Shavuot

Many of the Jewish festivals or holidays use a significant Hebrew word to serve as a name or designation for the event. The festival of Shavuot comes from the Hebrew word meaning “weeks” and celebrates the giving of the Law (Torah) to Moses and Mt. Sinai. This event occurred seven weeks after the Passover. It serves as a major agricultural event, marking the end of the spring barley and the beginning of the summer wheat seasons.

Dates for Shavout

Hebrew Dates: 6-7 Sivan
5776
6-7 Sivan
5777
6-7 Sivan
5778
6-7 Sivan
5779
Gregorian Dates:
(begins sundown, evening before)

June 12-13
2016

May 31-Jun 1
2017
June 20-21
2018
Jun 9-10
2019

 

History
The festival itself is rooted in the Bible and in the story of the Israelites’ journey in the desert from Egypt to Mt. Sinai. According to the book of Leviticus, the travels took exactly forty-nine days (Leviticus 23:16-22). The Lord instructs that this celebration is to proclaim the day as a sacred assembly. The people are to do no work on that day. The ordinance was to be one that lasted forever, wherever the Israelites might live.

Shavuot, like many of the Jewish holidays, is marked as an agricultural festival as well. It indicated the ending of the spring harvest of barley and the beginning of the harvest of summer wheat. The people were instructed to bring grain offerings to the Lord at that time, along with a variety of animal sacrifices.

In biblical times, Shavuot was considered a pilgrimage festival. If at all possible, the Jews were to travel to Jerusalem and make the presentation of their grain offerings to the priests in the Temple. It was this sacrifice that provided for the food needs of the priests and Levites whose job it was to minister and maintain the Temple and its surrounding area.

Shavuot may be known by several different names. It is also called Chag Hashavuot (“the festival of weeks”), Chag Habikkurim (“the feast of the first fruits”) and Chag Hakatzir (“the festival of reaping).

Customs and Rituals
Today, Shavuot is a celebration of the Torah, education and active participation in the traditions of Jewish life. Many Jews observe the custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which means staying up all night to study the Torah. Staying up reminds of the importance of knowing the Law. Preparation for the festival allows one to reflect upon this life-invigorating event as an individual, family and community.

The Bible teaches that the Israelites had three days to prepare to receive the Law at Mt. Sinai. They were instructed to wash their clothes and to stay pure. Tradition says that many of the people went without sleep during the entire three days, eagerly awaiting the words from the Lord. People today can use the same three day framework to prepare for Shavuot.

Traditionally, the book of Ruth is read during services at Shavuot. Ruth is a young Moabite woman who married an Israelite man. When her husband died, she followed Naomi, her mother-in-law, back to Israel and adopted the Jewish faith as her own. Ruth is honored as one who chose to covert to Judaism. Here statement “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God” is seen as the ultimate celebration of the power of the Torah to change lives.

Shavuot often is a festive time of decorating and festivities surrounding the spring. Homes display flowers and bright colors. Meals often include dairy products and desserts, reminding all of the sweetness of the Torah.

It is also customary to eat dairy products on Shavuot. Many take this practice directly from Scripture, symbolizing the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3) and “milk and honey should be under your tongue” (Song of Solomon 4:11).

Funerals and Jewish Mourning During Shavuot
Law and tradition prohibit a mourner from engaging in any activity that brings joy. Events like a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah or other religious celebration should not be attended. However, strong acts of mourning are also prohibited on Sabbath and certain Jewish holidays. Certain accommodations are allowed for shiva during the holidays.

When the festivals of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipur, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot occur during the middle of shiva, the remaining days of shiva period of mourning are suspended. This is true as long as a few moments of shiva were observed before the festival began. A candle should remain lit for the entire seven days of shiva, but should not be kept in the same room as the events celebrating the festival.

If the burial took place on the morning leading into the festival, the mourners may prepare for the festival after midday.

Mourners may go to the synagogue for services, but should not take a leadership role in prayer or Scripture reading.

Because of the sensitive nature of the time of loss, a Rabbi should be consulted for proper procedures for mourning during Shavuot. The Rabbi will take into account the circumstances, traditions and Scripture and offer guidance.

Remembering Loved Ones During Shavuot
On the last evening of Shavuot, there is a prescribed time to commemorate, honor and reflect on deceased loved ones. The Yizkor (also Yiskor) is a special memorial service held four times a year. Yizkor is the Hebrew word for “remembrance.” This dedicated part of the service is considered one of the most recognized times to remember the deceased.

Because Jewish festivals contain moments of remembrance and family, the Yizkor during Shavuot is a perfect time to honor deceased family members. Lasting tributes such as contributions to charities, hospitals or hospices, synagogues or other organizations provide meaningful memorials for departed loved ones.

The tradition of inscribing one’s name in the book of life is a common occurrence in the Jewish faith. Families may light a yizkor candle, plant a tree in Israel, or dedicate a name plaque. Other meaningful and appropriate ways to memorialize a loved one include the creation of a Plaque and Memory page online through the National Jewish Memorial Wall (NJMW.org). The inclusion on a memorial or yahrzeit wall is a meaningful way to show honor and respect for the deceased.