“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.”

The excerpt is from Leviticus 18, and is often interpreted by the Orthodox to mean, “Don’t do goyish shit.” That means no Christmas trees, Easter eggs, or… Thanksgiving. Now indeed, it’s not as simple as that, and various Orthodox authorities come down on both sides of the “Can Jews do the turkey thing?” issue. The folks who wish to avoid the controversy figure, “Well, we always have a Shabbos dinner on Friday night, so we’ll just do all the turkey, green bean casserole, candied sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce then, and Yahweh will be none the wiser.”

Don’t try to fool Yahweh. He can get pretty nasty if he feels like you’re trying to get around his commandments.

But really, is that commandment all that it’s claimed to be? And is Thanksgiving kosher?

We’ll start with the latter. First, could Thanksgiving be considered a religious holiday? If so, it’s definitely forbidden to celebrate. One could say, nah, it’s a totally secular American thing, no Jesus, no crosses. On the other hand, its origins are in religious Protestant practice. Two Jews, three opinions, and of course, rabbis have come down on both sides of this. However, most lean toward, “Not Christian, at least not explicitly, so we can pretend. Turkey is kosher if a Jew slaughterer offed it. And as long as we’re doing the dinner all kosher-food-like and aren’t sitting at a table with people who are going to worship idols like Jesus, we’re cool with Yahweh.” Whew.

But wait! Some rabbis have pointed out that because Thanksgiving follows the Christian calendar (“Third Thursday in November”) and is not at a fixed date according to the Jewish (lunar) calendar, the default is, “It’s goyish and we shouldn’t go near it.” Shit.

Anyway, bottom line of that side of things is that there’s no definitive answer. For whatever reason, Yahweh didn’t mention the Pilgrims to Moses.

But the former question, what does the commandment in Leviticus 18:3 really mean, is to me a more interesting question. Traditionally, it’s interpreted as I said before, don’t do any kind of goyish shit. But it’s tough to read it in context and come away with that conclusion. This chapter is one of the juicier set of rules, and it makes you wonder if Egypt and Canaan were actually Arkansas and West Virginia. Here’s the rules from Leviticus 18, in order:

  • Don’t follow Egyptian or Canaanite rules
  • Follow Yahweh’s rules
  • Don’t fuck any close relatives
  • Don’t fuck your mother
  • Don’t fuck any of your father’s other wives
  • Don’t fuck your sister or half sister, even if you grew up in separate households
  • Don’t fuck your grandkids
  • Don’t fuck your stepsister
  • Don’t fuck your aunt on your father’s side
  • Don’t fuck your aunt on your mother’s side
  • Don’t fuck your father’s sister-in-law
  • Don’t fuck your daughter-in-law
  • Don’t fuck your sister-in-law
  • If you fuck a woman, don’t fuck her daughter, daughter-in-law, or granddaughter
  • And if you marry a woman, don’t marry her sister (more about this one in a bit)
  • Don’t fuck a woman on the rag
  • Don’t fuck your neighbor’s wife
  • Don’t burn up your kids if there’s some other god involved
  • Don’t fuck men (assuming you’re a dude)
  • Don’t fuck animals

At least to non-rabbinical me, it’s clear that Leviticus 18:3 cited by the more obstreperous rabbis isn’t about holiday dinners, it’s about fucking. By all rights, Leviticus 18 ought to be called The Fucking Chapter; there’s only a short diversion from fucking to a quick mention about not burning your kids, then it goes right back to fucking. So unless you intend to violate the turkey’s cavity in front of guests, or toss your kids into the oven while invoking Jesus, I think Yahweh’s rules just aren’t in force here. Turkeys are kosher, and as long as you follow the rest of the kosher rules for the dinner and don’t pray to Jesus, it’s unlikely to offend Yahweh that there’s a Christian calendar involved.

Before we go, I want to point out that this week’s Sedra, Vayeitzei, is apropos to the rules. It’s the story of Yaakov, Leah, and Ruchel. You’ll remember that Yaakov went to work for his Uncle Laban, tending sheep. The agreement was, tend the sheep for 7 years and Yaakov could marry Ruchel, Laban’s cute younger daughter. He does the herding work, and the morning after the wedding and the consummation, Yaakov wakes up to discover… oh shit, it’s the older, uglier sister. I FUCKED LEAH! THAT WAS NOT THE DEAL! Laban, who is clearly a major dick, tells him, basically, “Tough noogies, you married her, you fucked her, she’s yours. Now, if you still want cute little Ruchel, I think that another 7 year hitch ought to do it.” Yaakov realizes that if he wants to bang some higher quality trim, he’s going to have to go back to the sheep. But he’s no dummy- he says, “Look, I’ll do it, but if we wait yet another 7 years, Ruchel will be past her use-by date. How about I marry and fuck her now, and I’ll pledge to put in the sheep time after the punga punga?” Laban agrees, Yaakov now is married to and banging both sisters. Oh, and as a bonus, he also gets to bang each sister’s handmaid.

Damn, 14 years of sheep doesn’t seem like such a bad deal, in perspective.

Note though, that Yaakov lucked out and managed all this before the rules kicked in. Otherwise, he’d be in clear violation of at least three of them. I guess Yahweh just got prissier in Mosaic times.

Have a great Thanksgiving, and don’t forget the yarmulkes. And the fucking.