Shavout, its Traditions and Customs


   
    Issue Number 21, May 1999          
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The traditional customs of the festival of Shavout

 
 
 
 

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The Traditional Customs of Shavout

By Avi Lazerson

What is Shavout?

Shavout is a Jewish Religious Holyday. This year, 1999, it starts at sundown, Thursday, May 20th. Out side of Israel it is two days, therefore both Friday, May 21st and Saturday, the Shabbat, May 22nd are part of the Shavout holiday. The festival ends Saturday night with the completion of the Shabbat.

What's it all about?

Shavout commemerates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It was on this date some 3300 years ago. It also celebrates the beginning of the harvest and the first fruits were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem

What do we all do?

The custom is to stay awake all night reading and learning the Torah. Durring the day the Book of Ruth is read.

Anything special to eat?

Of course! On Shavout, it is customary to eat a milk meal and to eat new fruits.

Why a milk meal?

The reason is that before the Torah was given to the Jewish People, it was permited to eat milk and meat together. Once the Torah was given it became forbidden. What did those folks out there in the desert do for food on that day since their pot and pans became forbidden since they previously cooked meat and dairy together? They could not slaughter and cook an animal, so they eat cheese and milk which required no preparation. We recall this by eating a strictly dairy meal.

Anything else unusual?

Yes, it is the custom to decorate the synagouge and house with greens, (branches from trees and shrubs, and flowers). This recalls the feeling of being outdoors in the desert. (Listen, eventhough it was a desert, there were some greens, but if you insist, go ahead and decorate your house with sand!)

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For more on Shavout, see our ShavoutArchives

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from the May 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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