Jun 122016
 

shav1

Today is Shavuot (שבועות‎‎) in certain Jewish traditions, translated as the Feast of Weeks in English versions of the Hebrew Bible and Pentecost (Πεντηκοστή) in the Greek Septuagint. It falls 50 days after the feast of Passover, and was the feast that evolved into Pentecost in the Christian tradition according to the Acts of the Apostles — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/pentecost/. By the Jewish calendar it falls on the sixth day of the month of Sivan.

The holiday is one of three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer, and its date is directly linked to that of Passover. https://www.bookofdaystales.com/counting-the-omer/

Shavuot is one of the less familiar Jewish holidays to secular Jews in the Jewish diaspora, while those in Israel as well as the Orthodox community are more aware of it. According to Jewish law, Shavuot is celebrated in Israel for one day and in the Diaspora (outside of Israel) for two days. Reform Judaism celebrates only one day, even in the Diaspora.

In the Torah, Shavuot is the season of the grain harvest, specifically of the wheat. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness (Jer. 5:24, Deut. 16:9-11, Isa. 9:2). It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot.

The Talmud refers to Shavuot as Atzeret (עצרת‎‎, literally, “refraining” or “holding back”), referring to the prohibition against work on this holiday and to the conclusion of the holiday and season of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name “Pentecost” (πεντηκοστή, “fiftieth day”).

In the Torah, Shavuot is the season of the grain harvest, specifically of the wheat. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness (Jer. 5:24, Deut. 16:9-11, Isa. 9:2). It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot.

SONY DSC

According to tradition, in the largely agrarian society of ancient Israel, farmers would tie a reed around the first ripening grains in their fields. At the time of harvest, the fruits identified by the reed would be cut and placed in baskets woven of gold and silver. The baskets would then be loaded on oxen whose horns were gilded and laced with garlands of flowers, and who were led in a grand procession to Jerusalem. As the farmers passed through cities and towns, they would be accompanied by music and parades. I doubt that the specifics are accurate, but there’s no reason to doubt that general harvest festivals took place at this time of year in ancient Israel.

Shavuot is unlike other Jewish holidays in that it has no prescribed mitzvot (Torah commandments) other than traditional festival observances of meals and celebrations, and the traditional holiday observances of special prayer services and the required abstention from work. However, it is  characterized by many minhagim (customs).

A mnemonic for these customs is the letters of the Hebrew word acharit (אחרית, “last”). Since the Torah is called reishit (ראשית, “first”) the customs of Shavuot highlight the importance of custom for the continuation and preservation of Jewish religious observance. These customs, largely observed in Ashkenazic communities, are:

אקדמות – Akdamut, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavuot morning synagogue services

חלב – Chalav (milk), the consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese

רות – Ruth, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services (outside Israel: on the second day)

ירק – Yerek, the decoration of homes and temples with greenery

תורה – Torah, engaging in all-night Torah study.

Akdamut (Aramaic: אקדמות) is a liturgical poem extolling the greatness of God, the Torah and Israel that is read publicly in the synagogue right before the morning reading of the Torah on the first day of Shavuot. It was composed by Rabbi Meir of Worms, whose son was murdered during the Crusade of 1096. Rabbi Meir was forced to defend the Torah and his Jewish faith in a debate with local priests, and successfully conveyed his certainty of