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Shavuot

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Shavuot

The Festival of Weeks, Holiday of the First Fruit, Time of the Giving of the Torah – the many names of Shavuot describe it well.

Learn more

Shavuot Essentials

Browse our collection of Jewish Treats on Shavuot, find recipes and learn about the holiday of many names.

Resources

Read or download our guide to the Ten Commandments, watch videos and discover Shavuot resources.

Articles

Browse our collection of Shuvuot Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Shavout.


Laws and Customs of Shavuot

Shavuot

Laws and Customs

Table of Contents

Shavuot is a low-key, pensive holiday, unlike Passover with its long Seder nights and crunchy, matzah-filled days. The following are the general laws and customs for the holiday of Shavuot.

I. Festival Laws

Candle Lighting
Shabbat and all Jewish holidays always begin at sunset of the evening before. On the Sabbath and Yom Tov [festival] candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset to welcome the holiday.

Two candles (minimum) are lit, then both hands are waved towards the face, symbolically drawing in the light of the candles and the sanctity of the Sabbath/Yom Tov. The eyes are covered and the blessing is recited.

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Yom Tov (festival).

An additional blessing, Sheh’heh’cheh’yanu, is pronounced to acknowledge the good fortune of being able to experience the holiday:
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, sheh’heh’cheh’yanu v’kee’manu v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Evening services are held in the synagogue.
A festive meal is eaten, preceded by the Festival Kiddush, ritual washing of the hands and Ha’Motzee, which is made over two whole challot. The meal is followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “May there rise and come…”, in honor of the holiday, and the Harachamon for the festival.
Changes in the morning synagogue service

      • During Shacharit, the morning service, the Festival Amidah is recited.
      • Hallel
        • Hallel is a collection of Psalms that are recited on the festivals and Rosh Chodesh (the new month).
        • Hallel can be found in the siddur (Jewish prayerbook).
      • The Book of Ruth is read on the last day of the holiday (see below for details).
      • The Torah Reading
        • On the first day of Shavuot, Exodus 19:1-20:23 is read in synagogue.
          On the second day of Shavuot, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17 is read in synagogue.
        • The maftir (additional reading) on both days is Numbers 28:26-31.
        • The haftorah (prophetic message) on the first day is from the Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12.
          The haftorah on the second day is from Habakuk 2:20-3:19.
      • Yizkor – The Memorial Service
        • The Yizkor Memorial Service is recited on the last day of all festivals — Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot and on Yom Kippur.
        • While those who have passed away are no longer able to effect their own spiritual growth, the deeds of their children may result in additional merit for their souls.
        • ) According to some Ashkenazic customs, those whose parents are both living leave the sanctuary during Yizkor. In Sephardic custom, everyone remains in the sanctuary while the cantor recites Yizkor.

A festive meal is eaten, preceded by the daytime festival Kiddush, ritual washing of the hands and HaMotzee, which is made over two whole challot. The meal is followed by the Grace After Meals with the addition of Y’aleh V’Yavo, “May there rise and come…”, in honor of the holiday and the Harachamon for the festival.

Mincha, the afternoon service is recited with the special Festival Amidah (and the special insertions for Shabbat, as well as including the weekly Torah reading for Shabbat Mincha, when applicable).

Havdalah – At the conclusion of the second day of Yom Tov, Havdalah, separating holy days from week days, is recited in the evening Amidah. This Havdalah is followed by the formal Havdalah, which consists of only the blessing over grape juice (HaGafen) and the Havdalah blessing (HaMavdil), which can be found in the prayer book.

II. The Book of Ruth

Read during the morning service prior to the Torah reading (On the first day of Shavuot in Israel, and on the second day in the diaspora). The reasons that we read the Book of Ruth are:

      1. Acceptance of the Torah – The Book of Ruth is the story of a courageous Moabite woman who took upon herself the laws of the Torah. Since Shavuot commemorates the receiving of the Torah by Israel, the story of Ruth’s journey from Moabite princess to the wife of one of Judea’s leading citizens, is an inspiration for all.
      2. The Harvest Time – The story of Ruth takes place during the period of the Counting of the Omer and culminates at the time of the wheat harvest, which is the time of Shavuot.
      3. King David – According to tradition, King David, the great-grandson of Ruth, was born and died on Shavuot.

