The Neglected Holiday of Shavuot
Shavuot, a two day holiday, begins at sundown on Thursday, May 25 and ends at sundown, Saturday May 27. In Israel, it is observed for just one day. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals celebrated each year. The other two pilgrimage festivals are Passover (Pesach) and Sukkot. These three pilgrimage festivals were called this because the Jewish people came from near and far to bring portions of their crops to the Temple.
Shavuot means “weeks” in Hebrew. The holiday of Shavuot celebrates the completion of the counting of the Omer that occurs for seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. It celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. It is believed that every Jewish soul that ever existed, or will exist, was present at Mount Sinai for the giving of the Torah. (That means we were all there together long ago!)
While most of us are very familiar with Pesach and Sukkot, Shavuot is often the neglected or forgotten holiday. Falling at the end of May or early June, often after the conclusion of Sunday and Hebrew school, and just before summer camps begin, Shavuot is sometimes overlooked. Shavuot also does not have as many engaging ritual traditions associated with it as the other two festivals have. However, the holiday itself is rich in meaning. Shavuot is a celebration of Torah, lifelong learning, and an active embrace of Jewish life!
Shavuot is celebrated in numerous ways:
- Like all other holidays, it begins with candle lighting and Kiddush in the evening.
- It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot.
- On Shavuot, we read from the Book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman, who was the daughter-in-law of an Israelite woman named Naomi. Ruth’s husband died and Naomi encouraged her to leave to find a new husband, but she would not leave and stayed with Naomi. The famous words “wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God,” were said by Ruth. (Ruth 1:16) She later married Boaz and became the great grandmother of King David. Famous for being the first Jewish convert, Ruth emphatically chose to follow the Mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah as given to us at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is the perfect holiday to remember and honor Ruth.
- The Ten Commandments are read during services and everyone is encouraged to be present to hear them being recited.
- It is traditional to eat dairy during Shavuot. When the Torah was given at Sinai, the laws of Kashrut (keeping kosher) were given and it was Shabbat. The Israelites took this mitzvah (commandment) to heart right away. So, because they couldn’t slaughter animals properly, nor could the Israelites make their utensils kosher on Shabbat, they ate dairy that day. Some say we eat dairy to symbolize that the land flowing with “milk and honey” was promised to the Israelites or because the Israelites can be compared to newborns, whose source of food is simply milk.
- Yizkor (the memorial prayer) is recited on Shavuot.
You can honor this holiday in several ways!
- Do a little Torah study at night. This article will help you get started.
- Read something from the Book of Ruth. Try reading this.
- Eat some dairy! Shavuot is known for cheesecake, blintzes and ice cream. Make some cheesecake – there are so many recipes to choose from!
- Watch this video to learn more about Shavuot!
- Learn something about how Shavuot is celebrated in Israel.
We hope you’ve learned something new about Shavuot and will share this holiday with your families so that it will not be neglected or forgotten!