Thursday, June 5, 2008

Celebrating Shavuot


The holiday of Shavuot is almost here!

While Shavuot is one of the most important Jewish holidays, it does tend to get overlooked.
So here are some things to help you learn more about this holiday!

1. Shavuot falls on the 6th day of Sivan. Its calendaring is directly related to Passover, as it is the end of the period of the counting of the Omer. (In English, it's usually called Pentecost, but the actual translation is "weeks" -- as in the weeks of the counting of the Omer.)

2. Shavuot is considered to be the anniversary of the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. (That's why it follows Passover -- first we were freed, then we got the Torah.)

3. This is the day that began the season of bringing the first-fruits to the Temple. The first fruits were the first of each harvest to blossom, and were harvested and brought to the priests in a ceremony.

4. It is a tradition to read Akdamut, a liturgical poem, on Shavuot. This long poem is read at the morning service before the reading of Torah.

5. It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. I like the explanation that the Torah is like "honey and milk" on our tongues as it says in Song of Songs 4:11. Other people say that we did not eat meat before the giving of the Law at Sinai and thus we remember that. Either way, Shavuot is a vegetarian's paradise of a holiday!

6. We read from the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. It is about a woman who chooses to accept the Torah, just as we commemorate our people's acceptance of the Torah. Plus it talks about the harvest. And it's a good read.

7. Midrash teaches that Mt. Sinai burst into blossoms at the giving of the Torah. Perhaps this is why it is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery for Shavuot.

8. Most people stay up all night on Erev Shavuot, in a practice known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot. The idea is to study Torah all night in preparation for receiving the Torah at Sinai.

9. The idea of staying up all night really took off when coffee became available in Europe.

10. Conservative and Reform congregations typically choose Shavuot to celebrate Confirmation, the high-school affirmation of Jewish identity.

11. There is a slightly obscure tradition of making and displaying papercut-art. (I definitely need to explore this one more. I think there's something fun in this for Shavuot for next year...)

12. You could honor Shavuot by baking a "Bible Cake". It's a cool scavenger hunt through the Bible that yields a cake! How cool is that.

13. And in keeping with the cake idea, Sephardic Jews have the custom to bake a seven-layer cake called Siete Cielos or Seven Heavens. This symbolizes the seven celestial spheres that God traveled to present the Torah to Moses. Seven graduated circular layers are decorated with a star of David, the staff of Moses, the Tablets of the Law, manna, Jacob's ladder and the Ark of the Covenant. Here are some more foodie customs for Shavuot.

Learn more about Shavuot...check out some of Leora's and Ilana-Davita's great posts about it.

See
more Thursday Thirteen here.

13 comments:

danica said...

mmm, milk and honey! :-D
I wonder where the paper-cut art comes from. I went through a Spanish Immersion program in elementary school and in second grade I won some paper-cut art pieces in a coloring contest... i wonder if it's a Sephardic thing?

Thanks for posting this! It is great synchronicity for me because I just saw on the calendar last night that it was Shavuot and wondered what that meant... now I know so much more!

melody is slurping life said...

I love how you teach me things I never thought to ask. And I had to love this...

9. The idea of staying up all night really took off when coffee became available in Europe.

Coffee...a necessary evil. :)

Phyllis, you rock.

SandyCarlson said...

My baking could shatter any believer's ideas of heaven...That aside, I learned a lot about your faith. There is a lot of joy in this holiday. Thanks.

Vered said...

"It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. I like the explanation that the Torah is like "honey and milk" on our tongues as it says in Song of Songs 4:11. Other people say that we did not eat meat before the giving of the Law at Sinai and thus we remember that."

I always wondered about that. Thanks for the info!

Robin said...

I really need to get organized for the holiday cooking... Oh, and go buy the kids new white shirts for school tomorrow. Both of theirs got horribly stained after the last round of holidays. And put together the tene (fruit/veg basket) they each need to bring. And Maya needs a flower crown.

Sometimes these holidays are a lot of work for the moms LOL.

Leora said...

Papercuts! I think you just solved my flower problem. Maybe my daughter and I will cut paper on Sunday in between cooking and baking.

Two minute research:
The earliest known reference to a Jew who created cut paper work dates to 1345, when Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak ben Ardutiel composed a witty treatise in Hebrew entitled The War of the Pen Against the Scissors...To students of Christian Spanish literary history, Rabbi Shem-Tov is better known as Santob de Carrion de los Condes (1290?-1369?), the courtly Castilian troubadour who composed the Proverbios morales for Pedro the Cruel. (more papercuts in Dutch and German writings in 17th and 18th Centuries)...History of Jewish Papercuts

Thanks for the link to my Shavuot posts!

Anamika said...

#5 is interesting to know as I'm a vegetarian.
This TT helped me learn about your religious customs.

ilanadavita said...

Thanks for linking to my posts too.

Kara said...

Cool post! I love learning abuot other cultures. :)

Jendeis said...

Thanks for the lesson on Shavuot. I never remembered learning about it in Hebrew School, maybe because it happens after the school year?

Love the idea of the bible cake. Cool!

Jendeis said...

Hey, I tagged you for a meme! Feel free to participate at your leisure. :)

Denise Patrick said...

What a wonderful post. I learned something new. Thanks for the information and history.

Happy TT!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Paper cutting? Interesting; in Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum's A Day of Small Beginnings, she has a character who does papercutting. I smell something that's been forgotten over the years...

(btw, if you haven't read the book, do! It's wonderful.)