Thursday, September 28, 2006

Chukas Akum

Chukas Akum does not include things like going to the mall or the movies. The reason is, because the mall and movies and the like were instituted and developed by both goyim and Jews, that is, of the not religious variety. Chukas Akum has to be something that the goyim and not Jews institute or do.

That having been said, all that applies to the Torah prohibition of Chukas Akum. However, that does not mean that being a mall rat is a positive spiritual thing. There are other issurim involved with going to movies - such as moshav leitzim - even if it does not fall into the category of chukas akum. And the general lifestyle of a Ben Torah is not the same as a goy - we have other things than they do that concern us, that matter to us, that occupy our time

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The meaning of Thanksgiving today is not very clear. Here’s the history:

December 1620 – The pilgrims (idol worshipers by the way; Puritans of the English Separatist Church who first ran to Holland from England to escape religious persecution, and then left Holland because it wasn’t a religious enough environment for them) settle at Plymouth Rock. Winter was terribly cold and stormy. Of the 102 pilgrims that arrived, 46 of them died. But the next year’s harvest was good, and so they decided to celebrate their survival. They made a three day party, which was the first Thanksgiving.

It’s not known whether turkey was even part of the celebration at all. Governor William Bradford sent some guys “hunting for fowl”, and they may or may not have returned with a turkey. They definitely had lobster, deer meat, and fruit. It was a one-time thing, this Thanksgiving, which took place in July, never intended to be repeated again.

Every now and then another one-time, local Thanksgiving was declared because of various good fortunes, including a ‘day of prayer” that was successful (sic) at “ending a long drought” in 1623.

The first time all colonists celebrated a Thanksgiving was 1777 when they beat the British in a battle.

In 1789 George Washington declared a national Thanksgiving day, but it met much opposition, first because why should the problems of a few pilgrims merit a national holiday, and two – this one came from Thomas Jefferson – that the government has NO RIGHT TO MAKE RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS for everyone in the country!

Yes, religious. These were George Washington’s words:

“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks …

“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us … to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually … to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations … and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue …and … to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. “


The first official national Thanksgiving holiday was declared by president Lincoln in 1863. These were his words:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God . . .
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Sounds clearly like a religious holiday to me. Although it’s not part of any particular religion, it is certainly not merely a holiday celebrating the fact that the pilgrims survived and found a turkey to eat or the discovery of America; if it was declared as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Therefore, I would say simply that based on this, celebrating Thanksgiving would be prohibited because of Chukas Akum.

Even if one will argue that Thanksgiving has no religious connotations, it would be in the category of “minhag shtus shelhen”, plain silly meaningless customs of the Goyim, which are prohibited by Tosfos in Avodah Zarah 11b.

Now Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L has numerous Teshuvos on this. In OH V:20:6 he says that there is no prohibition to make a generic celebration on Thanksgiving (though he says a baal nefesh should be strict and not do it) but to actually make a celebration in honor of Thanksgiving is prohibited, because of Tosfos in Avodah Zarah that I quoted above. Rav Moshe says that even if originally the celebrators of the holiday thanked their Avodah Zarah, that has nothing to do with later celebrations, where this is no longer the case. To eat turkey on thanksgiving would therefore not be prohibited he says, unless you are doing it to celebrate Thanksgiving.

He also comments on the ruling of a certain Rav (I know who it is but if Rav Moshe did not mention his name I will not either) that eating turkey on Thanksgiving is Yehorg V’Al Yaavor, that he “doesn’t know the story [of Thanksgiving]”.

Rav Moshe ends, however by saying that this prohibition is “not clear.”

In a different teshuva (YD 4:11) Rav Moshe writes, “It looks as if (l’chorah), since in the religious books [of the Christians] this holiday is not mentioned, and … since this [holiday] is a day of commemoration for the people of the country who also were joyful because of the country to live here, now or then, we do not find a prohibition to make a feast, nor by eating turkey. Like we find in Kiddushin 66a that King Yanai made a feast when he won …a war, and ate vegetables as a commemoration. . .. But I still say that it is prohibited to establish this day annually for this feast, as Yanai’s celebration was only a one-time thing.”

In the very next teshuva Rav Moshe reconciles the seeming contradictions in his responsa. He describes Thanksgiving: “They didn’t have food for a certain time when they first came to this country, and then they ate turkeys”.

