HHMI Newsgroup Archives

From:          Ray Hagerty
To:            heb_roots_chr@geocities.com
Subject:       Re: Puritans / Thanksgiving and Sukkot

> From: Henry Hodgens
> To:      heb_roots_chr@geocities.com
> Subject: Thanksgiving
> Eddie,
> Does anyone in the news group have any information concerning the Puritans/Separatists that left England for the New World.  We know that they were persecuted for their beliefs that the > Reformation and Anglican Church Doctrines did not go far enough, but what were their beliefs?  How close did they come to a Messianic understanding?  Any relationship between
> Thanksgiving and Sukkot?
> Henry Hodgens
> **********************************************************************

Dear Henry,

The best book I have ever read on the subject is "THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY" by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. Their book answers the question, "Did God have a plan for America?" They start with Columbus and work forward in history to the Pilgrims and the Puritans. It may cause you anguish over what America has become, but it is the best answer I have seen to date. The authors make no mention of Sukkot per say, but they talk about how the Pilgrims saw themselves in relationship to the Old Covenant which might be helpful. I was a home school mom and used this great book for American History because it doesn't read like a text book, it drew us into our history, allowed us to discover our heritage, and made us sit up and take a look at how we were living out our beliefs. Your Library should have this book on the shelf still, we got ours from our home school supply store.

Maranatha en tachi


From:          Kit Weiss
To:            <heb_roots_chr@geocities.com>
Subject:       Re: Puritans / Thanksgiving and Sukkot

Dear Henry Hodgens:

There is a wonderful book called The Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, that tells the story of the Pilgrims and Puritans very well.  They did their homework and
are good at telling the story.  The sad truth is that our educational system has failed to tell the story correctly (if at all).  I know you will enjoy the book. Kit Weiss -8 Great grandaughter of William and Suzanna White.


From:          Bradley C. Gray
To:            <heb_roots_chr@geocities.com>
Subject:       Puritans and their beliefs


 There are two books that I can think of that exemplify the beliefs of the Puritans.  These two are Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Bunyans's "Pilgrim's Progress."  One other book that I can think of is "Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691" by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, former Historian General of General Society of Mayflower Descendants, (Ancestry Publishing ISBN 0-916489-18-3, 480pp. 1986).

In Marvin Wilson's book, "Our Father Abraham," he discusses, on pages 125-132, in some detail about the "RE-JUDAIZATION" of the faith.  In other words, they were wanting a Hebraic approach. Many of  the colleges that are now liberal were founded by the Puritans (Harvard).  Hebrew was an important part of the founding of early colonies. Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Yale made Hebrew the center of their curricula.

In fact, Harvard had the first Messianic Jew graduated from there, Rabbi Judah Monis (1683-1764).  Monis was the instructor of Hebrew.  They had such impact in this country that in 1776, many of the members of the new congress were advocating adopting HEBREW as the official language of the United States.  One other thing I remember about William Brewster, a Puritan pastor at Plymouth, strongly felt A.V. was a liberal translation. He felt it had too many errors for his parishioners to read.  The Puritans despised the A.V. so much that went with the Geneva Bible.  Brewster purchased the A.V.; and he went through the entire translation, circling the mistakes.  This 1611 bible is on display in Plymouth.

Bradley C. Gray
Dayton, OH

To:            heb_roots_chr@geocities.com
Subject:       Re: Puritans / Thanksgiving and Sukkot
From:          George Brooks

Dear Henry Hodgens:

I am a direct descendant of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins and Myles Standish - thus I have always had an interest in any connections between Puritans, Pilgrims and Jewish thought.

1)  The people we call "The Pilgrims" referred to themselves as "The Saints" and were part of a larger group called Brownists (named after a free thinking fellow named Brown, of course), who were part of a larger group called the Separatists. 

2)  These Separatists/Brownists had a few interesting ideas:  they only believed in what they found in the New Testament.  So, they did not see marriage as a religious sacrament.  They felt it was a contract about "interests" and money and inheritance.  It wasn't until the mid-1700's that people of Pilgrim stock in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts actually started having marriages in churches.   The waters are slightly muddied by the fact that the Town Hall was usually also the Sunday "meeting place."  But marriages were "civil" not "religious", in any case.

3)  Like today's Jehovah's Witnesses, they were not fans of the "papist" celebration of Christmas, having "no warrant" (as they would say) for celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25.

4)  The Pilgrims, who were never very large in number (even back in Holland), also had several NON-SAINTS as part of their community.  So, ironically, the Pilgrims tended to keep religious rules separate from "civil" rules, because they were never quite sure if the NON-SAINTS around them might try to "react" by taking charge, by majority vote, and vote in all the Anglican "nonsense" they were trying to leave behind. This tended to give the Pilgrims a very moderate approach to law.  During the Salem Witch scare, they did not execute any "alleged"

5)  The Puritans, who came in increasingly large numbers from 1630 on (a decade after the Mayflower's arrival) in Salem and Boston areas, sought to PURIFY the Anglican church - - they did NOT want to separate from the Anglican body.  They did not believe in too much "congregationalism" or local rule by any particular congregation.  They believed in THEOCRACY and a fairly COMPLETE MERGER of civil and religious law.  And, one day, they hoped to bring this "purity" to the entire Anglican church.  It was this COMPLETE approach to law in the
community which led to the Salem Witch trials.

