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Shavuot: The Basics

Updated May 24, 2011

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Shavuot has both historical and agricultural significance. Two main themes of the holiday are Torah (and the story of Ruth) and agriculture. An important holiday, it's also one of the less-known.

"Shavuot" is the Hebrew word for "weeks." Seven weeks after the Hebrew slaves left Egypt, seven weeks after Passover, the Israelites were transformed into the Jewish people when they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

The Torah tells us that the Israelites would travel on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot by foot to the Temple in Jerusalem. Shavuot instructions, according to Deuteronomy 26, were to bring a gift of the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple as an acknowledgement that the land and its produce were the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham.

Celebrating Shavuot today, some synagogues decorate the sanctuary with greens. Some act out the covenant between God and the children of Israel as a wedding under a chuppah (wedding canopy), with God as the groom, the Jewish people as the bride and the Torah as the wedding contract.

On Shavuot, a small scroll known as The Book of Ruth has been read for centuries. It has a special resonance for all who, like Ruth, are the partner of a Jew and part of a Jewish family. The Book of Ruth does not tell us anything about Ruth's family of origin, but we do know she chose to leave her home and travel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to the land of Israel after her husband died.

Shavuot often resonates for modern day Ruths, whose stories echo in some way the difficult choice that Ruth made to follow Naomi: deciding to bring Judaism into your home and family. Shavuot is a time when those who have made this choice should be honored and thanked for this gift they give to Judaism!

To help you learn more about this holiday, brings you Shavuot: The Basics!

This colorful booklet explains more fully both the historical and agricultural sides of the holiday and describes how you can bring this holiday meaningfully into your home and family. Shavuot can be a fun addition to your list of celebrations, with special dairy foods and decorations that celebrate the abundance of your local harvest. It is also a time for you to celebrate your multicultural heritage as Jews everywhere think of Ruth.

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "Booths," it's a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
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