Rav Moshe explains that it makes no sense to establish a national holiday because of the events of certain pilgrims – exactly the objections that were raised against George Washington’s proclamation! – and that therefore Thanksgiving would be considered a “silly custom” and therefore prohibited under Chukas Akum. He says that it is not a religious holiday because, “They do not make this [holiday] because of religious concerns, and not with reasons of their religions, rather, it is a commemoration of something that has nothing to do with their religions, since it wasn’t founded by priests but rather plain people who were not involved with the idolatrous religions. Since they do not do this because of any connection to any religion in the world…”

The problem is, historical research clearly indicates that Thanksgiving was indeed established based on religious beliefs (the distinction Rav Moshe made before about the original celebrators perhaps thanking their idols but not today was regarding the celebrators own individual behavior. But he is clearly assuming that the establishment of the holiday had nothing to do with religion). Was Rav Moshe aware of this? Was Rav Moshe provided with this information by whoever it was that explained to him what Thanksgiving is about?

Who knows, but it doesn’t sound like it. Rav Moshe himself in YD 4:11, when he gives his reasoning why Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday he prefaces his remarks with “l’chorah”, which means “it seems so, but it’s not certain.”

Rav Moshe himself rules that to make an annual celebration is prohibited, and only to eat a one-time meal is permitted.

Bottom line:

(a) To celebrate Thanksgiving as an official, annual celebration is for sure Assur;

(b) to celebrate it at all may be Minhag shtus and also prohibited,

(c) and that's assuming that the whole thing is not a religious holiday, which it seems, is not the case. It was established as a religious holiday with religious meaning.

(d) And even what is permitted, even according to Rav Moshe's information, is only the bare-bones Halachah. A baal nefesh (spiritual person? Something like that) should stay away, he says.

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Halloween is a totally idolatrous celebration, which originated as a Celtic holiday, Samhain (pronounced many different ways), named after their Avodah Zorah who was "Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darkness". We'll call him "Sammy" for short.

Sammy supposedly took the "sun god" prisoner each year during the winter. On the day before the new year, which for the Celts was November 1st, Sammy called together all the dead people for a convention. I am not kidding. The dead people would take different forms, the real evil ones taking the form of a cat.

Of course, this was all very scary to the Celts, so they had their galachim, called "druids" offer sacrifices and stuff that day.

They made a holiday out of this to honor both the sun god and Sammy, which lasted three days, where people would parade down the street in animal skins and other costumes.

But it's not finished yet.

The Romans also had a holiday which, after many centuries ended up being mixed in with Sammy day. it's called Pomona Day, named after their avodah zarah god of fruits.

But we're still not finished.

About 1,200 years ago the Roman Catholic Idol Worshipers declared November 1st a holiday, All Hallows Day, in honor of their saints. Later they added another day to this, Nov. 2, called "All Souls Day", in honor of dead people. The Christian idol worshipers dressed up as saints, angels and devils. They made these holidays in order to counteract Sammy's Day ("chukas pagans" is against Christianity). But instead of counteracting it, people simply celebrated both the Christian and Celtic holidays at once.

The Halloween that exists today has a mixture of the customs of Sammy's Day, Pomona Day, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.

That's what you're celebrating on Halloween.

You should not give candy to trick-or-treaters, but to avoid any ill-feelings, just don't answer the door, as opposed to telling the kid at your door "no."
That's part of celebrating and recognizing the holiday, which is not permitted.

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December 25th was originally a pagan holiday associated with Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice. The early Christians had this marketing technique where they would try to pass off Yoshka as the fulfillment of the various legends in different pagan mythologies, thus getting those pagans to accept Yoshka. To this end, they kind of "rescheduled" Yoshka's birthday December 25th to coincide with this holiday, which predated Yoshka by many hundreds of years.

Celebrating yoshka's birth is worse than merely counting from his death - when you count it's just a point of reference, but when you celebrate you're saying that you think it's worthy of being a holiday.

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If saying "Christmas" is wrong, then saying "Xmas" is not any different. The X in Xmas is the Greek letter X, called "chi", which is the first letter in the Greek word Christos, meaning Christ, or "Messiah." The reason illiterate people used to use "X" in place of their signature on a contract is because they were calling upon Yoshkah to witness their good faith.

The reason we are allowed to say it is because Christ doesn’t mean our savior but rather "anointed" (moshiach in english). Kings were anointed, even among the goyim, and it doesn’t imply any religious connection to him.

However, in Europe many Jews were accustomed to referring to the holiday as "kratz mich", which means "scratch me" in Yiddish.

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I was there when a certain Rav asked Rav Schwab ZT”L why we allow Chanukah presents if it’s really not a Jewish custom, but rather a copy of the gentile custom of giving presents on Xmas. He said basically that Chanukah presents are treif (Incidentally, Chanukah “gelt” – cash, not presents – is a 100% Kosher minhag), but since the custom is so prevalent, if you as a parent will be the only one not to give your child a present on Chanukah, he will feel deprived and it can cause more trouble than it is worth. Therefore, since it is not Halachicly prohibited, but merely “not Jewish”, don’t fight it.

