What Is Shavuot

What is Shavuot? The Jewish holiday of Shavuot is one of the seven major Jewish festivals in the Jewish calendar year. The holiday commemorates receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. It is 50 days exactly from Passover, and the time in between is called "Counting of the Omer." This refers to how farmers would count each day after Passover, and, on the 50th day, the farmers would take the first fruits of the harvest and make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem to make a thanks offering to God. Although the Temple days are past, the Counting of the Omer still happens. Shavuot today is celebrated by all-night study sessions, reading the 10 Commandments from the Torah and the Book of Ruth in Synagogue, and eating a dairy meal.

Shavuot is connected to Passover because Passover commemorates being released from slavery, and Shavuot commemorates receiving the Torah, the time when the Children of Israel became God's people by accepting the Law. Together, the holidays symbolize bookends on the story of the Jewish people's growth from slavery to Pharaoh to willing servitude to God.

The Book of Ruth comes from the Tanach, which contain additional writings considered text, but antecedent to Torah. The story of Ruth is about the harvest time, which is related to Shavuot, and a woman who wished to become Jewish. Indeed, Ruth is the first documented convert to Judaism, and she is also the great grandmother of King David.

Shavuot is considered a Yom Tov, a category of holiday which, like Shabbat, restricts work and calls for festive meals, Kiddush (sanctifying wine), challah (braided bread for celebrating holidays), prayer and study. The traditional greeting for Shavuot is chag sameach, which means "happy holiday."

Shavuot is traditionally celebrated for two days outside Israel, and one day for Israelis and Reform Jews. All-night study sessions are undertaken to honor the importance of study in Jewish tradition. Many houses of Jewish worship and Jewish schools hold programs all night, including various speakers, scholars and discussion.

Dairy foods such as blintzes and cheesecake are eaten on Shavuot in reference to the Torah being described by King Solomon as "milk and honey." Also, it may refer to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, who did not eat meat before receiving the Torah.

Many Synagogues hold Confirmation ceremonies for their 10th graders on Shavuot. A Confirmation ceremony is the culmination of the 10th grade year of study. Since receiving the Torah was a commitment to Judaism, the Confirmation ceremony marks the commitment of 16-year-olds to a life of Jewish study and practice.

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