Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the
three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance
(the other two are Passover and 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 Shavuot is a time of
great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence
the name of the festival. See The Counting of
the Omer. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because
it falls on the 50th day. The counting reminds us of the important
connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed us
physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot
redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality.
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.
Shavuot 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 Shavuot, Shavuot could occur on the 5th
or 6th of Sivan. However, now that
we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between
Passover and Shavuot do not change length on the mathematical
calendar, Shavuot is always on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th
outside of Israel. See Extra Day of
Work is not
permitted during Shavuot. It is also customary to stay up the entire first night
of Shavuot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the
It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once
during Shavuot. 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
Shavuot will occur on the following days on the American calendar:
- May 15, 2013 (5773)
- June 4, 2014 (5774)
- May 24, 2015 (5775)
- June 12, 2016 (5776)