What is Shavuot? Learn More About This Holiday.

Though Shavuot might not be one of the most well-known Jewish holidays, it’s one that’s a lot of fun and worth learning about. Shavuot is also especially interfaith-friendly in that most of it just involves cooking and eating good food.

Shavuot, which means “weeks” in Hebrew, refers to the counting of the harvest and takes place seven weeks after Passover. It actually brings together two different celebrations: the significant moment in Jewish religious history when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai and the summer harvest.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered with all the basics.

What Do We Do On Shavuot?

When in doubt, almost all Jewish holidays revolve around two things: the Torah/scripture and festive meals. And Shavuot is no different.

Since this holiday marks the Jews receiving the Torah, some people who observe the holiday might choose to go to synagogue and listen to the ten commandments read. Others stay up all night and celebrate Shavuot by studying from the Torah.

Let’s get to the food, though, because that’s something we always get excited about. There’s also a tradition, with many possible explanations, of eating lots of dairy products (maybe the most fun part of all?). We’ve got Shavuot recipes to inspire you.

What’s the Religious Meaning Behind Shavuot?

Seven weeks after the Hebrew slaves left Egypt— seven weeks after Passover— the Israelites were transformed into the Jewish people when they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The tradition tells us that everyone who is a Jew today stood at the mountain with the children of Israel— and the “strangers in the camp” were there too (Deuteronomy 29:9-14). At Pesach (Passover), we are all encouraged to see ourselves as having been in Egypt. At Shavuot, we are encouraged to see ourselves as part of the crowd that stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. You can get a sense of the awesome power of that encounter by reading the story starting with Exodus 18: “There was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud, the sound of a shofar (ram’s horn) and smoke. The earth itself quaked!” The Torah tells us that the people “saw the thunder.” So powerful was Sinai, our senses became interchangeable.

Why Do We Read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot?

Each of the “pilgrimage festivals,” holidays when the Jews traveled by foot to the Temple in Jerusalem, has a book from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) associated with it. The Book of Ruth is the reading for Shavuot because it both tells of the grain harvest and of Ruth’s acceptance of Judaism and Torah, the two themes of Shavuot. Ruth’s statement to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God,” is considered a model of covenantal commitment to Judaism. Ruth is even more relevant in our time when religious affiliation is increasingly a matter of individual self-expression and those who formally choose Judaism bring a special energy and commitment as a gift to Jewish communities.

What Can You Do To Make Shavuot Your Own?

This holiday is a great one to celebrate with your kids and extended family because there are so many different ways to customize it. Here are some general ideas:

  • Celebrate the importance of relationships in your life. Since Shavuot traditionally commemorates the relationship between a higher power and the Jewish people, reflect on how relationships play a role for you, your partner or your family. What does it feel like to connect with someone? How do you communicate with each other, especially when it comes to celebrating holidays in an interfaith relationship? These basic questions may spark more than you realize.
  • Get creative with dairy-inspired recipes. This holiday is all about enjoying your favorite dairy products, so grab a cheeseboard, your favorite cheese and a group of friends. You can also take this opportunity to check out some local farmers markets and support small businesses. And don’t forget to try out some of our multicultural recipes for Shavuot, from pomegranate ice cream to golden milk blintzes.
  • Learn something new. Whether Shavuot means staying up all night and studying Torah, going to synagogue or neither, this holiday stresses the importance of learning. Maybe you’ve been putting off learning a new language or have a subject you want to understand better. Download Duolingo, look up some nonfiction books and get going!

18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.

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Author: 18Doors