6)  Sometime before or after Cromwell came to power in England (the details are vague to me at this point), the Puritans realized there was no way to purify the Anglican church sufficiently, and they settled into a highly HIERARCHICAL form of congregationalism - - today we would say it looks an awful like Presbyterianism.  Associations of clergy ran tight control over an association of congregations. Eventually this "rulership" would become more and more flexible until we arrive at what we recognize as the almost complete freedom of congregational style churches.  During this process, Harvard University, which was created for the training of clergy in Puritan ways, eventually became a non-religious school (a secular institution). 

7)  There quickly were far more Puritans than Pilgrims in the colonies. In fact, Plymouth Colony of the Pilgrims eventually became swallowed up by the Massachusetts Bay Colony (into present day Massachusetts).  The Puritans had nothing to fear from the Pilgrims.  But they DID still fear the eventual, seemingly inevitable interference from the Anglican Church. This is what triggered the break between the two communities, which was facilitated by the fact the Anglican church DELIBERATELY did not send any Anglican Bishops to America.  They thought a Bishop on American soil would breed too much independence.  But it also meant that no Anglican power base could grow in America either.  And the Puritan ministers, and their successors all the way up to the time of the American Revolution, MOST ALWAYS supported an independent American mindset in order to lessen the likelihood that Anglican "corruption of the true faith" would gain any control in America.

8)  As you can see, there is precious little connection here to a Jewish point of view.  Though the term "The Saints" does have a nice background in Jewish thought somewhere, I think.  The closest we come to a First Testament frame of mind is that Rhode Island was founded (I can't recall the name right now) by someone that the Puritans EXILED because he was a Sabbatarian (!)  Sabbatarian Baptists (and other Sabbath-oriented groups) were quite common, though not populous - they met on THE Sabbath.  Brown University used to be a Sabbatarian institution I think.  But, over decades, Sabbatarianism faded away into general New England protestantism. 

George Brooks


From the website:


America's first Thanksgiving was very likely inspired by the Jewish Festival of Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles.

The Puritans who founded Pilgrim America were "deeply rooted in the Hebraic tradition," (Marvin R. Wilson , "Our Father Abraham"). When they sailed to America, the Puritans likened their journey to the "promised land" to the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt.

The Puritans, most of whom had Hebrew names, regarded themselves as "the spiritual heirs of the Old Testament," (Max Dimont, "Jews, God and History"). "In fact, there was even a proposal that Hebrew be made the official language of the Colonies, and John Cotton wanted to adopt the Mosiac Code as the basis for the laws of Massachusetts," (Dimont).

The Pilgrims rejoiced about their survival in the new world and declared a time of thanksgiving in order to praise God "for his goodness and favour," (The First Thanksgiving Proclamation -- June 20, 1676).

Likewise, the festival of Sukkot is a time for rejoicing to commemorate the redemption of Israel from Egypt as well as remember God's providence during the many years of wandering through the desert. (Lev. 23; Deut. 16;14) This festival also is an agricultural holiday which celebrates the harvest in the Land of Israel, (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, "Jewish Literacy")

"The American pilgrim fathers were, in all likelihood, inspired by the biblical account of Sukkot to pattern the holiday of Thanksgiving after it," (Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, "How Firm a Foundation - A Gift of Jewish Wistom for Christians and Jews," pg. 93)


From the website:


The heavily Bible-influenced Puritans bring the Word to the New World.

Now that we have seen the powerful religious, moral and political influence that the Bible had on Europe, it's time to travel across the Atlantic to America for the fascinating conclusion to our story.

Just as the United States occupies a singular position in history as the only country founded as a democracy, it also has a unique status as the country most-influenced by the Bible in history.

Many of the earliest colonists who settled on the north-east coast of America in early 17th century were Protestant refugees escaping religious persecutions in Europe. The first were the so-called "Pilgrims" -- Protestant-British settlers who founded the colony on Plymouth Rock in New England. They were followed by many thousands who arrived in the New World in subsequent years.

Well into the 18th century, America continued to be not only the land of opportunity for many people seeking a better life, but also the land of religious tolerance.

The majority of the earliest settlers were Puritans from England. Like their cousins back home, these American Puritans strongly identified with both the historical traditions and customs of the ancient Hebrews of the Old Testament. They viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from Egypt: England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean their Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land. (1)

Most of the early legislation of the colonies of New England was determined by Scripture. 

