So what is this holiday all about? What are we celebrating, it’s a bit confusing because this holiday/festival has so many names. It is known as Hag Hashavuot, Hag Hakatzir (Harvest), (Jewish) Pentecost, Hag Habikurim (The first fruits), and Hag Matan Torah (the day the Torah and ten commandments were given to the Hebrews when Moses came down from mount Ha’Moriah)
Shavuot, in full Ḥag Shavuot, (“Festival of the Weeks”), is also the second of the three Pilgrim Festivals of the Jewish religious calendars. It was originally an agricultural festival, marking the beginning of the wheat harvest.
Shavuot is in fact linked to Passover, the reason for calling it the Festival of Weeks or Hag Shavuot is because it is celebrated exactly 7 weeks from the second day of Passover, Shavuot in the plural of the word means "weeks" (Shavua = week) and also "seven" (Sheva = 7) alludes to the fact that this festival happens exactly seven weeks ("a week of weeks") after Passover.
As the Shavuot Festival is sometimes referred to as Pentecost due to its timing after Passover, "Pentecost" in the Greek language means "fifty", Shavuot occurs fifty days from the first day of Passover hence the name Pentecost but let us not get confused as it is not the same as the Christiane Pentecost.
Shavuot is also the second Pilgrimage Festival (Passover is the 1st, Shavuot is the 2nd and Sukkot is the 3rd, all three are the biblically ordained Three Pilgrimage Festivals).
Shavuot is traditionally celebrated in Israel for one day, where it is a public holiday, while in the diaspora it is celebrated for two days (like most Jewish holidays, we will touch on this subject in a different article).
Like we mentioned before it is also called Harvest Festival as it’s the ending of the wheat harvesting, the name is “Hag Hakatzir” meaning the Reaping Festival.
And the name “Hag HaBikurim” means the First Fruits Festival which in the Biblical days were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is called Bikkurim, Bikkurim were brought to the temple from all seven species that the land of Israel is praised for them and they are: wheat, barley, Grapes, Figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
Hag Matan Torah means the Festival of Receiving the Torah when Moses came down from the Moriah Mountain with the “Ten Commandments”.
So, there is so much to celebrate but how do we celebrate this amazing Holiday that symbolizes so much?
Nowadays in the post-Temple era, Shavuot is the only biblically ordained holiday that has no specific laws attached to it other than the usual festival requirements of abstaining from any work.
With all the above being said, there are still certain a few other traditions that are observed on this holiday, like certain liturgical poems that are being chanted at the synagogues at specific times of the day.
One of the famous costumes of the Shavuot Holiday is reading the Book of Ruth (the Scroll of Ruth - Megillat Ruth) and we read it on this holiday because:
- According to the Talmud King David, Ruth's descendant, was born and died on Shavuot
- Shavuot is harvest time, and the events of the Book of Ruth occur at harvest time.
- The numerical value of Ruth is 606, the number of commandments given at the Sinai (Moriha Mountain), not only the 10 Commandments, which are in addition to the already seven commandments given before (to Noah), which makes it a total of 613.
- Because Shavuot is traditionally cited as the day of the giving of the Torah, the entry of the entire Jewish people into the covenant of the Torah is a major theme of the day. Ruth's conversion to Judaism, and consequent entry into that covenant, is described in the book. This theme accordingly resonates with other themes of the day.
- Another central theme of the book of Ruth is called ḥessed (loving-kindness), and that is a major theme of the Torah and the Jewish tradition.
You better forget your diet on Shavuot because we eat amazingly delicious dairy food, vegetables, and fruits.
We have different costumes in different Jewish groups, and different diets as Jews come from all over the world therefore, dairy foods such as cheesecake and cheese Blintzes as well as Cheese Kreplach, are common food eaten among Ashkenazi Jews, at the same time Cheese Sambusak, kelsonnes (a type of cheese ravioli), and atayef (a cheese-filled pancake) is common among Syrian Jews; kahee (a dough that is buttered and sugared) among Iraqi Jews, and a seven-layer cake called siete cielos (seven heavens) among Tunisian and Moroccan Jews, are traditionally consumed on the Shavuot holiday. At the same time Yemenite Jews do not eat any dairy foods on Shavuot.
And the list is much longer, just check on Instagram, search the word Shavuot and you will find hundreds of recipes, from cheesecakes, to lasagna and Burekas, (puff pastry filled with cheese, potatoes or vegetables), blintzes of all sorts, cheese trays, puddings and much more.
Do you want to know what I am making for this holiday dinner:
Cheese Lasagna, Cheese Burekas and Potatoes Burekas, Cheese tray with fruits like grapes and cherries, watermelon cubes with feta crumbles or cubes over it, Israeli fresh salad, Eggplant salad, Caprese salad, and much more! Plenty for everyone in my family to enjoy.
And of course, we will have a great time of laughter and joy around the table, a house full of guests is always a blessing, a Holiday like Shavuot is meant to be festive, and the happiness and joy of this celebration should be shared with family and friends.
Hag Shavuot Sameach/ Happy Shavuot everyone.