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Jewish Holidays: Shavuot: The other festival

Overview
Cast of Characters
The Story
A Holiday With Five Names?
FAQ
Glossary of Terms


Customs and practices

Little kids love Shavuot because they can drink chocolate milk at a holiday meal. Unlike traditional Shabbat and holiday meals where meat or chicken is served, thereby excluding milk, the custom developed on Shavuot to serve dairy foods.

Some say this practice is because the laws of kosher food that came with the Torah immediately disqualified the meat and dishes the Jews had with them. Others say it's connected to the verse describing Israel as "a land flowing with milk and honey." Still others say it's a vegetarian thing.

Adults, on the other hand, have loftier spiritual goals in mind: cheesecake. This desert has become to Shavuot what apples and honey are to Rosh HaShanah. Kind of ironic for a people whose DNA makes them particularly susceptible to lactose intolerance.

Also popular on Shavuot is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the custom of staying up all night to study Torah on the first night of the holiday. This commemorates the giving of the Torah on the night of 6 Sivan. Many synagogues and schools sponsor all-night learning programs that are followed by sunrise morning services. Sounds difficult, we know, but there are usually breaks every hour for stale cookies and flat pop.

The sunrise service moves quickly, but it is slowed down by the recitation of special prayers for Shavuot. Ashkenazic Jews recite "Akdamut," an Aramaic poem that praises God and is read immediately before the Torah reading. Sephardim, on the other hand, recite "Ketuvah," a love song that describes the "marriage contract"-Ketuvah is the name of the contract read at modern-day Jewish weddings-between God and the Jewish people.

In keeping with the Torah study theme, many congregations hold their graduations and Confirmations on Shavuot, as a way of linking Jewish schooling with future participation in Jewish study and involvement.

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