Shavuot: Jews celebrate receiving the Torah

Enormous crowd gathers at Western Wall in Jerusalem at sunrise

On Shavuot, Jews study the Torah all night—and in Jerusalem, tens of thousands emerge at dawn, traveling to the Western Wall for prayer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET TUESDAY, JUNE 3: The Counting of the Omer has ended and Jews rejoice in the reception of the Torah today, on the ancient Festival of Weeks, also known as Shavuot. An ancient grain and agricultural festival of Israel, Shavuot was once a prominent time for harvesting wheat, and during the years of the Temple of Jerusalem, families would offer loaves of bread from the wheat harvest on Shavuot. This holiday was also the time to offer Bikkurim, the first fruits, at the Temple. Learn more from Jewish Virtual Library and My Jewish Learning).

Today, Shavuot is recognized for its significance in the history of Judaism as the day the Torah was revealed by G_d to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

What is the connection between Passover and Shavuot? At Passover, the Israelites were freed from slavery and physical bondage; on Shavuot, they were given the Torah, and were thus freed from spiritual bondage.

For 49 days, Jews have been Counting the Omer, in great anticipation for the reception of the Torah. On Shavuot—two days around most of the world, and one day in Israel—Jews enjoy elaborate meals, engage in all-night Torah study, read the Book of Ruth and partake in delicious dairy treats. (Find interactive materials and more at Chabad.org.) Synagogues and homes are draped in flowers and greenery, reflecting the Midrash’s account that Mount Sinai blossomed in full bounty in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its peak.

Slice of cheesecake with raspberries and blueberries sitting beside the slice

Decadent cheesecakes and other dairy treats fill Jewish bakeries and shops in the days and weeks leading to Shavuot. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

DAIRY, THE BOOK OF RUTH
AND A PILGRIMAGE FESTIVAL

As one of three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, Shavuot highlights both traditions of old and customs with no clear origin. Barley and wheat harvests are intimately connected with the timing of Shavuot, while other customs—such as eating dairy foods and reading the Book of Ruth—have no one, defined origin.

Many Jews engage in all-night Torah study on Shavuot to “correct” the behavior of the ancient Israelites, who overslept on the morning of the Torah reception and had to be awoken by Moses. In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Jews wrap up the long night by journeying to the Western Wall at sunrise, joining an annual prayer service that has been tradition since 1967.

In the days prior to Shavuot, Jewish bakeries and shops are overflowing with indulgent cheese blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese ravioli and more. (Wikipedia has details.) The specific reason for consuming dairy on Shavuot is unclear—some relate it to the non-kosher meat dishes of the ancient Israelites, while others refer to the Torah as King Solomon did, “like honey and milk”—and still others have additional reasons. Reading the Book of Ruth has also been common at Shavuot for many years, with several reasons held as to why.

On the lookout for cheesy Shavuot recipes? Check out the cheesecake bars and homemade ricotta suggested by Jewish News, of Arizona. Read a personal account of Shavuot, plus recipes for a pecan cheese ball and cream cheese muffins, at JWeekly. Aish.com also offers an array of tasty treat how-tos.

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