Judaism is ripe with holy holidays throughout the calendar year, some of them more known to the non-Jewish masses. One of the lesser-known Jewish observances is Shavuot, which began on Shabbat, June 8, and ended at sundown Monday.
Shavuot, which began as an ancient grain festival, celebrates when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3,000 years ago.
If you’ve never heard of Shavuot, you’re not alone. Even among Jews, it’s not always observed. But among the millions of Jews worldwide who do observe the ancient holiday, Shavuot provides an opportunity to renew their connection with the Torah, God’s gift to the Jews. Here are 10 things you may not know about the ancient Jewish holiday.
1. Shavuot means “oaths,” commemorating when God swore an everlasting commitment to his chosen people, and the Jewish people also pledged eternal loyalty to God.
2. Some Jews read from the Book of Ruth during the holiday because King David, who died on Shavuot, was a descendant of Ruth, a Moabite.
3. Centuries ago, Jews would bring two loaves of bread and their best fruits to the temple on Shavuot as a gift to God for Israel’s prosperity. This was called Bikkurim.
4. Dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot, including casseroles and quiches. The Torah is seen by many Jews as a nourishing and essential milk.
5. Some Jews decorate their homes and synagogues with flowers and sweet-smelling plants.
6. In Israel, Shavuot is observed for only a day. The Yizkor, or prayers for the deceased, is recited, and the 10 Commandments are read.
7. Around the world, everyone, including children, attends the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot to hear the Ten Commandments read aloud. The second day, the Yizkor memorial is recited. No work may be performed, and there is an emphasis on resting.
8. On the first night of Shavuot, after the dairy and meat meals are eaten among family and friends, Jews may stay up all night learning the Torah. There is a booklet called the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which provides the texts to learn that night, but learning other parts of the Torah is acceptable.
9. If someone cannot make it until sunrise the next morning after studying the Torah all night, they should at least try to stay awake until chatzot, the halachic midnight. If Torah studies were incomplete from the night before, they should be completed on the second day. This is especially true for the men, since women are not obligated to stay awake.
10. Staying awake all night and learning the Torah is an act of goodwill, of Jews demonstrating to God they remain committed to their 3,000-year-old oath from Mt. Sinai.