III. Customs

      1. All-Nighters: To demonstrate our love for the Torah and our appreciation for G-d’s revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night either learning, listening to lectures, or simply discussing Jewish matters.
      2. Decorating the Synagogue with greens: There are several reasons given for this custom:
          • More than just a recognition that Shavuot takes place at the blossoming time of spring, the custom of decorating synagogues is related to the Talmudic description of Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. Although located in the wilderness, Mount Sinai blossomed with flowers.
          • When the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was standing, Shavuot was the time when Jewish farmers brought their first fruit offerings. To enhance the beauty of the mitzvah, the baskets containing the fruit were usually decorated with flowers and greenery. Thus, one of the names for the holiday of Shavuot is Chag Ha’Bikurim, the holiday of the first fruits.
      3. Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods cheesecake and blintzes being particular favorites! (see NJOP’s Shavuot Recipes) Those who have the custom to specifically eat meat meals on festivals as a sign of joy, usually have a small dairy kiddush and then, after rinsing their mouths, have a meat meal. Again, numerous reasons are suggested for eating dairy on Shavuot:
          • Prior to receiving the Torah, the Jews did not know the dietary laws. Among the first laws that were taught to the Jews were those of kosher slaughtering. The Jews refrained from meat at that time until they were able to properly prepare the utensils and learn, with precision, the laws of shechita, ritual kosher slaughter.
          • In the times of the Temple, Jews celebrated the bounty of the land on this holiday of the first fruits. Dairy foods represent the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to bring the Israelites to a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
          • The Song of Songs, written by King Solomon, has been interpreted as a love song between G-d and the Jewish people. Chapter 4, verse 11 reads: “…honey and milk are under thy tongue,” an allegory for the sweetness of learning Torah.
          • On more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40, which corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

Shavuot

The Festival of Weeks, Holiday of the First Fruit, Time of the Giving of the Torah – the many names of Shavuot describe it well.

Learn more

Shavuot Essentials

Browse our collection of Jewish Treats on Shavuot, find recipes and learn about the holiday of many names.

Resources

Read or download our guide to the Ten Commandments, watch videos and discover Shavuot resources.

Articles

Browse our collection of Shuvuot Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Shavout.


Shavuot Prep 101 Web Series

Shavuot Prep 101

Web Series

Welcome to NJOP’s Shavuot Prep web series featuring Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Founder and Director of NJOP, has created four short webisodes discussing important topics for the Shavuot holiday. You can find them listed below.

Shavuot

The Festival of Weeks, Holiday of the First Fruit, Time of the Giving of the Torah – the many names of Shavuot describe it well.

Learn more

Shavuot Essentials

Browse our collection of Jewish Treats on Shavuot, find recipes and learn about the holiday of many names.

Resources

Read or download our guide to the Ten Commandments, watch videos and discover Shavuot resources.

Articles

Browse our collection of Shuvuot Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Shavout.


Shavuot Cheesecake Recipes

Shavuot Resources

Shavuot

The Festival of Weeks, Holiday of the First Fruit, Time of the Giving of the Torah – the many names of Shavuot describe it well.

Learn more

Shavuot Essentials

Browse our collection of Jewish Treats on Shavuot, find recipes and learn about the holiday of many names.

Resources

Read or download our guide to the Ten Commandments, watch videos and discover Shavuot resources.

Articles

Browse our collection of Shuvuot Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about Shavout.


Ruth

Ruth

She was a former princess, left widowed with her mother-in-law, destined to abandon her royal past to join the Nation of G-D and become the mother of Kingship…RUTH!

In the time when the land of Israel was ruled by judges, the territory of Judah was struck with a great drought. Elimelech, one of the leading citizens of the city of Bethlehem, watched as the people around him grew gaunt from want of food.

