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June 02, 1989 - Image 135

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-02

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44. 0
- Customs Abound For Shavuot
Pit Special


You shall observe the Feast of
Weeks, of the first fruits of the
wheat harvest.
—Exodus 34:22
On the day of the first fruits,
your Feast of Weeks, when you
bring an offering of new grain to the
Lord, you shall observe a holy day.
—Numbers 28:26
You shall count off seven
weeks; start to count the seven
weeks when the sickle is first put to
the standing grain. Then you shall
observe the Feast of Weeks for the
Lord your God, offering a free will
contribution according as the Lord
your God has blessed you.
—Deuteronomy 16:9-10


The following Midrash deals
with the subject of the Torah and
will be instructive to us as we look
into some of the various customs of
the Festival of Shavuot.
Why was the Torah not given in
the land of Israel? In order that the
nations of the world should not have
the excuse for saying "Because it
was given in Israel's land, therefore
we have not accepted it." Another
reason: to avoid causing dissension
among the tribes, or else one might
have said, "In my territory the Torah
was given." And the other might
have said, "In my territory the Torah
was given." Therefore, the Torah
was given in the desert, publicly
and openly, in a place belonging to
no one.
The Torah is likened to the
desert, to fire and to water to tell its
recipients that just as these three
things are free to all who come into
the world, so also are the words of
the Torah.
—Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael,
Exodus 20.2
The Torah is our most sacred
possession and the holiday of
Shavuot commemorates the giving
of the Torah. Each festival that we
celebrate generally has both a
historic and spiritual reason for its
celebration. The holiday of Shavuot
falls on the sixth and seventh days
of the Hebrew month of Sivan which
generally correspond to May or
June of the secular calendar.
Orthodox and Conservative Jews
celebrate two days of the holiday
while most Reform Jews observe
one day. Reconstructionist Jews
may observe either one or two days
for this festival.
There are a number of special
customs and ceremonies associated
with Shavuot. One ceremony of the
festival was the bringing of the first
fruits, the seven species for which

Israel is known. These include:
wheat, barley, grapes, figs,
pomegranates, olives and dates.
As is the case with all Jewish
holidays, there also is a special food
associated with Shavuot. Many will
eat dairy meals with blintzes and
cheese cakes. Some attribute this
custom to a verse in the Song of
Songs which compares the Torah to
milk and honey. (Song of Songs
4:11). Others believe that the reason
for having milchig meals is that
once the Jewish people received
the Torah, meat had to be specially
slaughtered and prepared (i.e. made
kosher), and they did not have time
to do this.
Another custom is to bake two
extra long challot to remind us of
the two special loaves offered on
the day of Shavuot. Another custom
is to prepare triangular shaped
latkes or kreplach. The three-sided
shapes remind us of the three-part
Bible which God gave to us
including the Torah, Prophets and
Writings, and to three different types
of people, Kohane, Levite and
Many Jewish homes will have
two challot on Shavuot and
representing one of the tablets of
the Ten Commandments. In certain

communities, Shavuot marked the
first time that children began their
Jewish studies and the first letters
which they studied on their slates
were coated with honey so that their
first taste of Jewish learning would
be sweet.
During certain festivals we read
one of the five scrolls or megillot.
The Megillah of Ruth is read on
Shavuot. We remember the story of
Ruth and her beautiful words of
commitment to her mother-in-law,
"And treat me not to leave thee and
to return from following after thee;
for whither thou goest, I will go; and
where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy
people shall by my people and thy
God my God." This expresses
Ruth's loyalty and devotion to
Judaism and may also represent a
formal act of her conversion to
Judaism. Therefore, we read the
Book of Ruth to remind us of our
responsibility to Judaism and the
need for our continued reaffirmation
of our commitment to Judaism.
We also read the Book of Ruth
because the story takes place
during the summer harvest and that
helps us commemorate the
agricultural roots of this festival. A
third reason that we read the Scroll
of Ruth is because it reminds us of

King David. Shavuot marks both the
day of the birth and death of King
David, and in a few traditional
synagogues throughout the world,
150 candles are lit, one for each of
the 150 psalms in memory of this
great Jewish leader.
Another custom is something
called a Tikun Ley! Shavuot where
Jewish people stay up all night on
Shavuot. They read and they study
with the idea that this all night
preparation will prepare us for the
receiving of the Torah. There is a
legend that the night before the
Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, the
Jewish people in the desert fell
asleep and Moses had to wake
them up to receive the Torah. We
stay up all night so that we will be
prepared for the giving of the Torah.
In the Reform movement and in
some Conservative synagogues, the
life cycle event of confirmation
developed. The ceremony of
confirmation was first initiated in
Europe and is a time which ninth or
10th graders generally have the
opportunity to reaffirm their
commitment to the study of

Rabbi Aft is the principal of the
Community Jewish High School and
director of the Midrasha.



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