Thursday, June 5, 2008
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.