CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History

Shavuot

Shavuot is a Jewish observance that follows Passover by 50 days. It is the second of three major Jewish festivals. The other two are Passover and Sukkot.

The seven species

  • Homes and synagogues are decorated with plants, flowers, and leafy branches.
  • Reading the Book of Ruth.
  • People eat dairy products such as milk and cheese at least once during Shavouot.
  • Some people in Jerusalem study the Torah all night before walking to the Western Wall (Kotel, Kosel) for morning prayers. Some synagogues in the United States also hold confirmation celebrations for young adults.
  • Shavuot is a public holiday in Israel.

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Background

On the 50th day after the Israelites left Egypt and were in the wilderness around Mount Sinai, God presented Moses with the Torah, or Ten Commandments. In accepting these, the Israelites became a nation committed to serving God and Shavuot marks the anniversary of this event.
The period between Passover, when Jewish people celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt, and Shavuot, is known as the Counting of the Omer. This marks a period of spiritual preparation before the Torah is received. In the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish people offered a sacrifice of an omer (a measure) of barley in the temple on each of the 49 days after Passover. On the 50th day, known as Shavuot, they offered wheat at the temple. In modern times, Jewish people remember this during the Counting of the Omer by counting the number of days since Passover each night after sundown.

Symbols

An important symbol of Shavuot is the Bikkurim, or first fruits. This was a basket of gold or silver that contained the first harvest of the Seven Species crops and was carried to the Temple in Jerusalem in a procession accompanied by music. These crops are: barley; dates; figs; grapes; olives; pomegranates; and wheat. Modern versions of the Bikkurim may include other crops now grown in Israel or other Jewish communities around the world.
Images of the Ten Commandments inscribed on stones or scrolls representing the Torah are also symbolic of Shavuot.
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.
The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive.