A Jewish holiday of renewing commitment to God

A Jewish holiday of renewing commitment to God


The competition of Shavuot, marked this calendar year on June 5 and 6, celebrates the biblical story of God revealing Torah – Jewish scriptures and teachings – to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This reward, and the observance of Torah’s ideas, is at the main of the Jews’ romance with God, referred to as the “covenant.”

Shavuot has deeply agrarian roots. As a scholar of early Rabbinic Judaism, I know that the getaway has advanced considerably over the generations, as has Judaism alone. Currently, alternatively than principally marking the harvest, Shavuot observance transports the Jewish local community back to Sinai, to symbolically experience the awe of revelation and individually recommit to the covenant.

Historical roots

In the Hebrew Bible, Shavuot marks the harvest of the initial summer season grain. Each individual Passover, which is celebrated midspring, the Israelites introduced a sheaf of the earliest publish-winter season barley harvest to the Jerusalem Temple. Fifty times later on, on Shavuot, they brought the to start with of the summer months wheat harvest, which they offered as an providing to God.

In Hebrew, the word “Shavuot” indicates “weeks,” referring to the 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot. The 49 days concerning are a interval identified as “The Counting of the Omer.”

A woman holds a large scroll behind a tray of brightly colored fruit.
Rabbi Laura Geller retains the Torah in a synagogue in Beverly Hills, California, as she discusses Shavuot.
Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Instances by using Getty Photos

Passover and Shavuot hence are linked as vacations that, in the Bible, thanked God for the harvests that sustained people today year to yr. Jewish scriptures refer to Shavuot as the Competition of the Harvest, “Chag Ha-Katzir,” and Day of To start with Fruits, “Yom Ha-Bikkurim.” In contemporary situations, synagogue sanctuaries are decorated on Shavuot with greenery, baskets of fruit or other develop that characterize the bounty of the land and the divine blessing that aids it grow.

A vacation remodeled

But Shavuot step by step advanced, as did other Jewish practices, immediately after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in Advert 70. This dramatic event meant an close to animal sacrifices and agricultural offerings. In their location, Jews compensated enhanced consideration to the observance and examine of Torah.

Given that then, Shavuot has taken on new symbolism, centered on its timing in the Jewish calendar. Passover, 49 days just before, commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from slavery. In accordance to scripture, God gave Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai before long soon after their escape from Egypt. Consequently, persons think about that the counting in between Passover and Shavuot represents the Jewish people’s progress from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to Sinai – towards knowledge of God that is disclosed as a result of the research and observance of Torah.

On the floor, these holiday seasons mark one-time gatherings. But Shavuot reframes them to characterize an ongoing moral dedication. The prayers and rituals of Passover emphasize God’s drive that no 1 be oppressed. Seven weeks afterwards, at Shavuot, the Jewish individuals recommit themselves to Torah’s discovered ideas and practices – traditions that Jews are inspired to use to oppose oppression and develop a far better entire world.

In this context, the 49-working day Counting of the Omer sales opportunities to a heightened reflection on Jews’ tasks in a flawed world. To inspire really serious contemplation, all through the counting, Jews who are customarily observant do not schedule weddings or other joyous celebrations and do not have interaction in activities that may well distract from the deep purpose of this sacred time.

Increasingly currently, packages of day by day reflection and meditation have been formulated to switch the Counting of the Omer into a 7-7 days time of meditation and private spirituality.

All-night time celebration

When Shavuot arrives, the community gathers in worship, which consists of the studying of the Bible’s Sinai narrative and Ten Commandments. Although the Commandments are read through, the congregation stands to settle for the covenant, just as scripture claims the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. To heighten this symbolic reaffirmation, some congregations put together wedding ceremony contracts that envision the Jewish people today and God as spouses, mutually fully commited to the benefit of “Tikkun Olam,” or fixing the globe.

Young boys walk under a canopy as they clutch Torah scrolls.
Ultra Orthodox young children march with Torah scrolls in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim community all through Shavuot celebrations.
Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Photographs

Just one beautiful aspect of communal Shavuot worship is chanting the biblical E book of Ruth. Ruth was a girl from the historical region of Moab who remaining her have country and homeland to be a part of the persons of Israel, and is remembered now as the initial transform to Judaism. Her tale is relevant mainly because it normally takes location in the harvest time and, possibly, mainly because Ruth was a great-grandmother to the Jewish hero King David, who legend says died on Shavuot. And as a convert, Ruth willingly took on the obligations outlined for Jews in Torah – just as all Jews renew their covenant with God on Shavuot.

A further Shavuot custom is taking in dairy foodstuff, these types of as blintzes and cheesecake. The origins of this personalized are not apparent, and many various factors have been recommended. Some say consuming milk goods reflects the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with milk and honey, or that the Israelites, when they obtained the revelation at Sinai, ended up like religious newborns. What ever the purpose, the apply renders Shavuot a exclusive culinary working experience.

In this black and white photo, an elderly woman and young boy tie tree branches to a post as decoration.
Esther Zolkowitz, 90, passes eco-friendly branches imported from Israel to 7-12 months-aged Allen Mayer as they beautify a synagogue for Shavuot in 1952.
Bettmann/Bettmann by means of Getty Images

Some 600 several years in the past, Jewish mystics in Safed, a hilltop town in Israel, designed a tailor made of remaining up late on Shavuot eve to study Torah, underscoring their commitment to spiritual understanding. These research periods, referred to as “Tikkun Leil Shavuot,” are today a central element of Shavuot observance.

A Tikkun Leil Shavuot may go all night time and conclude when it is time for early morning prayers. Or it could possibly carry on until midnight, understood by the mystics to be a especially auspicious time for connecting with God. These gatherings have advanced to provide a little something for every person, from very well-educated grown ups to schoolchildren.

Bringing the local community with each other to research, these celebrations emphasize what is most crucial about Shavuot. In Judaism, local community, Torah and the covenant with God make a environment of this means and reason. The holiday is a reminder that in existence, as in examine, folks do not go it alone.

Exodus 24 teaches that when God discovered Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people today reported, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do and we will hear!” This year, on June 5 and 6, they will make that similar assertion yet again.


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Genie Mathena

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