History of Shavuot: The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot poster, late 1940sHISTORY OF SHAVUOT

Tonight at sunset, June 11, begins the Jewish holiday Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, and continues until sundown on June 13. The holiday, also known in Greek as Pentecost, is on the sixth day of the Hebrew lunarsolar calendar month of Sivan, which means that in the Gregorian solar calendar, it may occur between May 15 and June 14.

Shavuot, or Shavuos, is called the “Feast of Weeks” because it occurs seven weeks (7 × 7 days) or 50 days (inclusive) after the first day of the Jewish Passover. It is distinguished from the Christian Passover in that the date of this is tied to Easter, due to decisions made at the Christian ecumenical Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, holidays when work was forbidden, and Jews were to bring their sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem.


Historical Context of Shavuot

According to Exodus 34:22, Shavuot marked the grain harvest in the ancient land of Israel. The harvest lasted seven weeks. Similarly, the eighth day of Sukkot was the festival of the fruit harvest.

According to Leviticus 23:15, the “Counting of Omar” between Pentecost and Shavuot refers to the measure (omer) of barley that was offered at the Temple of Jerusalem. The traditional offering was two loaves of bread from the grain harvest.

It is also commonly believed that 49 days (seven weeks) passed between the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai, traditionally set in 1312 B.C.


Shavuot Customs

stamps of israel shavuot 85

Israel Shavuot Stamp

It is celebrated for two days worldwide, but in modern Israel, it is a holiday for only one day.

After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D., rabbinic observances governed the customs of Shavuot. These include prayers, reading liturgical poems, and the Hebrew Bible—especially the Torah and Ruth (the events of Ruth are during harvest time)—a blessing said over wine, sharing meals, and decorating homes and synagogues with greenery.

Shavuot foods include various dairy foods; according to rabbinic tradition, King Solomon compared the Torah to milk.

Honey and milk are under your tongueSong of Solomon 4:11

These dishes include cheesecake, blintzes, cheese ravioli, and small dumplings. Meat is usually served as the evening meal.

In a modern Jewish kibbutz, the Bikkurim ceremony occurs, the festival of bringing in the first fruits.


Christian Connection to Shavuot

510px rabulagospelsfolio14vpentecost


In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus ordered his Disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on Shavuot or Pentecost. In the 1st century, Jewish and Christian Pentecost happened at the same time.


While Shavuot, or Pentecost is one of the least familiar Jewish holiday, even among modern Jews, without the pageantry of some of the other Jewish feast days, it is a reminder of harvest, joy, and a look back to Passover for Jews, and Easter for Christians.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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