Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Calendar Entry #13: Shavuot

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Encampment of Israelites, Mount Sinai
- Joseph Mallord William Turner
 Shavuot, or Shavu'oth in Classical Hebrew is a holiday that falls on the sixth (and seventh) day of Sivan in the Jewish calendar.  It is also known as the Festival of Weeks and is the second of three big festivals, which include Passover and Sukkot.

From an agricultural standpoint it celebrates the harvest of the first fruits and their being brought to the Temple.  Historically it commemorates the day God gave the Torah to the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai.  It is the giving of the Torah rather than the receiving that is celebrated, because the sages say that Jews are in a constant state of receiving the Torah; they receive it everyday.   This day celebrates the day they were first given the Torah. 

By Jewish law, Shavuot is to be celebrated in Israel for one day and in the Diaspora (anywhere outside of Israel) for two days.  This is why it appears on the two days in our Cauldrons Calendar.  (However, in accordance with Jewish practice, this started at sunset on the previous day - Tuesday 7th).

Shavuot at Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel - Amos Gil, PikiWiki
Shavuot is a movable celebration, in that it comes directly after Passover.  The link between Passover and Shavuot are such that Passover symbolises the freedom from physical bondage while Shavuot, with the giving of the Torah, celebrates the redemption from the spiritual bondage of idolatry and immorality. 

There is no work permitted on Shavuot and while it's not a public holiday outside of Israel, many Jews in the Diaspora may take their annual leave at this time. 

It is customary to: 
  • stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.
  • to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot.  Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with "milk and honey." Others believe it is because when the Jews had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws contained), they were unable to use their dishes until they were made kosher through the kashering process, they had to make do with a dairy meal.
  • read the Book of Ruth.  There is no definitive reason given for this, although one suggestion is that Ruth's conversion occurred during the harvest season.

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