The Jewish people have many customs relating to Shavuot, and each one has a special meaning.

There are numerous customs relating to Shavuot, and each one is symbolic in its own way. For example, when Jews remain awake all night studying Torah, they do so because on the day that God gave the Torah to the Jewish People, they did not awaken early to receive the Torah. In fact, that day was tainted by the sin of the Golden Calf. To compensate, Jews traditionally stay awake all night studying Torah in order to demonstrate their devotion to God and to Judaism.

Jews traditionally eat two meals on Shavuot, one dairy and the other meat. These meals represent the bread offerings that were offered given in the Temple. One reason for the dairy meal is that the Torah is often compared to milk. As the Song of Songs (4:11) states, “Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue.” Just as milk sustains the human body, the Torah sustains the Jewish soul.

Until the giving of the Torah, Jews were permitted to eat meat without observing the Jewish dietary laws. However, after receiving the Torah, they could not eat meat without ritual slaughter, and since the first Shavuot occurred on Shabbat, no ritual slaughter could take place. Therefore, they must have eaten dairy on the first Shavuot, which is another reason for eating dairy.

Libyan and Moroccan Jews have a custom to spray one another with water on Shavuot. The reason for this tradition is that the Talmud likens the Torah to water. Just as water quenches the thirst of the body, the Torah satisfies the thirst of the soul.

It is customary for Jews to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. One of Ruth’s descendants, the famous King David, was born and died on Shavuot. There are many parallels to the story of Ruth; the story of Shavuot is the journey of the Jewish People towards accepting the Torah, while the story of Ruth speaks about her personal experience of leaving behind her people and embracing the Jewish faith.

By Rachel Avraham