Israel celebrates Shavuot

Orthodox rabbinic tradition regards the holiday as the Hebrew calendar date on which God revealed the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. It also honors the offering the first produce of the annual harvest at the Biblical Temple in Jerusalem.

By Erin Viner

The Hebrew meaning of Shavuot is “weeks,” as it comes exactly seven weeks after the first day of Passover – which marks the Exodus from Egypt itself.

In ancient times, the holiday also marked the start of the wheat season and end of the barley harvest. Jewish farmers brought their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 26:1-11),where special offerings were brought (Numbers 28:26-31). This “Harvest Festival” and the “Day of First Fruits” (Exodus 23:16 and Numbers 28:26, respectively) in honored by many agricultural communities (kibbutzim and moshavim), which center celebrations featuring by their recently-harvested produce.

The holiday is one of three festivals (along with Passover and Sukkot) during which the faithful customarily make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. In modern times, prayers at the Western Wall, the last standing vestige of both Biblical Temples, in the Old City, are often accompanied by dancing and singing.

The area is called Temple Mount by Israel, and considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world, also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia; and the Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict with Israel. Additional police forces have been deployed in the surrounding vicinities, as part of bolstered security during all holidays in Israel in efforts to maintain the peace.

Even though Israel regards the entirety of of Jerusalem as its eternal capital and the center of the Jewish faith, it has observed a “Status Quo” arrangement that existed prior to its reunification of Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War, that bars Jewish prayer at the compound as not to ‘inflame Muslim anger.’ Religious worship on the al-Aqsa compound is restricted to Muslims, while Jews pray at the Western Wall nearby.

Shavuot observance begins tonight at sundown tomorrow, traditionally beginning with festive meals with family and friends, highlighted by the serving of dairy dishes.

In an expression of joy of the Jewish people at being blessed with the Torah, many will stay awake through the night to study religious texts, as synagogues and religious seminaries hold lectures and prayer sessions. Tomorrow’s morning prayers will include the singing of special hymns and recitation of scriptural passages, including the Book of Ruth.

Worshippers will perform the Birkat HaKohanim Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26, reading: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

The holiday concludes Friday evening at sunset after festive evening prayers. All Jewish holidays, including the Sabbath, are observed sundown to sundown.

As considered an official holiday in the State of Israel, there will be no public transportation for the duration of Shavuot observance. Additionally, schools, government and many private places of businesses will be shuttered, and newspapers will not be printed.