These settlers found themselves in a New World which had no existing laws or government. Their first task, therefore, was to create a legal framework for their communities and the first place they looked for guidance was the Hebrew Bible. Thus most of the early legislation of the colonies of New England was determined by Scripture. The most extreme example was the Connecticut Code of 1650 which created a form of fundamentalist government based almost entirely on Mosaic law using numerous citations from the Bible. The same held true for the code of New Haven and many other colonies. (2)

At the first assembly of New Haven in 1639, John Davenport clearly declared the primacy of the Bible as the legal and moral foundation of the colony:

"Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men as well as in the government of families and commonwealth as in matters of the church ... the Word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in organizing the affairs of government in this plantation." (3)

Puritan obsession with the Bible led them to try and incorporate many aspects of the Jewish commandments into their lifestyle based on their literal interpretation of Hebraic laws (which did not always agree with the Jewish interpretation nor with Jewish practice). One of the most significant was the concept of the Sabbath as a day of rest and meditation. Puritan Sabbath observance began at sundown and no work of any kind, even household chores, was allowed for the next 24-hours. Sabbath observance was strictly monitored by local officials.

Thanksgiving which has evolved into a national day of feasting and celebration was initially conceived by the Pilgrims, in 1621, as day similar to the Jewish Day of Atonement -- Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, introspection and prayer.

This Puritan focus on the Bible and individual responsibility had an even more significant impact on literacy in the American colonies than in England. All towns in New England with a minimum of 50 households were required by law to establish schools and appoint teachers. Universities were established and many printing presses were imported. This subject we shall examine in the next installment.


1) Sivan, Gabriel, The Bible and Civilization, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1973, p. 236.

2) Katsh, Abraham I., The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy, New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1977, Chapter 3 & 5.

3) Katsh, p. 97.

Rabbi Ken Spiro is originally from New Rochelle, NY. He graduated from Vasser College with a BA in Russian Language and Literature and did graduate studies at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. He has Rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and a Masters Degree in History from The Vermont College of Norwich University. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and five children where he works as a senior lecturer and researcher on Aish HaTorah outreach programs.


From the website:


When the Puritans came to America they were deeply immersed in their Hebrew heritage. Marvin Wilson explains in his book, Our Father Abraham (pp. 127-128):

The Reformers put great stress on sola scriptura (Scripture as the soul and final authority of the Christian). The consequent de-emphasis on tradition brought with it a return to the biblical roots. Accordingly, during the two centuries following the Reformation, several groups recognized the importance of once again emphasizing the Hebraic heritage of the Church. Among these people were the Puritans who founded Pilgrim America.

The Puritans came to America deeply rooted in the Hebraic tradition. Most bore Hebrew names. The Pilgrim fathers considered themselves as the children of Israel fleeing "Egypt" (England), crossing the "Red Sea" (the Atlantic Ocean), and emerging from this "Exodus" to their own "promised land" (New England). The Pilgrims thought of themselves as all the children of Abraham and thus under the covenant of Abraham (Feingold n.d., 46).

Thus, the seeds of religious liberty for the American Church did not come from New England leaders like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson as noble as they and others were. Rather, it came from the Hebrews themselves, whose sacred Writings inspired the Puritans.

The Jewish New Testament Commentary says, "The Puritans, who took the Old Testament more seriously than most Christians, modeled the American holiday of Thanksgiving after Sukkoth" (Stern 1992).

The Reformers put great stress on sola scriptura (Scripture as the soul and final authority of the Christian). The consequent de-emphasis on tradition brought with it a return to the biblical roots. Accordingly, during the two centuries following the Reformation, several groups recognized the importance of once again emphasizing the Hebraic heritage of the Church. Among these people were the Puritans who founded Pilgrim America.

The Puritans wanted to abolish pagan religious ceremonies that had crept into the Roman Catholic church from Babylonianism. To rid the church of all pagan superstitions, the Puritans did
away with all the calendar days. Christmas was outlawed in England in 1644 by an act of Parliament, for it was a lingering pagan element of the papal calendar, and they considered it disobedient to God's Word (Deut. 12:30, 31; 1 John 5:18-21; 2 Cor. 6-14-7:1). By 1659, Massachusetts had passed a law fining anybody who celebrated Christmas. Under the influence of
puritanical thought, America suppressed the celebration of Christmas well into the nineteenth century.

From the website:


George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, although some were opposed to it. There was discord among the colonies, many feeling the hardships of a few Pilgrims did not warrant a national holiday. And later, President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of having a day of thanksgiving.

It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize as Thanksgiving. Hale wrote many editorials championing her cause in her Boston Ladies'
Magazine, and later, in Godey's Lady's Book. Finally, after a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale's obsession became a reality when, in 1863,
President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was proclaimed by every president after Lincoln. The date was changed a couple of times, most recently by Franklin Roosevelt, who set it up one week to the next-to-last Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.

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