Shavuot at Beth David May 31 - June 1, 2017 (6 - 7 Sivan 5777)
Leviticus 21:15-16, 21
Shavuot is celebrated on May 31-June 1, 2017 ( 6-7 Sivan 5777)
Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).
The period from Passover to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.
Work is not permitted during Shavuot. It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.
It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot. Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with “milk and honey.” According to another view, it is because our ancestors had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws therein), and were not ready for kashrut. It is customary to read The Book of Ruth as Ruth’s coming to Israel took place around the time of Shavuot, and her acceptance into the Jewish faith was analogous of the acceptance of the Jewish people of God’s Torah.
Shavuot Traditions, Symbols, and Activities
Dairy foods are traditional on Shavuot because the Jews learned that all their meat was not kosher when they received the Torah! One important traditional food is blintzes. Other popular choices include cheese and fruit plates as well as cheesecakes.
The Ten Commandment tablets are the most popular symbol of Shavuot. They signify the giving of the Torah to our ancestors and the Torah that we receive every day.
One of the traditional texts for Shavuot is the Book of Ruth, when we have Confirmation ceremonies for teenagers to reaffirm their Jewish beliefs. We also hold all-night study sessions, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, on the eve of Shavuot. Some other customs associated with Shavuot display remnants of the agricultural tradition. This is connected with Mishnah Rosh Hashanah (a section of the Talmud), which states that Shavuot is the judgment day for fruit trees. Recent customs are to plant flowers around the synagogue on the day before Shavuot. In Israeli agricultural communities, some people dress in white and ride on carts filled with the produce of the late spring harvest.