Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

The First Thanksgiving Sermon Given By A Rabbi In 1789

As soon as George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving holiday in 1789, some American Jews embraced the tradition right away.

Portrait of Gershom Mendes Seixas. Image by Wikimedia

Gershom Mendes Seixas, considered by some to be American Judaism’s first public figure, was only 23 years old when he was appointed in 1768 as the cantor of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel (at the time, serving New York’s 300 Jewish residents, then housed in the ‘First Mill Street Synagogue’, located on what is today South William Street. Though never officially ordained as a rabbi, Seixas filled the role of rabbinic leadership there.

That Thanksgiving morning, Seixas gathered his congregants and rose to the pulpit to talk about the significance of the holiday for American Jews:

“…It is necessary that we, each of us in our respective stations, behave in such a manner as to give strength and stability to the laws entered into by our representatives; to consider the burden imposed on those who are appointed to act in the executive department; to contribute, as much as lays in our power, to support that government which is founded upon the strictest principles of equal liberty and justice. If to seek the peace and prosperity of the city wherein we dwell be a duty, even under bad governments, what must it be when we are situated under the best of constitutions?…

The sermon (“discourse”) was preceded and followed by readings of psalms, prayer for the rulers of the United States, and a prayer for the congregation.

Congregation Shearith Israel on the Upper West Side, today.

To this very day, Shearith-Israel (also called the ‘Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue’, led by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik) has a special ceremony for Thanksgiving morning — no tahanun (an atonement prayer that is omitted on joyous days), prayer for the government, psalms, followed by a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day “parade viewing with hot chocolate and pastries”.

Read Seixas’ full sermon here:

A Religious Discourse: Thanksgiving Day Sermon, November 26, 1789 by alexlux18 on Scribd





    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.