Significance: Remembers the giving of the Torah; also a harvest festival
Observances: Studying Torah
Length: 2 days (Some: 1 day)
Customs: Eating dairy foods
You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the
Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats,
they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall
count, fifty days... You shall convoke on this very day -- there shall be a
holy convocation for yourselves -- you shall do no laborious work; it is an
eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations. -Leviticus
Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals
with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are
Sukkot). Agriculturally, it commemorates the time
when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the
Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the
Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the
Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag
Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).
The period from Passover to Shavu'ot is a time of great anticipation. We count
each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu'ot, 49
days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. See
The Counting of the Omer. The counting reminds us of
the important connection between Passover and Shavu'ot: Passover freed us
physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot redeemed us
spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu'ot is also known
as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu'ot has no
particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50
days after their Spring holiday.
It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of
the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages
point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we
receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the
giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.
Shavu'ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from
Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by
observation (see Jewish Calendar), and there are two
new moons between Passover and Shavu'ot, Shavu'ot could occur on the 5th or 6th
of Sivan. However, now that we have a
mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and
Shavu'ot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavu'ot is always
on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th outside of
Israel. See Extra
Day of Holidays.)
Work is not permitted during Shavu'ot.
It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu'ot and study
Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.
It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavu'ot. There are
varying opinions as to why this is done. Some say it is a reminder of the
promise regarding the land of Israel, a land
flowing with "milk and honey." According to another view, it is because our
ancestors had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws therein), and did
not have both meat and dairy dishes available. See
Separation of Meat and Dairy.
The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given
for this custom, and none seems to be definitive.
List of Dates
Shavu'ot will occur on the following days of the secular calendar:
- Jewish Year 5777: sunset May 30, 2017 - nightfall June 1, 2017
- Jewish Year 5778: sunset May 19, 2018 - nightfall May 21, 2018
- Jewish Year 5779: sunset June 8, 2019 - nightfall June 10, 2019
- Jewish Year 5780: sunset May 28, 2020 - nightfall May 30, 2020
- Jewish Year 5781: sunset May 16, 2021 - nightfall May 18, 2021
For additional holiday dates, see Links to Jewish
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