is Thanksgiving a Jewish Holiday? Why not? No, it’s not in the Jewish Tradition, but so many Jewish Americans love this holiday. And it has an advantage … since it isn’t a holiday defined by Jewish law, there are no restriction. You can cook. You can drive. It’s easier to get the whole family together. Is there a down side to it not being a “legal” Jewish holiday? Well, sort of. Unlike other holidays (like Rosh HaShanah or Passover), there’s only one day rather than the traditional two (although Reform Jews usually celebrate only one day of each Jewish holiday). Since there’s only one day of Thanksgiving, it’s harder to balance whose dinner to go to: your family, or your spouse’s.

Good Yontif!

Chag Sameach.