This week the Jewish community is getting ready for Shavuot, the “Feast of Weeks” because it takes place on the 50th day (a week of weeks) after Passover. On the Christian calendar, it often coincides with Pentecost.
The holiday has a double meaning. Primarily, it celebrates the giving the Torah, the central document of the Jewish faith, at Mount Sinai after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It marks the occasion where a wandering tribe became a nation governed by God’s commandments.
Shavuot is also the spring harvest festival, which is probably one reason it’s customary to read the Book of Ruth. This lovely story shows how Ruth, a Moabite, followed her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel after the death of Ruth’s husband, uttering the famous words, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
The story takes place at the time of the spring harvest, when Ruth goes out to the fields to glean; one of the Torah’s commandments was to leave the corners of the field uncut during the harvest, so that the poor people in the community could gather grain for themselves.
A good time to study Torah
Another tradition is to study Torah (the first five books of what’s commonly known as the Old Testament) all night. At my synagogue, they start around 9 p.m., with 40-minute to one-hour study sessions on a wide variety of subjects continuing through the night and ending with morning services at around 5:30 a.m. No one is obligated to stay all night, but a few hardy souls do so every year, fueled by ample refreshments and lots of fresh coffee.
The other big tradition is to eat dairy foods, but no one knows why. One scholar found the first letters of the four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26, which describe sacrifices to be offered on Shavuot, spell mei halav (from milk). Others feel dairy foods symbolize the status of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai: they were as innocent as infants, whose primary food is milk.
Yet another theory is that once the Israelites received the Torah, they realized they had to follow the laws of kashrut, which meant meat had to be prepared in certain ways before it could be eaten. Since this would take a bit of time, it was easier for the first meals to be dairy instead of meat.
Whatever the reason, it’s a good excuse to eat blintzes, cheesecake and other dairy-rich delights.
My friends and I have been celebrating the second day of Shavuot with a potluck picnic since our 30-something kids were toddlers. Today’s recipe is a great potluck dish. In fact, I first encountered it at a workplace potluck. Everyone was raving about it, but because the original recipe calls for bacon, which I don’t eat, I didn’t try it then.
I found this recipe, which I have altered a bit, on a site called BellaOnline. The original recipe calls for 4 slices of bacon, which we obviously don’t use in a kosher kitchen. It also calls for mozzarella cheese, which I found rather tasteless, so I substituted cheddar. And I use about half the amount of dressing called for in the original, which is plenty (my quantities are what I list here). If you’re concerned about the sugar, you can substitute Splenda, which I have done with no ill effect.