The evening of June 3, 2014 brings with it the arrival of Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks. It’s yom ha-bikkurim - the Day of the First Fruits, AKA chag ha-katsir, the Festival of Reaping. More significantly, it is z’man matnat Torateinu - the season of the giving of our Torah, a time for us to commemorate the Revelation at Sinai. The Greek name for the holiday is Pentecost, a reference to the fact that Shavuot falls on the fiftieth day of the counting of the Omer. (In the Christian tradition, Pentecost has, of course, taken on a completely different meaning.)
Shavuot is one of the three biblical Pilgrimage Festivals, holidays on which the ancient Israelites would travel to Jerusalem with their offerings of animals, grain, and what-not for the Temple. Shavuot, however, is... different.
Shavuot gets no respect. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of Jewish holidays.
First of all, it’s short. It’s only a two-day holiday out here in the Diaspora, unlike Sukkot and Pesach which run eight days. And in Israel, it’s just a single day.
Second, it has no specific ritual associated with it. On Pesach, you have Seder meals, special holiday-related foods (matzoh, bitter herbs, charoset, e.g.) and special dietary restrictions (no leavened foods or grain). On Sukkot, you dwell in little booths - or at least eat your meals there - and march around waving tree branches and fruit. [Sure, it’s weird. But it’s what we do.]
But Shavuot? Nix, nuttin’, zilch, nada, goornisht. Except maybe eating dairy foods and studying Torah in an all-night vigil, both practices being traditional but not required.
Third, it doesn’t even have its own fixed date on the Hebrew calendar. When is it Shavuot? Fifty days after the second day of Passover (i.e., the sixteenth of Nisan). But the date itself will vary based on the peculiarities of the Jewish calendar.
And so, Shavuot is the Holiday that Nobody Knows About. Even many Jews are clueless about Shavuot.
It’s high time we change this.
Shavuot needs something to give it pizzazz. Something to make it a bit more... exciting. Jazzy, even.
Shavuot needs a slogan... and I’ve got the perfect one:
Shavuot: It’s Better than Tisha B’Av.
(No need to thank me.)
- Steve Krodman