Shavuot: Jewish festival honors revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai

Crowds gather at the Western Wall at sunrise

Jews gather at the Western Wall at sunrise. It is traditional to stay awake all night in Torah study for Shavuot, and in Jerusalem, this all-night study is followed by gathering at the Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 8: Greenery and flowers adorn synagogues tonight, mimicking the top of Mount Sinai, as Jews wrap up a seven-week period of anticipation known as the Counting of the Omer. The Counting of the Omer ends and gives way to Shavuot, the celebration of the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Due to the counting of seven weeks leading up to Shavuot, this holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks.

FREEDOM: FROM PHYSICAL TO SPIRITUAL

The ancient festival prompts many stories and interpretations. One of them emphasizes this: The movement from the Counting of the Omer to Shavuot connects the physical freedom in the Exodus with the spiritual freedom of the presentation of the Torah. During Passover, which was weeks ago, Jews acknowledged the physical freedom given to the ancient Israelites through the Exodus; more specifically, this physical freedom was acknowledged on the second day of Passover, when the Counting of the Omer began. Each night since, observant Jews have remembered the current count of days until they reach day 49. Today—day 50—Jews recognize the official presentation of the Torah. This, the 50th day, is also sometimes called Pentecost, although the Jewish religious associations with the holiday are different than the Christian Pentecost.

Did you know? Shavuot is one of the Jewish observances that differs, depending on location. In Israel, it’s one day; in the rest of the world, it’s two days.

Loaves of brown bread, crusty

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

OMER, GRAINS AND FIRST FRUITS

Ancient Israelites marked the spring grain harvest for seven weeks. (“Omer” is an ancient unit of measure.)

When that first harvest ended at Shavuot, farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.

To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods of wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

SHAVUOT: DAIRY, RUTH & ALL-NIGHT TORAH STUDY

Among the many customs associated with Shavuot are the consumption of dairy products and the reading of the Book of Ruth, along with, for many observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is that Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept; although Moses had to awaken the ancient Israelites, Jews today remain awake throughout the night, all the while giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.

Work is not permitted during the entirety of Shavuot.

Looking for dairy recipes to prepare for the holiday? This Jewish blog offers Kale and Mushroom Quinoa ‘Mac and Cheese,’ and Haaretz suggests Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche.

For more holiday inspiration, enjoy …

Author Debra Darvick offers her introduction to Shavuot from her popular collection of real-life stories: This Jewish Life.

 

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The Counting of the Omer is over: Jews recall giving of the Torah for Shavuot

Cheese blintzes cut and resting on a plate

Cheese blintzes—both sweet and savory—are just one of the many dairy treats enjoyed during Shavuot. Photo by Alpha, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 11: Flourishing greenery, aromatic flowers and baskets overflowing with fresh grains are just some of the signs of Shavuot, the joyous Jewish holiday that wraps up the seven-week Counting of the Omer and celebrates the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Originally an ancient grain-harvest festival, Shavuot gained its place in Jewish history when the giving of the Torah took place, on Mount Sinai. The Midrash accounts that Mount Sinai blossomed in full bounty in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its peak, and in representation of that, Jews decorate synagogues and drape blossoms and vines for Shavuot.

Did you know? An omer is an ancient measure of grain.

This ancient holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks, because the seven-week period of anticipation that started during Passover ends on Shavuot. The reason for the Counting of the Omer? To link Passover—the physical freedom gained with the Exodus—to Shavuot—the spiritual freedom gained with presentation of the Torah.

SHAVUOT: ‘FIRST FRUITS’

Stalk of wheat in field of wheat

Wheat—one of the ‘First Fruits’ of ancient Israel—has long been offered during Shavuot. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The ancient spring grain harvest lasted for seven weeks, and when that first harvest ended—at Shavuot—farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were also brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.

To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods such as wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Barley and wheat harvests are intimately connected with the timing of Shavuot.

WESTERN WALL PROCESSION

Many customs are associated with Shavuot, among them being the consumption of dairy products, readings from the Book of Ruth and, for observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is: Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept. Some Jews today remain awake throughout the night, giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.

Note: In Israel, Shavuot is celebrated for one day; in the rest of the world, it’s observed for two days.

DAIRY RECIPES: BLINTZES, GLUTEN-FREE & MORE

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. No matter the reason, Jewish bakeries and shops overflow with indulgent cheese blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese ravioli and more in the days leading to Shavuot.

Make dairy treats at home with these easy-to-follow, DIY recipes:

  • Gluten-free cheese blintzes from JNS.org.
  • Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche from Haaretz.
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