This year, 2018, Shavuot falls on May 20 and May 21. How much do you know about Shavuot? Want to know more? Here are 10 questions and answers to help augment your Shavout knowledge.
Q. What does Shavuot mean?
A. Shavuot means weeks. It marks the end of the seven week countdown between Passover and Shavuot. Shavout commemorates the day G-d gave the 10 commandments and the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Shavuot also means Oaths. The Jewish people swore allegiance to G-d and he pledged his devotion to the Jewish people.
Q. Does Shavuot have any other names?
A. Yes. The Torah has three different names for Shavuot: Chag Shavuot, the Festival of Shavuot; Yom HaBikkurim- the Day of the First Fruits and Chag Hakatzir- the Festival of the Harvest. In the written record of the Oral Law it is called Atzeret- Restrain and in the prayers recited during Shavuot it is called Zeman Matan Torahteinu- the time of the giving of the Torah.
Q. What do these names refer to?
A. Shavuot is the only holiday described in the Torah which does not have a specific Jewish month and day ascribed to it. The Torah says only that Shavuot should be celebrated 50 days after the second day of Passover. This is because Passover and Shavuot are connected- the purpose of the exodus from Egypt was to create a free Jewish people who would serve G-d and the way to do was by following the Torah which was given on Mount Sinai.
Yom HaBikkurim- the Day of the First Fruits. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish farmer would tie a thread around the first fruits to start budding. The farmer would then bring these fruits in a basket to the Temple in Jerusalem starting from Shavuot and ending Chanukah.
Chag HaKatzir- the Harvest Festival, refers to the wheat harvest season which occurs around the time of Shavuot.
Atzeret- Restrain (from work)- This name reminds us not to do work on Shavuot.
Zman Matan Torahteinu- the time of giving of the Torah- Shavuot commemorates the receipt of the Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai.
Q. Isn’t Shavuot also called Pentecost?
A. Yes,. Pentecost is the Greek name for Shavuot and means the 50th day. However, Pentecost also refers to the Christian Holiday of Pentecost which occurs 50 days after Easter and celebrates an occurrence in the life of Jesus.
Q. What are the Shavuot rituals?
A. Women and girls light candles to usher in the Holiday. On the first night of Shavuot it is customary to stay up all night learning Torah. On the first day of Shavuot, everyone goes to the synagogue to hear the Book of Ruth read from a scroll and the Ten Commandments read from the Torah. On the second day of Shavuot, Yitzkor- the prayer for the departed, is recited. Work is not permitted during the Holiday.
Q. What is the Book of Ruth?
A. One of the books of the Bible which is named after the central figure, Ruth. It tells the story of a Moabite woman, Ruth, who converts to Judaism and becomes part of the Jewish people.
Q. Why is the Book of Ruth read on Shavuot?
A. Ruth is the story of a person accepting the Torah and becoming part of the Jewish people. This is what all Jews did on Mount Sinai. Reading the story reminds us to rededicate ourselves to the Torah and the Jewish people.
Shavuot takes place during the harvest season and the story of Ruth takes place during the harvest season.
Ruth was the ancestor of King David whose birth and death were on Shavuot.
Q. Do we eat any special foods on Shavuot?
A. The Jewish tradition is to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, such as cheese blintzes, cheesecake, quiches, casseroles, etc.
Q. Why do we eat dairy food on Shavuot?
A. When the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai, they were not permitted to eat meat and dairy food together. So many people eat a separate dairy meal and a separate meat meal to commerate this.
When the Jews received the Torah, they were only allowed to eat meat which was slaughtered according to Jewish law. Since it was the Sabbath and since no such meat was available, they ate a dairy meal instead.
The numerical value of the Hebrew word for milk, chalav, is 40. This corresponds to the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai before receiving the Torah.
The Torah is compared to milk.
Q. Are there any other traditions on Shavuot?
A. It is customary to decorate the synagogue and the house with greenery and flowers in honor of Shavuot. The most common reason given for the custom is that sheep and cattle were not allowed to graze facing Mount Sinai when theTorah was given. However, since the Torah was given in a desert, a miracle must have occurred, temporarily turning the desert area into one filled with greenery.
Other explanations include: the fact that Moses was placed in a reed basket in the Nile on the second day of Shavuot; a way of remembering that the custom was to decorate the baskets of the first fruits brought to the Temple on Shavuot with flowers and greenery.