6th Sivan 5773
Shavout means ‘weeks’ and is celebrated on the 6th of Sivan, seven weeks after Pesach, and originally perhaps had no greater purpose than ‘concluding’ Pesach . In the agricultural year, Pesach was the time of the barley harvest, and Shavuot the wheat harvest, and it is said that the correct time to cut wheat is 50 days after the barley is ripe. As time went on, it, like the other pilgrim festivals of the Jewish year, was given an historical meaning, and Shavuot became z’man matan toratenu, the season of the giving of the (our) Torah. Pesach commemorated the Exodus from Egypt, the next seven weeks, the period known as the Omer, was also a time of a spiritual journey, to Shavuot and the re-enactment each year of the giving/receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai. While its origins were agricultural, it is interesting that, theologically, for Jews, the 50th day from Pesach is Shavuot, while Christians celebrate Pentecost, literally the 50th day, after Easter, and often the two coincide.
The focal point of the synagogue morning service on Shavuot is the reading, from the Torah, of the account of revelation and the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 19 and 20, and the congregation stands at this point, as though to symbolise the fact that we are receiving the revelation afresh. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, because of the harvest, and because Ruth is the ancestor of King David who, we are told, was born and died at Shavuot. There is also symbolism in associating the festival of Torah with Ruth, who was a convert to Judaism.
The eve of Shavuot is associated with the tradition of staying up all night to study, and is known as Tikkun Leyl Shavout, from the book originally put together for this occasion. Dairy foods are associated with Shavuot, one reason being to compare the physical nourishment gained from milk, with the spiritual nourishment of the Torah.
The readings are taken from the official luach prepared by the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK. Please note that the English text of these Torah portions is taken from the 1917 JPS translation and may differ from translations used in our communities. Occasionally alternative portions may be read, please contact your synagogue or rabbi to confirm the exact readings.