From reading the Book of Ruth to eating cheese blintzes
Shavuot is the holiday commemorating God’s giving of the Torah to the ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai. It also is known as the Feast of Weeks and is observed on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. The festival is one of the shalosh regalim that includes Passover and Sukkot, when Jews made pilgrimages to the Beit HaMikdash, or Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.
Shavuot is celebrated for one day in Israel and two days in the Diaspora.
Shavuot, which means weeks in Hebrew, refers to the span of seven weeks from the second day of Passover to the first day of the holiday. It also is called Pentecost because 50 days pass during that time.
The holiday marks the end of Sefirat HaOmer, or counting from the giving of the Omer, or measurement, of barley from the second day of Passover until Shavuot. During the days of the Beit HaMikdash, the kohanim, or priests, offered newly harvested barley on the second day of Passover. The barley was the first offering brought from the new produce of Israel’s spring crop.
The Jews counted the days to Shavuot when they brought the first offerings of the fruit and wheat harvest—two loaves of bread—to the Temple in anticipation of the festival and to set the time for the holiday.
“The Passover offering was simple—roasted barley. It reflected the basic freedom that Pesach brought,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, spiritual leader of the Orthodox B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Park Heights.
“The two loaves of bread made from fine, wheat flour brought on Shavuot was an expression paralleling the achievement of receiving the refined thought of Torah,” Rabbi Hauer said.
During the first day of Shavuot, the Ten Commandments are read aloud in synagogue or temple. Megillat Rut, or the Story of Ruth, also is read. The Yizkor memorial prayers are recited on the second day.
The megillah is read during Shavuot because the story of Ruth occurred
during the spring harvest. Also, just as the megillah tells of how Ruth, a
convert, entered into the covenant with God, so, too, did the Jewish
people when they received the Torah.
“Shavuos symbolizes the transformation of the Jewish people into a
holy people,” Rabbi Hauer said.
The reading also celebrates Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David,
who according to rabbinic tradition was born and died on Shavuot.
To commemorate the receiving of the Torah, Shavuot is celebrated with
learning. It is customary to stay awake throughout the first night to
study Torah and read Tikkun Le?il Shavuot, an order of study for the
Dairy foods, such as cheese blintzes, traditionally are eaten on Shavuot
because the laws of kashrut were first prescribed on the holiday. Since
there was no time to prepare kosher meat, the ancient Israelites could
only eat dairy. Another reason is that the Torah symbolizes the sweetness
of milk and honey.
Synagogues and homes are decorated with flowers to commemorate Mount
A custom in many Sephardic communities is to read a ketubah, or marriage
contract, when a synagogue?s Ark is opened before the reading of the
Torah. The ketubah signifies the love of God, who is viewed as the groom,
for His bride, the people of Israel.