• Issue: May 1971
  • Designer: A. Kalderon
  • Plate no.: 320 - 322
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is one of the three occasions which the people of Israel were required to celebrate annually by ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem with their offerings : "Three times in a year shall all the males appear before the lord thy God in the place which He shall choose : on the feast of unleavened bread, and on the feast of weeks, and on the feast of tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the lord empty ; every man shall give as he is able..." (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

The Bible has three different names for this holiday:

The Bible says : "And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete; even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days ; and ye shall present a new meal offering unto the lord. Ye shall bring out of your dwellings two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah ; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, for first fruits unto the Lord" (Leviticus 23:15-17).

Though the Bible does not specify the month the holiday falls in, it has traditionally been celebrated on the 6th of Sivan, which is 50 days after the presentation of the omer. (These 50 days are the reason for the term Pentecost, which is another name for the holiday.) During the days of the Second Temple, various sects figured the date differently, and it is their reckoning which became the basis of the Karaite, Samaritan, and Christian traditions.

This offering of the first fruits was a ceremonial offering, but it was not the only customary one. Every Israelite farmer used to bring also the first crops of his field and his vineyard to the Temple, complying with the injunction "The choicest first fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God" (Exodus 23:19). However, no special day was set aside for these.

The principal and historical significance of Shavuot revolves around the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. "And in the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the Land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai" (Exodus 19:1), says the Bible, and the day was the first of Sivan. As is stated subsequently, the Lord descended to Mount Sinai five days later, and there spoke to all of Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments which are the foundation of all the Biblical precepts which the people were enjoined to fulfill. At the same time, the eternal covenant between the Lord and Israel was made. God chose Israel to be "distinguished from all the people," and the people of Israel agreed that "all that the lord hath spoken we will do." The Ten Commandments were written on two stone tablets which were kept for generations in the Ark of the Covenant in the Sanctuary and the Temple, and it is in memory of this that the holiday is also called the Time of the Giving of the Law.

In Israel, Shavuot is a one-day holiday, but two days are celebrated abroad (the 6th and 7th of Sivan) - a procedure followed with other holidays as well. In ancient times, the first day of each month, from which holidays were calculated, was proclaimed when the new moon was sighted, and the Diaspora did not always receive the report in time. Thus the device of two-day holidays provided leeway in case of error in setting the date.

The customs associated with Shavuot include studying the Bible all through the night, decorating the synagogue with leaves and flowers, reading the Book of Ruth, and eating dairy foods.

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Israel's Festivals Feast Of "Shavuot"