Ask someone to list the Jewish holidays, and you are bound to hear about Passover and Chanukah.  You may also hear about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and perhaps even Purim.  However even many Jews do not know about the holiday of Shavuot.  This is particularly interesting because Shavuot is a critical holiday in the Jewish religion, as it celebrates the receiving of the Torah in the desert on Mt. Sinai.

Shavuot occurs on the 6th day of the Jewish month of Sivan, exactly 7 weeks after the start of Passover.  Sivan usually falls out in May or June.  It is celebrated for one day in the land of Israel and for two days in the rest of the world.  As with all Jewish holidays, it begins at nightfall the evening before, and ends at twilight.

The basic requirements in Jewish law for celebrating Shavuot is to avoid the same type of creative work that is forbidden on Shabbat, and to eat a festive meal.  There are also special prayers and Torah readings.  In addition many customs have developed to celebrate this day.   Some customs and their reasons include:

  • Decorating one's home and the synagogue with flowers, leaves, and branches.  This is because Jewish tradition tells that before the giving of the Torah, Mt. Sinai blossomed with greenery, despite being in the desert, in honor of the Torah.
  • Eating dairy foods, such as cheeses (and cheesecake!).  This is because the Jews in the desert ate dairy after receiving the Torah until they were able to learn all the laws of how to produce kosher meat.
  • Staying up all night learning Torah.  Tradition states that on the morning of the giving of the Torah the Jewish nation slept late.  To make up for that lapse, Jews through the ages spend the entire night of Shavuot involved in Torah study.

In the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Shavuot was one of the three times during the year that all the Jews gathered at the Temple.  (The other 2 times were Passover and the holiday of Sukkot.)

There are many great opportunities to involve your kids in this holiday.  Enlist your children to find leaves and greenery to decorate your house with.  If that's not practical, perhaps they can create fake flower and leaf decorations out of tissue paper and pipe cleaners, beads,  or construction paper.  Kids will love helping you experiment with new dairy recipes for cheesecakes, cheese blitzes, or Quiche.  Use your creativity to create special new rituals for this special holiday!