November 24, 2022


The Pilgrims' rabbi (Jeff Jacoby, November 22, 2022, Arguable)

As for the idea that Thanksgiving is exclusively a Christian tradition, the Pilgrims themselves would have been the first to deny it.

Among the passengers who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth in 1620, none would prove as influential as William Bradford, who was elected governor of the colony in 1621 and would serve in that position for close to 30 years.

Like many of his fellow Puritan Christians, Bradford had an absorbing interest in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious custom. He perceived a deep affinity between the wanderings of the Pilgrims -- who had fled England to escape religious persecution -- and the ancient Israelites' journey to the Promised Land. Bradford was a disciple of the Puritan scholar Henry Ainsworth, and brought with him on the Mayflower Ainsworth's most important work, "Annotations on the Five Books of Moses," along with his commentary on the Book of Psalms.

As Nick Bunker explains in "Making Haste from Babylon," his acclaimed 2010 history of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Puritans like Ainsworth had a passion "to absorb the wisdom of the Bible from as close to the source as possible." That inspired them to "read with sympathy the rabbis of the Roman Empire, Egypt, and medieval Spain, authors whose books were preserved by the Jews of Germany or Venice." Ainsworth drew on the works of many rabbinic scholars, but he revered above all the towering 12th-century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, whom he dubbed "the wisest of the Hebrew Rabbins."

It was in reading Ainsworth's commentary on the 107th Psalm -- the opening words of which are "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" -- that Bradford encountered the Jewish teaching that would became the basis of the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving.

Posted by at November 24, 2022 9:05 AM