What is Shavuot?


May 30 (evening) to June 1

BACKGROUND

Shavuot (literally “weeks”) takes place on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, seven weeks after the first day of Passover, when wheat was planted. It marks the day God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai, as well as the first fruits of spring. Shavuot is one of the ancient pilgrimage holidays — along with Passover and Sukkot — when offerings were taken to the Temple in Jerusalem.

TRADITIONS

On Shavuot, we read the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth, about the convert Ruth and her acceptance of God. Ruth was an ancestor of King David, whose lineage is to give rise to the Messiah. There’s also a special reading of a liturgical poem called Akdamut, which highlights God’s mighty power.

Many Jews stay up on the first night of Shavuot studying all night (Tikkun Leil Shavuot), a practice with roots in the midrash that when it was time for the Israelites to receive the Torah, they were all asleep and had to be awakened by Moses. The idea is to make up for their mistake with our modern enthusiasm and readiness.

SPECIAL FOOD

For various reasons, a popular Shavuot tradition is to consume dairy foods, such as cheesecake, ice cream and blintzes. In The Song of Songs, it says, “honey and milk are under your tongue.” Rabbis have stated that the love between God and the nation of Israel is like “honey and milk.” Another explanation is the Jews didn’t have kosher meat to eat since they weren’t given the laws of kashrut yet on Shavuot. It is a practice among some to have a meat meal later on Shavuot.

Sources: HebCal, My Jewish Learning

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