Shavuot is the second of three Pilgrimage Festivals (the others are Sukkot and Passover) which have historical and culinary significance to the Jews. It is also referred to as the Festival of Weeks and is a celebration of the period in which the Jews harvested the first fruits which were taken to the Temple. More importantly, Shavuot celebrates the providing of the Torah, which occurred near Mount Sinai.
Origins of Shavuot
This is a celebration that Jews anticipate with great excitement and they will count the days from the second of Passover to the day before the start of Shavuot. The counting of days is a reminder to the Jews of the relationship which exists between Shavuot and Passover. While Passover led to the Jews being freed from bondage, the providing of the Torah was a way of redeeming them from the immorality and idolatry that they experienced as slaves.
Jews refer to Shavuot as the giving or providing of the Torah, rather than receiving it. This is meant to convey that the Jews are consistently receiving the Torah daily, and that Shavuot is a celebration of the first time it was given. It is not the reception of the Torah which makes Shavuot important, but rather the “giving” of it.
Shavuot Observances and Customs
Unlike other Jewish holidays, Shavuot is not associated with any specific date on the calendar. Instead it is more associated with the countdown to it from Passover. Shavuot can occur on the fifth or sixth of Sivan, but since Jews now utilize a calendar which is mathematically determined the length of time between Shavuot and Passover will not be altered on mathematical calendars. Within Israel this holiday will be held on Sivan sixth, while everywhere else it may occur on the sixth or seventh.
As with other Jewish celebrations such as Shabbat, no work is permissible during this holiday. It is also customary for Jews to remain awake the first night during Shavuot and read the Torah, and then pray during morning. Jews will also consume a meal made of dairy products during this celebration. There is debate as to the origins of this custom, but some believe that it is a reminder to the Jews of the promises which were made in regards to Israel and it being a land which flows with honey and milk.
Others believe that it represents the ancestors of the Jews who were given the Torah and the dietary laws which were inscribed within it. The Book of Ruth will also be read during this celebration, and as with the consumption of dairy meals there are many reasons cited for it. Shavuot will last for a period of two days and its primary purpose among Jews is the remembrance of the provision of the Torah as well the fruit harvest. It is one of the most popular holidays among Jews and as with Shabbat great preparations are made for it. Any work which falls on the day of Shavuot must be completed in advance.