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Shavuot is the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Torah by God to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and it is a holiday filled with meaningful customs.

 

Shavuot celebrates the event of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the other two being Passover and Sukkot. In ancient Israel, Jews would journey from all over the land in order to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem and to mark the new agricultural season by giving sacrifices to God. However, following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Shavuot holiday became more focused on the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

One of the most famous Jewish customs on Shavuot is to stay up all night studying Torah. On Shavuot morning, the passages from the Torah describing the revelation at Sinai are read. People stay up all night as a form of celebration and preparation in order to receive the Torah the way the Jewish People did thousands of years ago.

 

Another activity connected to Shavuot is the public reading of the Book of Ruth. A central theme of the Book of Ruth is the kindness with which Jewish farmer Boaz treated the convert Ruth. One of the main lessons learned from this story is the importance of behaving with kindness towards the poor as well as strangers. Jewish laws concerning leaving a portion of one’s field for the poor during harvest season are learned from this story as well.

In the end, Boaz marries Ruth and one of her descendants is King David. The anniversary of King David’s death also falls on Shavuot.

Traditionally, Jews eat a dairy meal on Shavuot. Once explanation for this custom is that the Hebrew word for dairy is chalav (חלב), which has the numerical value of 40, corresponding to the 40 days and 40 nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai before bringing down the Torah.

In Israel, Shavuot is a festive time when families come together to celebrate the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People. There is no work and no school. Jewish women usually start preparing foods for the holiday weeks in advance, and many Jews read the Book of Ruth leading up to the holiday.

By Rachel Avraham

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