Reb Zalman’s Thanksgiving Prayer

Dear Friends:

Here’s a copy of Reb Zalman’s wonderful insert to birkat hamazon / grace after meals, for your Thanksgiving celebrations:

Tanksgiv All The Boona

It’s a beautiful prayer that will add a Jewish touch to your Thanksgiving celebration this year.  

At the same time, we need to also reinforce the notion that it would be unkosher for us to behave as some say the Europeans did as they settled in America.  

Here’s an excerpt from Reb Zalman’s book, Integral Halachah where he lists the non-negotiables, the anchors of a Halachah for our time:

“There is an element in halachah where we have to feel that we are doing this because God wants that – and not necessarily the God from the outside; it can be the God from the inside – but God wants that,  and that becomes sort of an absolute…  One such anchor of halachah would be, ‘I cannot do anything that would take away from another Human Being their self-determination.‘  That would be the shfichat damim / spilling of blood element of that [and so, it cannot be kosher to behave so].”

By writing the Thanksgiving Prayer, Reb Zalman is not condoning some stories we’ve heard about Thanksgiving as it occurred, accounts of massacres, bullying and ravaging of natural habitats. 

It is most appropriate for us to resonate with Native Americans, especially at this time when our planet is crying out so for healing.

Besides being a simple Thanksgiving prayer, the Hebrew version offsets a feeling of a loss of Jewish identity during a time of year when the dominant culture pours into many aspects of our lives and some of us Jews tend to feel overwhelmed by it all.  

The phrase, “Tanksgiv All The Boona,” is taken from the title Reb Zalman had given the document when I received the prayer.  It means, as best I can tell, “Thanksgiving for all the goodness,” and the spelling reflects an antiquated English as may have been utilized during the seventeenth century.

Wishing you and yours a joyful celebration.  

Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

5 Responses to “Reb Zalman’s Thanksgiving Prayer”

  1. Diane Balser Says:

    Dear Seth,
    There are different points of view that one can take on Thanksgiving.

    I think as Jews we need to be very mindful of the actual experiences of Native People in this country.

    Below are narratives which try to do this.

    Hill & Holler Column by Susan Bates

    Introduction for Teachers by Chuck Larson, Tacoma Public Schools, September 1986

  2. Jeremiah Says:

    I am curious to ask, but can this prayer be said even if not Jewish? I am a humble believer in God who is a catholic. I only seek a good prayer to give thanks to God for this celebration, and this one is a very heart warming prayer.

  3. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    I don’t see this prayer as being only for Jews.

  4. Rabbi David J. Cooper Says:

    Seth, in regard to the following:
    “It is most appropriate for us to resonate with Native Americans, especially at this time when our planet is crying out so for healing.”
    On Thanksgiving mornings I have attended the sunrise service put on by Native Americans at Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. I need to say that the folks there would probably not regard some of the wording of Reb Zalman’s well-intended blessing as resonating with their experience of oppression.
    I am also a little concerned about your phrasing “as some say the Europeans did…” and “some stories we’ve heard about Thanksgiving.” I know that I would be deeply offended if someone said “the pogroms that some say were perpetrated against the Jews.”

  5. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    Thank you Rabbi David.

    Please let our Native brothers and sisters know that many of us Jews also feel the pain of the injustices that have been perpetrated against them and that we support them in their struggles for retribution and redemption.

    I used the “some say” phraseology because I am not an expert on this subject and so I purposely avoided the assertion of injustice. My intent was to create a context for appreciation of Reb Zalman’s liturgical innovation. As an American Jew who has somewhat lost his Jewish way in the American culture, I am grateful for the prayer because it gives me something I didn’t have before: Reb Zalman helps me and others regain a Jewish culture. The prayer is reflective of the way many understand and experience Thanksgiving. A simple giving of thanks is also a way of connecting to God potentially reducing overall injustice.

    As it turns out, this year Thanksgiving coincides with erev Rosh Chodesh / Yom Kippur Katan. It occurs to me that those of us so inclined can come to our Thanksgivings with the fast of Yom Kippur Katan in mind and focus on the injustices and any parts therein whereby we are collaborators.

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