Shavuot Judaism

Shavuot Judaism,

The Hebrew calendar marks from the afternoon of Thursday, May 25 to Saturday, May 27, 2023 (6 to 7 Sivan, 5783) the holiday of Shavuot, one of the three great pilgrimage celebrations of Jewish culture, known as Shalosh Regalim.

Shavuot Celebration 2023: Remembering the Legacy of Divine Law and Hebrew Traditions

This ancient celebration, located exactly seven weeks after the festival of the first fruits, falls fifty days after Shabbat within the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (15 to 21 Nisan).

The etymology of Shavuot comes from the Hebrew Shavua which means week recalling this count.

The central event that commemorates Shavuot is one of the most momentous in Jewish history: the delivery of the tablets of the Law by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The holiday is also known as Pentecost, a word derived from Greek that means “fiftieth” marking the fifty days that have elapsed since the offering of the Omer.

But Shavuot doesn’t just refer to weeks; it has connotations of an oath (Shevua in Hebrew). The name is linked to the two solemn commitments between God and Israel on the day of the giving of the Torah promising eternal mutual fidelity.

At the time of Bet Hamikdash, two wheat bread were offered as a symbol of gratitude, representing the duality of the Torah: the Written Torah (Torah Shebikhtav) and the Oral Torah (Torah Shebealpe), both delivered on Mount Sinai.

This symbolic act underlines the inseparable connection between written texts and the oral traditions of Judaism. The holiday of Shavuot is therefore a time of celebration and reflection on the eternal commitment to these sacred teachings.

Shavuot: Day of Study, Celebration and Reflection in Honor of the Torah

Shavuot essentially contains one crucial detail: the fact that the Torah was given on a Shabbat. This event has profound symbolism in the practice of Judaism.

If the Torah had been given on a day of the week, misconceptions could arise that the study of the Torah should rest on Shabbat. However, the giving of the Torah on a Shabbat emphasizes that not only is it allowed but that it is a duty to dedicate this sacred day to divine study and worship.

The holiday of Shavuot is more than just a celebration.

In many Jewish communities, it is common to embellish synagogues with flowers and plants to commemorate the holiday. This decorative act has a double symbology.

On the one hand, Shavuot is recognized as the Day of Judgment for fruit trees. On the other hand, it is celebrated in memory of Mount Sinai which was surrounded by green grass, a fact evident in the order that cattle and sheep should not graze at the foot of the sacred mountain.

The first night of Shavuot is of special importance.

Traditionally, after dinner, the community returns to the synagogue to read “Tikkun Leil Shavuot” a book that translates as “Preparations for the Night of Shavuot”.

This volume contains a selection of important texts from Judaism including the opening and closing verses of all the weekly sections of the Pentateuch, the first and last paragraphs of the Prophets and the Holy Scriptures parts of the Zohar and other key texts.

Some significant chapters of the Torah such as the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the Ten Commandments and the Shema are read in their entirety.

Shavuot: A Celebration of the 613 Centuries-Old Jewish Precepts and Customs

The holiday of Shavuot goes beyond the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. It is an event where the 613 precepts, as listed by the Jewish philosopher Maimonides take on particular importance.

These precepts are divided into “positive” (Mitzvot Ase) and “negative” (Mitzvot Lo Taase) and it is common for many Jews to spend the whole night of Shavuot reciting “Tikkun” in an exercise of reflection and devotion.

On the first day of Shavuot in the morning, the congregation stands up to listen to the reading of the Ten Commandments of the Torah, a moment of respect and solemnity. Throughout the celebration the custom of eating cream or honey cakes remains alive symbolizing the sweetness of the Torah compared to milk and honey.

A prominent gastronomic tradition on Shavuot is that of eating cheese “blintzes” which is based on a play on Hebrew words.

The Hebrew word for cheese, “Guevina” recalls the “controversy” between the highest mountains each wanting to be more deserving than Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

Psalm 68:17 gives them the name “Gavnunim” or “humps” because of their lack of modesty while the humble mountain of Sinai was chosen.

Another traditional Shavuot dish is “Kreplaj” three-pointed ravioli.

This custom aims to keep the memory of the Torah alive during meals. Everything related to the giving of the Torah is threefold in nature:

  • The Torah, composed of the Pentateuch
  • The Prophets and the Hagiographers was given to Israel – formed by Priests
  • Levites and Israelites – through Moses, Amram’s third son, after three days of preparation, in the third month, Sivan.

These customs and rituals, together with the 613 precepts make Shavuot a celebration that reinforces Jewish identity and values and keeps its traditions alive through generations.

The Book of Ruth: A Shavuot Tradition and What It Means

The holiday of Shavuot in Judaism has a diversity of traditions and customs that enrich its celebration. Among these, the reading of the Book of Ruth stands out which takes place in many synagogues on the second day of the holiday.

This custom has a profound meaning and multiple reasons that are intertwined with the history and symbology of Shavuot. First of all, this day marks the birth and death of King David an emblematic figure in Jewish tradition.

The Book of Ruth provides valuable information about David’s ancestors, specifically Boaz and Ruth, his great-grandparents, linking the past and the present in shared memory.

On the other hand, the Book of Ruth with its harvest scenes, is perfectly suited to Shavuot, known as the Harvest Festival. The stories of wheat and barley harvesting evoke the agricultural essence of the holiday, recalling the time when Jews brought offerings of the first fruit to the House of God.

Finally, Ruth represents a model of sincere conversion to Judaism having embraced this religion with all her heart. In a symbolic parallel, on Shavuot, all Jews are considered proselytes in reference to the collective acceptance of the Torah and all its precepts on Mount Sinai.

For all this, reading the Book of Ruth during Shavuot becomes a tradition that celebrates the past and the present, devotion and the renewal of Jewish values and teachings.

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