Feast of Weeks
Hebrew Calendar Dates: The Sixth of Sivan in Israel. The Sixth and Seventh of Sivan in the Diaspora.
Other Names for Shavuot:
Chag Hakatzir (Festival of Reaping) and Yom Habikurim (Day of The First Fruit). Besides its significance as the day on which God revealed the Torah to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai, Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was therefore the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was dedicated on Shavuot.
Shavuot was also the first day on which individuals could bring, amidst much pomp and ceremony, the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem. Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
In the largely agrarian society of ancient Israel, Jewish farmers would tie a reed around the first ripening fruits from each of these species in their fields. At the time of harvest, the fruits identified by the reed would be cut and placed in baskets woven of gold and silver. The baskets would then be loaded on oxen whose horns were gilded and laced with garlands of flowers, and who were led in a grand procession to Jerusalem. As the farmer and his entourage passed through cities and towns, they would be accompanied by music and parades.
When it began:
Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jews in the wilderness, after arriving at Mount Sinai in the year 2448, following their liberation from Egypt and miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds. The Talmud tells us that God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews on the sixth night of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Shavuot always falls 50 days after the second night of Pesach.
How it’s observed today:
Shavuot is unlike other Jewish holidays in that it has no prescribed mitzvot (Torah commandments) other than traditional festival observances of meals and merriment; and the traditional holiday observances of special prayer services, including the Book of Ruth and the Akdamot poem and abstention from work. However, it is also characterized by many customs.
Many people eat dairy products, including various delicacies and pastries made with cheese.
Decorating homes and synagogues with flowers and greenery.
Many people spend the first night of Shavuot, engaged in all-night Torah study.
It is customary for some to recite the entire book of Tehillim (Psalms) over Shavuot, because Shavuot is the day of the death of King David, who largely authored the Psalms.