Let’s Celebrate Shavuot

30 May, 2017

By Jill Cogan, JCC Judaic Coordinator

The Jewish calendar is jam-packed with holidays. It feels like every six weeks or so we celebrate another festival or observe another holiday, which can get very confusing, especially for the little ones in our Sari Isdaner Early Childhood Center. Purim blends in with Passover, and suddenly Spring has arrived! The only time of year that really seems to slow down is during the summer, and we kick off summer with the festival of Shavuot. Do you enjoy cheesecake? Were you a fan of pulling all-nighters in college? Interested in the details of Jewish mysticism? Then Shavuot is the holiday for you!

As with many Jewish holidays, it began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. It is the second of three major festivals that hold both historical and agricultural significance, the others being Passover and Sukkot. Shavuot comes exactly fifty days (seven weeks) after the second day of Passover. In fact, the name Shavuot literally translates as “weeks” and refers to the weeks that are counted between the two festivals. Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurred seven weeks after Passover. In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which crop offerings were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Today, Shavuot it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life. Many congregations have adopted the practice of Confirmation for their high school students, which coincides with Shavuot and their choosing to continue learning after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. One of my favorite parts of Shavuot is the all-night study session called Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Tikkun means a “set order” of something and refers to the order in which the texts are read. The custom originated with the mystics of Safed in the 16th century, and today, many Jews stay up all night on Shavuot reading and studying a variety of sacred texts. Traditionally, readings from the Torah and Talmud are included.

Any good study session requires quality snacks, right? Traditional Shavuot treats include blintzes, cheesecake, or cheese burekas- consider trying this Joan Nathan Shavuot cheesecake recipe.

Some interpret the practice directly from Jewish texts, saying we eat dairy to symbolize the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) promised to the Israelites, or that “milk and honey are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Some go as far to say that the Israelites at Sinai were considered to be as innocent as newborns, whose food is milk. Scholars who trace all Jewish customs and rituals to practices common among various ethnic groups claim that spring harvest festivals characteristically featured dairy dishes, perhaps because cheese was produced during that season. No matter how the tradition came to be, I hope you use this Shavuot to enjoy your delicious dairy treats and learn something new!

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