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Shavuot 101


Historically one of the three central pilgrimage holidays, today it is lesser known and not universally observed. Still the meaning of the holiday and its customs provide a wonderful opportunity to celebrate an inclusion vision of Judaism.

Shavuot is the known as the festival of weeks, falling 7 weeks after the start of Passover. In ancient times, Shavuot was one of three pilgrimage festivals, for which people came to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was timed with the start of the harvest season and pilgrims brought offerings from the first of the harvest. Today, the agrarian roots of the holiday are central to its celebration in the State of Israel where it is a time to celebrate the agricultural successes of the country. According to rabbinic tradition, Shavuot is also the time when the Torah was given at Sinai.

Book of Ruth: In addition to regular synagogue prayers, the biblical Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. It tells the tale of Ruth, a Moabite woman, who after the death of her husband follows her mother-in-law Naomi back to the city of Bethlehem. In the process, Ruth declares, “where ever you go, I will go, where ever you sleep I will sleep, your people are my people, your God is my God.” Which is understood by Jewish tradition as a declaration of conversion. Upon returning to Bethlehem, the women are very poor and Ruth goes out to collect the remains of the harvest in the field of Boaz. Boaz and Ruth eventually marry and from their line descends David, King of Israel who is said to be the forefather of the messiah. Read more about the meaning of the Book of Ruth.

Sinai: In Jewish tradition, the revelation at Sinai is essential element of the Jewish relationship with God. It is said that every Jew, past and present, stood at Sinai, a phrase that is understood metaphorically and literally by different Jewish denominations. Whatever interpretation, the meaning is profound, pointing to the importance of the Sinai moment. As it is told in the Bible, when the Jews gathered at Mt. Sinai, God revealed the Torah to them and established the covenant with the Jewish people for all eternity. For religious Jews, and even many non-religious Jews, the Torah is the basis of Jewish life.

Food Traditions: In contrast to other Jewish holidays where meat dishes often take a central place, it is traditional among many communities to eat primarily dairy on Shavuot. Among the reasons cited for this is that as the Jews prepared at Sinai for the revelation of the Torah, they ate no meat. For some traditional Shavuot dairy dishes check out our recipe section.


Holiday 101