- Harvesting wheat in Israel
Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage holidays to Jerusalem in the Jewish calendar, is one of the more peculiar holidays. It has multiple names – “Shavuot” refers to the counting done from Passover to Shavuot (shavuot means weeks), “Bikurim” refers to the bringing of agricultural offerings to the Temple and “Matan Torah” refers to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
It is a one-day holiday in Israel (two in the Diaspora) and is packed with seemingly random traditions that leave something for everyone. Here are the main customs that define the celebration of Shavuot in Israel these days:
1. Celebrating Israel’s agricultural bounty
- Israeli produce
For many Shavuot is about celebrating Israel’s agriculture. It was this time of year that Jews would bring an offering to the Temple in Jerusalem from the first wheat harvest. Kibbutzim and moshavs host agricultural festivals on Shavuot and an “offering” of Israeli produce is brought to the president of Israel in Jerusalem – a modern-day pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
2. Staying up studying Torah all night
- A Torah scroll
A story is told that the Israelites overslept on the morning they were to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. In order to right this wrong, many people stay up all night as a “tikkun” – reparation.
There are hundreds of study programs throughout Israel. Jerusalem is a particularly popular place to spend Shavuot with dozens (if not hundreds) of learning programs, including many in English.
3. Praying at dawn at the Western Wall (and the beach)
- The Western Wall at night
The Western Wall is definitely the place to be at dawn of Shavuot. Hundreds of people convene to pray. At the exact minute when the sun rises, a united voice arises as people recite the ancient prayer “Shma Yisrael.”
And the second best place to be at that time is the beach in Tel Aviv where people assemble for a spiritual prayer experience on the beach.
4. Dressing in white and eating tons of dairy
- Cheese in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv
It isn’t entirely clear why people dress in white on Shavuot or eat dairy. One theory is that once the laws were given on Mount Sinai, the people could no longer eat meat until they began preparing it according to the new laws they’d just received. And so meanwhile, as they celebrated the giving of the Torah, they feasted on dairy.
Still don’t get it?
This year Shavuot falls on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at night and ends the next day after sunset.
If you’re still having trouble figuring out what this holiday is all about, try watching this cute video that ties it all together:
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