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Jewish Holidays: Shavuot: The other festival

Overview
Cast of Characters
The Story
A Holiday With Five Names?
Customs & Practices
Glossary of Terms


FAQ

Why is Shavuot shorter than Passover and Sukkot?
Some commentaries explain that because Shavuot falls during the harvest season, God had mercy upon the Jews and made it a short holiday so as not to cost them too much work time. Perhaps God also considered the expensive food prices at Passover and knew the Jewish people couldn't go through another eight-day holiday.

Why do people eat dairy products on Shavuot?
Unclear, but different explanations exist. One maintains that it's because the Jews received the laws of kosher food when they received the Torah, disqualifying the meat and dishes they had stored 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.

It's a convenient excuse to invite guests over for a holiday meal and serve pizza.

What is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot?
The custom of staying up all night to study Torah on the first night of Shavuot. This is done because the Torah, according to tradition, was given that night.

What are the different names for Shavuot?

Shavuot - The "Festival of Weeks." End of the Passover-to-Shavuot countdown.
Zman Matan Torateinu - Literally, the "Time of Receiving our Torah."
Chag HaBikkurim - "Holiday of the First Fruits."
Atzeret - "Conclusion," ending the season that began with Passover.
Chag HaKatzir - The "Festival of Harvest," since the holiday takes place at the time of year when wheat is harvested.

Why is Shavuot shorter in Israel than outside Israel?
The Jewish calendar is lunar-based. During the time of the Holy Temple, starting dates for holidays were based on Rosh Chodesh, the new month, which was determined by watching the moon. Witnesses who saw the new moon would report it to the sanhedrin, the high Jewish court. Holidays would then start at the prescribed number of days after the new moon dictated in the Torah (Shavuot on the sixth day of Sivan, for example).

After the new moon was announced in Jerusalem, messengers were dispatched to spread the word to outlying countries where Jews lived, so that everyone would know when the holidays were supposed to begin. The messengers weren't able to reach communities far away, however; those communities therefore had to set the dates of holidays based upon the end of the previous month. Since Rosh Chodesh can be either one or two days, they observed the first day of the holiday for two days in order to avoid any chance of transgressing restrictions on the actual date of the holiday.

With the advent of the modern calendar, the exact starting date of all Jewish holidays is predetermined far in advance, but the rabbis maintained the practice of observing a second day of holiday observance, following the practice of Jewish ancestors. In Israel, however, only one day is observed, since there was never a two-day observance there.

Why do Confirmations take place on Shavuot?
Confirmation, the ceremony used by the Reform and Conservative movements for students completing the tenth grade, is often held on Shavuot to link the students to future Torah study and participation in Jewish life. Many schools hold ceremonies for younger students on Shavuot for the same reason.

Is Yizkor recited on Shavuot?
Yes. Yizkor, the Jewish memorial prayer for lost loved ones, is recited on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and on Shavuot.

 

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