Indifferent to the people’s needs, concerned only about preserving his family’s wealth, Elimelech gathered his wife Naomi, his two sons, Machlon and Khilyon, and all their transportable wealth, and left. Not only did he leave the city and the land of Israel, he chose to settle in the land of Moab, a not-so-friendly neighbor with whom Israel had a history of ill-will. When the Nation of Israel sought food, water and safe passage on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Moabites refused to help, sending them back into the harsh wilderness.
Time passed and Elimelech’s sons brought home two nice, young Moabite ladies, Orpah and Ruth. They were not just any young women, but daughters of the royal house who had been raised in a home dedicated to the Moabite traditions and beliefs! Time passed and the family did not return to Bethlehem, Elimelech and both of his sons died, and Naomi was left in the land of Moab with her two foreign daughters-in-law.

However, the Jewish mother is a force to always be reckoned with! The beginning of the Book of Ruth, which describes their flight to Moab, does not record any of Naomi’s feelings or reactions. Her silence confirms her unhappiness in leaving Israel and dwelling in Moab. After the death of her husband and two sons, Naomi resolutely packed her bags to head back to her home in Bethlehem. Remarkably, both Orpah and Ruth desire to go with her, demonstrating that while living under Naomi’s roof they had indeed been influenced by her, renouncing their previous idolatrous lives.

At the border of Israel, Naomi decided that the Holy Land would not be the appropriate place for her two daughters-in-law. Her return to Bethlehem would not be glorious, in fact, it would be filled with shame knowing that her husband fled rather than share his wealth, and that her two sons took Moabite wives. The time had come to send her daughters-in-law back to their father’s home. When pressed, Orpah returned to Moab. Ruth, however, refused. She listened to no arguments. “Where you go, I shall go, your people will be my people, your land will be my land, and your G-d will be my G-d.” In this most famous of statements, Ruth confirmed not only her complete identification with the Jewish people, but also her acceptance of G-d’s laws in her life.

And so Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem.

In Israel, the lives of Naomi and Ruth were difficult. The community did not welcome Naomi with open arms. They remembered that she had abandoned them, and Naomi was too meek to try to force her presence upon her former relatives and neighbors. Furthermore, when it became known that Ruth was a Moabite princess…you can imagine.

Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and threadbare existence. To keep from starving, Ruth went out into the fields to collect the excess harvest during the gathering of the barely. The field to which she went was owned by a wealthy man named Boaz…a relative of Elimelech. Seeing her in the field, distanced from the usual group of women and humbled in her state, Boaz had mercy on Ruth and insisted that she continue to come to his field. He also made certain to assure her that she would not be molested by those who saw her as only a Moabite princess, and not the daughter–in-law of Naomi who had accepted the Torah.

Ruth’s presence in the community caused much commotion. The elders in the town debated her status, whether she was a true convert and whether they were obligated to find her a husband.
Naomi, however, knew the right path to follow. Her daughter-in-law was a devout, sincere, young woman. It was time for her to establish a home.
Naomi understood that Boaz’s kindness in the field was a sign of favor upon Ruth. He was a man of integrity who would not only fulfill his familial obligation to redeem the family land, keeping it in the tribe of Judah, but would also take care of Ruth. She directed her daughter-in-law, therefore, to go to him at the threshing ceremony and to present herself to him as a potential mate.

Ruth, the former princess, took herself to the festival of the threshing and, in the darkness of the night, lay herself at the feet of Boaz, signaling to him her desire for him to recognize their relationship. Boaz was not a young man. He was an established landowner and a leader in the community. While he had seen Ruth and knew that she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, his relative’s widow, he had not thought of himself as one to take her hand or redeem Elimelech’s land. On the night of the threshing, Boaz realized that he had a mitzvah to perform.

There was one remaining stumbling block. Boaz was Ruth’s second closest relative, and there was yet a closer relative whose obligation preceded his to redeem the family land. In the middle of the day, Boaz waited in the public square for his relative to pass by and told him that Naomi’s land needed to be redeemed and that he, the nearest kinsman, had the first responsibility and opportunity to purchase it. The relative expressed interest. With the purchase of the land, however, Boaz added, comes the obligation of taking care of Ruth. The cousin hesitated and then declined, proving that his intention was not the Biblical design for the family’s continuation, but rather his own monetary gain.

And so, Boaz and Ruth were married. And Ruth bore a son named Oved, whose own son, Jesse, was the father of David, the greatest King of Israel.

Summation and illustrations by Sarah Rochel Reid.