(It should be noted that in the case of the theaters, which is halachicly prohibited, we are not actually committing the sin; we are merely not objecting to it. In the case of the Chanukah presents, we would be committing the sin if it were prohibited. Therefore, to allow Chanukah presents, it is necessary to be Halachicly permitted).

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The truth is, even though counting the goyish year isn't as bad as celebrating it, the Chasam Sofer and Mahram Shik rule that it is prohibited to count according to the goyish year. We should follow their opinion. That is why many pious Jews will not write the goyish year out, but instead will only abbreviate it - as in '03.

The goyish months are not prohibited because (I heard this svara from Rav Hillel David and it's an excellent explanation) the goyish months aren't really months --- a month represents the cycle of something, like the cycle of the moon. As opposed to the goyish month, which represent nothing --- every 30-31 days, what happened? Absolutely nothing. They aren't "months" - they are random segments of days that people decided to clump together and call a "month". Fine, but that's not a Goyish version of a Jewish month, for a Jewish month means counting a time period against a cyclic event. So there is no reason not to use the goyish "months" - they're not "competition" for ours.

My son came up with a similar explanation as to why we are allowed to use the goyish days of the week - sunday, monday etc. That is because the goyish day is also a random chunk of time - it goes from midnight to midnight. Who decided that a "day" ends there? Who decided that a day is 24 hours? Maybe a day is 48 hours? Maybe it goes from 7:30 to 7:30? A Jewish "day" means one segment of night followed by a segment of day, or vice versa (goyim count night first), and if the goyim would make goyish names for days as such, maybe we would prohibit it, but the goyish "day" is a totally different concept and isn’t really a "day" in the real sense of the word. Rather, it is a random chunk of time and therefore not competition with our days.

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The names of the months did come from Bavel, not from Persian gods. It is a Yerushalmi, which is where the Ramban got it from.

The Persian god thing refers specifically to the month Tamuz, "Tamuz" being the name of an avodah zorah. The name of the month did not come from non-Jewish sources, but rather that particular month is subject to the tumah related to the avodah zorah worship of the false god tamuz, which we have to transform during that month. But the names of the months, including Tamuz, are of Jewish origin, as Chazal say.

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Neither "rattails" or stylish haircuts are chukas hagoyim. The reason is, these styles were originated by Jews (non religious) as well as by Goyim, and chukas akum is something originated by goyim and copied by Jews.

But it is definitely frowned upon to copy the behavior of the goyim and non-religious Jews even though there is no violation of chukas akum for it.

Religious type styles would still fall under chukas akum, such as the Krishna side-pony tail, and such. Otherwise, you would have to see whether the design started with Jews and Goyim together or just Goyim.

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Any clothing of the Goyim that has an element of Pritzus - even a small element - is prohibited under Chukas Akum.

There are those who say that even if the clothing of the Goyim are as Tzniusdik as Jewish clothing, we still have to wear some article of clothing that shows that we are Jews.

There are others who say that even if there is no element of Pritzus, as long as we got the idea to wear it from the Goyim, it is prohibited. It would be permitted if we decided on our own to wear it, independent of the fact that the Goyim do.

If the Jews in a certain place unfortunately ended up wearing clothing of the non-Jews, there are those who hold that although it came about in a prohibited fashion, now that the Jews are wearing that clothing it becomes permitted to someone who moves into that place to wear that clothing, since now it is the clothing of the Jews.

Wearing a Yarlmuka, for instance, even though it may have originated as a Chumrah, nowadays, since it distinguishes Jews from Goyim, there are those who say it becomes prohibited Min haTorah not to wear it.

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Peroxiding your hair is certainly frowned upon from a Torah perspective, but is not Halachicly prohibited. The reason it would not fall into the category of Chukas Akum is that, being neither a religious nor promiscuous practice of the Goyim, the only category of chukas akum it could fall under is “minhag shtus shel’hem” – senseless behaviors of the goyim. But that wouldn’t be the case here, since it was not exclusively Goyim that developed the practice of peroxiding hair, but the entire general population, including its non-religious, assimilated Jews (proportionate to their population). Since this is not an exclusively non-Jewish minhag shtus, but one that is jointly Goyish and non-religious-Jewish, we cannot prohibit it as Chukas Akum.

However, it is certainly frowned upon and discouraged from a Torah perspective, to imitate the senseless behavior of the combination Goyim and non-religious Jews, even if not a violation of Chukas Akum.

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It doesn't say all red clothing is chukas akum. It gives an example of Jews changing from white shoelaces - which was customary for Jews to wear - to red ones, which was customary for non-Jews.

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