Is the Hebrew word for “Thank you” related to the thanksgiving turkey?

by Tuvia Pollack

Todah – the Hebrew word for “thank you” is also connected to confession, and to the name Judah after whom the Jewish people is named – and it originates from the word for “hand.”

By coincidence the word “splendor,” the word “validation” and the Modern Hebrew word for the Turkey bird all sound as if it they are connected to the same root – but they’re not!

The root of the word in Hebrew is YDH which makes it a hard and problematic root to identify, especially in Latin alphabet transcript. Since the vowels can change, and Hebrew is filled with prefixes, suffixes and infixes, and because both Y and H in a root tend to switch in certain forms, the original root can be elusive.

The word “yad” means hand, and the root YDH is connected to it. Strong’s concordance sees the verb as “an extension of the hand” which explains why we form words that mean to confess or confession as well as thanks, thanksgiving or praise.

In most verb forms, the Y of the YDH-word has either disappeared or been replaced with a V, which is common in Hebrew. But the V can also be read as “O” in some forms. Thus “ani modeh” can mean both “I confess” or “I thank.” “Nodeh” means “we thank” or “we confess.” “Hitvadeh” means “he confessed” or “he shall confess” as in Leviticus 16:21. “Hodu” means “give thanks,” as in Psalm 136.

But the H at the end of the root can also disappear and turn into a Y, so a confession is a “viduy” and “hodayah” means thanksgiving.

The thanksgiving sacrifice mentioned many times in Leviticus is called a “zevach todah.” But the Hebrew word for thanksgiving occurs even earlier than that, in Genesis, when Leah gives birth to Judah:

  • “And she conceived again and bore a son and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she names him Judah.” (Genesis 29:35).

The Hebrew says “Odeh” – I will thank, or I will praise. And therefore she named him Yehuda. From this came the name of the tribe of Judah, eventually the Southern kingdom of Judah, the Roman Province of Judea, and the name of the Jewish people, which happened to be the name that stuck with us.

The prophets and the psalms are filled with thanksgiving and thankfulness, and we can’t list them all, but I will detail some of them here:

  • “Indeed the Lord will comfort Zion … Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving (Todah) and sound of a melody” Isaiah 51:3
  • “From them will proceed thanksgiving (todah) and the voice of those who celebrate.” Jeremiah 30:19
  • “To you I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving (zevach todah) and call upon the name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:17
  • “Give thanks (hodu) to the Lord, for he is good.” (Psalm 136:1)


Confusingly similar roots can give us the false impression that they are connected. The Hebrew for validate, “levade,” sounds similar, but the last letter in that root is not an H but an alef. In Hosea 14:6 the word “hodo” appears, which sounds like give thanks, but it means “his splendor” or “his beauty” with “hod” meaning splendor, and the O at the end menaing his. It’s from the root HVD, and not YDH.

Another confusing coincidence is that the Hebrew name for the country India is “Hodu.” We can’t know for sure where that name came from, since it’s in the Bible, so we just have to accept the name for what it is. In the book of Esther, it says that the king was ruling from India to Ethiopia.

India is called Bharat in India, but the Persians called it “Hindustan” based on the Indus river. This developed into “India” in Greek and consequently in most European languages. Hodu is presumably just the Hebrew version of the Persian name. Well, either that, or the writer of the book of Esther just really felt that we need to be thankful to the Indians.

When Christopher Columbus arrived to America and thought he was in India, he brought home a few turkey birds. He sent them to the Jews of Jerusalem with a parchment scroll in Hebrew that said that they are to be called Indian birds.
Ok, that’s not really true, I made that up. But for some reason, a lot of European languages started to call this bird “Indian.” French did so, Russian did so, Polish did so – and Yiddish did so.

And this just may be the reason we call it a “hodu” bird in Hebrew. The Hebrew-speaking Israelis translated the Yiddish “indik” to the Hebrew “hodu” – which also just happens to also mean “give thanks!”

Is it possible that God orchestrated all this history and linguistics so that we would call this bird “the Thanksgiving chicken” in Hebrew completely by coincidence…?

Happy Thanksgiving!