Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve often wondered if we could add a section to our prayer service for Thanksgiving, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim. After all, so many Jews have benefited by living in America, and Jews around the world have benefited because there is a USA, even if they don’t live there, especially Jews in Israel!
I asked this question in our Sunday school, and there was a discussion, but no clear answer.
Thank you if you answer this,
You’re asking a great question, which is a very Jewish question, one of real appreciation for the many blessings you enjoy being Jewish in America! I totally concur that the Jews around the world benefit greatly by the fact that there is a United States, for many reasons, among them America’s generous support for Israel. The level of religious freedom and equality we enjoy here is unprecedented, and has not been enjoyed by Jews in any county for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is most certainly incumbent upon us, as Jews and as Americans, to have tremendous feelings of appreciation for all of this, as reflected by the prayer for the United States recited weekly on Shabbos in synagogues throughout the country.
The question of adding to the actual Amida prayer, like we do for Hanukkah and Purim, however, is a more complicated one. We can’t add a “holiday” to the Jewish calendar, which would take on the meaning to the Jewish year as Hanukkah or Purim. Even those holidays, which celebrated the rescue, emancipation and existence of the Jewish people, were not added by agreement or a vote. Even the early sages of that time relied upon prophesy, and without actual prophesy would not have had the license to add a rabbinical holiday to the Jewish calendar.
Prophesy ceased soon after the Purim miracle, at the beginning of the period of the “Men of the Great Assembly,” upon the Jews return to Israel with Ezra and Nehemia to rebuild the Second Temple after the 70 year Persian-Median exile. (I always say, that’s when we became a non-prophet organization!) From that time forward we no longer have the license to add a new holiday to the Jewish calendar and an addition to the amidah.
The prayer service, especially the Amidah prayer (which you’re referring to the addition of Hanukkah and Purim into), was composed by the same group of sages, the Men of the Great Assembly. It was written by a venerable group of 120 sages, among them the remaining prophets. They utilized this prophecy to know what precisely needs to be in the prayer service to carry the Jews through their future years of exile and Diaspora. Among the additions to the daily service, they injected paragraphs for Hanukkah and Purim.
Although we can’t add to the actual service, you could certainly add in your own private expressions of appreciation. On a communal level, as we mentioned above, most synagogues recite a weekly prayer for the guidance and safety of the United States, its citizens and leaders. We all need to pray to God to give guidance to the recently elected new leadership of our country as well.
On the same note, all of Judaism is about appreciation. The very name “Jew,” from the word “Yehudi,” comes from the root “hoda’ah,” which means appreciation. Every mitzvah that we do, and every prayer, is to show our appreciation to the Al-mighty for the many blessings in our lives. To the extent that being American is a blessing for us, we can thank God for that blessing, having it in mind in the mitzvos we perform on Thanksgiving, and every day of the year. Wishing all the readers a happy Thanksgiving.
Why we don’t add to prayer service
Dear Rabbi Fried,