Shavu’ot, Feast of Weeks

This week, we celebrated the Shavu’ot. This Jewish holiday comes seven weeks after Passover. It is a celebration of the harvest and centers on remembering when Moses gave the Torah. The holiday is marked by decorating with flowers and feasting on bread and other delicious food.

Shavu’ot, or the Festival of Weeks, is a harvest festival. In the Hebrew Bible, it is referred to as Hag HaKatzir, the Festival of Harvest (Exod. 23.16), and Hag HaBikkurim, the Festival of First Fruits (Numbers 28.26). This Jewish holiday is celebrated fifty days after Passover, and it corresponds with the Day of Pentecost, which is counted by Judeo-Christians as fifty days after Easter. The biblical descriptions include baking of bread from the new harvest of grain (Lev. 23.17), and bringing first fruits to share (Deut. 26.3). Over time, and likely due to the fact that there was no clear ritual practice associated with Shavu’ot, the reading and celebration of the Decalogue (or Ten Commandments) became an important ritual practice at this time.

One unexpected thing I encountered when learning about Shavu’ot was an emphasis on dairy. As far as I could determine, this was tied to the promise for the Israelites to inherit a land flowing with milk and honey. Apparently, this is celebrated with cheesecakes and blintzes, among other dairy-based meals. This posed a bit of a challenge as our family is dairy-free. However, I have, for a long time, wanted to attempt my mom’s spinach lasagna recipe using dairy substitutes, and it seemed like this was exactly the right moment. I will tell you right now that it turned out amazing, and we feasted on lasagna and freshly baked sourdough bread as we read from the Torah, studied the Ten Commandments, and read from the book of Ruth.

The Days United Shavu’ot celebration box came with a wooden puzzle that made up the decalogue and a jello mold to create a Hebrew alef-bet (something I will try and make useful next time I teach Biblical Hebrew). We also received some crafting items to create a felt-flowered hairband and some starry-themed wishes to hang on our window. It is traditional to stay up all night reading the Torah and studying Hebrew, so apparently, this also formed a tradition of wishing on a star at midnight, when the star is most receptive to wishes.

Modern celebrations of Shavu’ot include reading of the Torah, the consumption of dairy products, reading the book of Ruth, decorating with flowers and greenery, and staying up all night to study the Torah. We practiced these all as best we could. However, we did not remain awake all night for study. Having spent the last several years in Seminary followed by obtaining a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, pulling an all-nighter to study the Hebrew Bible is an enticing idea. It’s just that we didn’t find it a very appropriate family-friendly activity, so we forewent that particular tradition in favor of spending the evening reading and talking about the “Ten Commandments”.

Shavu’ot is considered a pilgrimage festival. Other examples are the Passover (celebrated in early Spring), and Sukkot (celebrated in Autumn). These three holidays are considered set apart to make a pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem (Deut. 16.16). Of course, many people who keep these traditions are unable to make that journey. This is why it is remembered with the phrase “next year, in Jerusalem.”

Read more about the Jewish holidays I am celebrating by searching for the tag “Jewish holidays” or looking up specific holidays like Passover or Lag Ba’Omer. The Jewish holidays can also be found under the category “Readings & Interpretations“.

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