SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 11: Flourishing greenery, aromatic flowers and baskets overflowing with fresh grains are just some of the signs of Shavuot, the joyous Jewish holiday that wraps up the seven-week Counting of the Omer and celebrates the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Originally an ancient grain-harvest festival, Shavuot gained its place in Jewish history when the giving of the Torah took place, on Mount Sinai. The Midrash accounts that Mount Sinai blossomed in full bounty in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its peak, and in representation of that, Jews decorate synagogues and drape blossoms and vines for Shavuot.
Did you know? An omer is an ancient measure of grain.
This ancient holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks, because the seven-week period of anticipation that started during Passover ends on Shavuot. The reason for the Counting of the Omer? To link Passover—the physical freedom gained with the Exodus—to Shavuot—the spiritual freedom gained with presentation of the Torah.
SHAVUOT: ‘FIRST FRUITS’
The ancient spring grain harvest lasted for seven weeks, and when that first harvest ended—at Shavuot—farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were also brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.
To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods such as wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Barley and wheat harvests are intimately connected with the timing of Shavuot.
WESTERN WALL PROCESSION
Many customs are associated with Shavuot, among them being the consumption of dairy products, readings from the Book of Ruth and, for observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is: Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept. Some Jews today remain awake throughout the night, giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.
Note: In Israel, Shavuot is celebrated for one day; in the rest of the world, it’s observed for two days.
DAIRY RECIPES: BLINTZES, GLUTEN-FREE & MORE
The specific reason for consuming dairy on Shavuot is unclear—some relate it to the non-kosher meat dishes of the ancient Israelites, while others refer to the Torah as King Solomon did, “like honey and milk”—and still others have additional reasons. No matter the reason, Jewish bakeries and shops overflow with indulgent cheese blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese ravioli and more in the days leading to Shavuot.
Make dairy treats at home with these easy-to-follow, DIY recipes:
- Gluten-free cheese blintzes from JNS.org.
- Sweet ricotta-strawberry bourekas from MyJewishLearning.
- Kale and Mushroom Quinoa ‘Mac and Cheese’ from This Jewish blog.
- Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche from Haaretz.