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Shavuot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Basket of Bikkurim, or First Fruits, brought to the Temple on Shavuot

Shavuot (or Shavuos, in Ashkenazi usage; Hebrew: שבועות, lit."Weeks") is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer and the day the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.

The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. The Torah mandates the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and immediately followed by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the Giving of the Torah. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they accepted the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.

In the Bible, Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Hag ha-Shavuot, Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10); Festival of Reaping (Hebrew: חג הקציר, Hag ha-Katsir, Exodus 23:16), and Day of the First Fruits (Hebrew יום הבכורים, Yom ha-Bikkurim, Numbers 28:26).The Mishnah and Talmud refer to Shavuot as Atzeret (Hebrew: עצרת, a solemn assembly), as it provides closure for the festival activities during and following the holiday of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Christians gave it the name Pentecost (πεντηκόστη, "fiftieth day").As this always falls on a Sunday, "Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord."

In Israel and for Reform Jews, Shavuot is celebrated for one day. Outside Israel, the holiday is mostly celebrated for two days.

Besides its significance as the day on which the Torah was given by God to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness (Jer. 5:24; Deut. 16:9-11; Isa. 9:2). It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21).

Shavuot was also the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:3).The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut. 8:8). In the largely agrarian society of ancient Israel, Jewish farmers would tie a reed around the first ripening fruits from each of these species in their fields.

Shavuot is unlike other Jewish holidays in that it has no prescribed mitzvot (Torah commandments) other than the traditional festival observances of abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals. However, it is characterized by many minhagim (customs) that have taken on the force of law in traditional Jewish circles. A mnemonic for these customs is the letters of the Hebrew word acharit (אחרית, "last").

Since the Torah is called reishit (ראשית, "first"), the customs of Shavuot highlight the importance of custom for the continuation and preservation of Jewish religious observance.

אקדמות – Akdamot, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavuot morning synagogue services

On the Gregorian calendar, Shavuot usually falls around late May or early June. In 2007, Shavuot was on Monday, May 28. In 2008, Shavuot will be on Monday, June 9.

Akdamot is a liturgical poem extolling the greatness of God, the Torah and Israel that is read publicly in the synagogue right before the morning reading of the Torah on the first day of Shavuot. It was composed by Rabbi Meir of Worms, whose son was murdered during the Crusade of 1096. Rabbi Meir was forced to defend the Torah and his Jewish faith in a debate with local priests, and successfully conveyed his certainty of God's power, His love for the Jewish people, and the excellence of Torah.

Cheese blintzes, often served on Shavuot.
Dairy foods such as cheesecake and blintzes with cheese and other fillings are traditionally served on Shavuot. One explanation for the consumption of dairy foods on this holiday is that the Israelites had not yet received the Torah, with its laws of shechita (ritual slaughtering of animals). As the food they had prepared beforehand was not in accordance with these laws, they opted to eat simple dairy meals to honor the holiday.
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. See The Counting of the Omer. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day. 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.

Shavuot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation (see Jewish Calendar), and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavuot, Shavuot could occur on the 5th or 6th of Sivan. However, now that we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and Shavuot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavuot is always on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th outside of Israel. See Extra Day of Holidays.)

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. There are varying opinions as to why this is done. Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with "milk and honey."
The OU.ORG Shavuot Celebration!

SHAVUOT OU/NCSY Israel Center Torah Tidbits





SHAVUOT JOURNAL From Yeshivat Har Etzion



URJ - Shavuot

Holidays Home Page Calendar Shabbat Slichot Rosh HaShanah Yom Kippur Sukkot Simchat Torah Chanukah Tu BiSh'vat Purim Pesach Lag Ba'Omer Yom HaShoah Yom HaAtzmaut Shavuot Tishah B'Av

Union for Reform Judaism / Jewish Holidays / Shavuot

Shavuot is a Hebrew word meaning "weeks" and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot, like so many other Jewish holidays began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. Shavuot was distinguished in ancient times by bringing crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Shavuot, also known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, dates from biblical times, and helps to explain the holiday's name, "Weeks." The Torah tells us it took precisely forty-nine days for our ancestors to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (the same number of days as the Counting of the Omer ) where they were to receive the Torah. Thus, Leviticus 23:21 commands: "And you shall proclaim that day (the fiftieth day) to be a holy convocation”

The name Shavuot, "Weeks," then symbolizes the completion of a seven-week journey.

Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. Anther tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which symbolizes our commitment to the Torah, and that we are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. Traditionally, dairy dishes are served on this holiday to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the "land of milk and honey".
How We Celebrate: Shavuot
Shavuot is a spring holiday that celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. In the Bible, Shavuot is called by various other names: Feast of Weeks, Feast of The First Fruits and Feast of the Giving of the Law. This year, the two-day festival begins on the evening of June 8th, 2008.

The festival of Shavuot combines some of the best aspects of Jewish observance and culture. On the one hand, Shavuot celebrates z’man matan torateinu, literally "the time of the giving of the Torah. "Shavuot recalls the importance of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, and many Jews customarily use Shavuot as an opportunity to study from the Torah and other important Jewish texts. On the other hand, Shavuot is also the opportunity to bring the Jewish community together, to celebrate our tradition and heritage, while rejoicing with delicious Shavuot treats. It is customary on Shavuot to eat dairy foods, so delicious recipes for blintzes, cheesecake, and ice cream sundaes are in high demand!

For an exciting children’s story on the festival of Shavuot, you might want to consider reading A Mountain of Blintzes by Barbara Diamond Goldin and Anik McGrory.This adorable story talks about the delicious food Jewish people customarily eat on Shavuot, and how Shavuot is an opportunity for families to spend special time together.

Why do we eat dairy foods and decorate the synagogue on Shavuot?

Though the holiday of Shavuot has great historical significance, being the anniversary of the revelation at Sinai and of the gift of Torah to Israel, it nevertheless was left bereft of special biblical ritual to celebrate the event. In fact, in the Bible we find the holiday of Shavuot referred to as the "Holiday of Bikkurim" -- the bringing of the first fruits of the year's crop to the Temple in Jerusalem.

After the destruction of the Temple and the entry into our long exile, the Jewish people refused to leave the holiday of Shavuot unadorned of distinctiveness. The holiday of Shavuot was therefore invested with customs and rituals that have preserved the beauty and uniqueness of the holiday to our day.

Another Shavuot custom arose, that of decorating one's home, the synagogue and even the Torah scroll itself with greens and flowers in honor of the holiday. This custom of flowers and greens was based upon a statement in Midrash that the foot of Mount Sinai (where the Jews stood in awe, awaiting the granting of the Torah) was carpeted with greens and sweet smelling flowers.

Even in Eastern Europe, where Jews in the main lived in squalor and poverty, flowers in the synagogue on Shavuot was a widely practiced societal custom. However, the Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, opposed the custom vigorously. His contention was that a custom, even if its origin was Jewish and based on Jewish tradition, had been adopted by the non-Jewish world as a custom in their houses of worship, then Jews should forego their further observance of that custom.
Since flowers and greens were widely used in church services and in non-Jewish cemeteries, the custom of flowers and greens in the synagogue on Shavuot should be abandoned.
The Gaon's opinion was widely followed in Lithuanian Jewry but was ignored almost everywhere else in the Jewish world. Thus, the decorating of the synagogue and the home with flowers on Shavuot remains a strong custom among Jews until today.

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