Shavuot is a Hebrew word meaning ‘weeks’ and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot, like so many other Jewish holidays began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. Shavuot was distinguished in ancient times by bringing crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Torah tells us it took precisely forty-nine days for our ancestors to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (the same number of days as the Counting of the Omer) where they were to receive the Torah. Thus, Leviticus 23:21 commands: ‘And you shall proclaim that day (the fiftieth day) to be a holy convocation…’ The name Shavuot, ‘Weeks,’ then symbolizes the completion of a seven-week journey.
Special customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. Another tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which symbolizes our commitment to the Torah, and that we are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. Traditionally, dairy dishes are served on this holiday to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the ‘land of milk and honey’.
Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover (when the barley harvest begins). These seven weeks are called the Omer and are counted ceremonially. This counting, called s’firat ha-omer, begins on the second day of Passover.The source for this practice is found in the book of Deuteronomy, “You shall count off seven weeks…then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks to Adonai your God” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10). The counting of the Omer takes place daily after the evening service.
Once the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits of the harvest was lost, the Rabbis were concerned that the observance of Shavuot might disappear. It was during this time period (2nd century C.E.) when the Rabbis determined that the revelation of Torah at Sinai coincided with Shavuot.
Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Temple Emanu-El will have a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the traditional night time study session on Saturday, June 8, from 7 – 9 pm. Distinguished scholar and “daughter” of Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Andrea Weiss, will be our educator and lead us in an evening of havdalah, study, singing, cheesecake and community building. The evening is free of charge. No RSVP is needed.
Dr. Andrea Weiss is the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as Associate Professor of Bible at the New York campus. Dr. Weiss was ordained at HUC-JIR/New York and received her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. She served as Associate Editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (URJ Press, 2008), which won the Jewish Book Council’s 2008 Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award. She also created a highly innovative response to the emerging political landscape known as American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters.
Dr. Weiss’s leadership within HUC-JIR has helped reshape curriculum for the rabbinical program across the campuses and built a deeper sense of community at the New York campus. She developed the Worship Working Group in 2003 and has continued to oversee this group of students and faculty who work together to reflect on and improve worship there. She has played a leadership role in major initiatives such as the Spirituality Initiative of the New York School, the Mandel Initiative in Building Capacity for Visionary Leadership, and the annual New York Kallah.
Rabbi Weiss grew up at Temple Emanu-El and is the daughter of Temple members, Marty and Ruth Weiss.
Kabbalat Torah – Shavuot Festival Service
Join us for our Shavuot Morning Festival Service on Sunday, June 9 beginning at 10 am. The service will be conducted by members of our Kabbalat Torah class to celebrate the graduation of our high school seniors who continued their Jewish education through grade 12. The students graduating this year are Nick Linden and Ethan Rosenberg. Following the service there will be a community Kiddush luncheon.