June 22, 2024

Why and How Jews Celebrate Shavuot

Bar Mitzvah in Front of The Kotel

Jews celebrate Shavuot for several reasons and do so in many different ways. The late spring holiday’s significance to our culture is tied to both Biblical and agricultural history. In this article, we explain the meaning, history, and traditions of the Jewish holiday Shavuot, as well as its connection to philanthropic giving and tzedakah.

What Is Shavuot?

Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah (the five books of Moses) to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. In 2024 it begins at sundown on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, and concludes at nightfall on Thursday, June 13, 2024. It falls exactly 50 days after the second day of Passover and is one of the three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, alongside Passover and Sukkot.

How Long Is Shavuot?

Shavuot is a two-day holiday that begins at sundown on the 5th of Sivan (the third month in the Hebrew calendar) and ends at nightfall on the 7th of Sivan. In Israel, where the holiday is celebrated for one day, it begins at sundown on the 6th and ends at nightfall on the same day.

Shavuot In the Bible and Throughout Jewish History

The Bible’s account of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt details 49 days of wandering in the desert before arriving at Mount Sinai. On the 50th day, God revealed himself to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments which formed the basis of Jewish law and ethics. This event, which begins in Exodus 19, is known as Matan Torah, or the Giving of the Torah. Shavuot is mentioned for the first time not long after in Exodus 23:16. It’s referred to as “Hag HaKatzir”, or “The Festival of the Harvest”.

Shavuot Meaning to Harvest Time

The spiritual meaning of Shavuot is tied to God’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish people. Its place on the Jewish calendar also influences how and why we observe the occasion. Occurring alongside the beginning of the wheat harvest in Israel, Shavuot has come to symbolize a celebration of nature and agricultural bounty. It is a time to give thanks for the blessings of the earth and to remember that all we have comes from God’s grace.

How to Celebrate Shavuot and Honor Its Meaning

Like many Jewish holidays, Shavuot is associated with both religious and cultural customs. Shavuot is considered a time of renewal and rededication to God’s laws. It’s customary to spend it studying the Torah, reading the book of Ruth, and recounting prayers and blessings.

Many synagogues hold special services on Shavuot to read the Ten Commandments and other sections of the Torah. Some communities also have all-night study sessions, called Tikkun Leil Shavuot, to delve deeper into Jewish teachings.

Dairy becomes a main staple of the Jewish diet during Shavuot. Traditional foods like cheese, cheesecake, and blintzes are just some of the dairy dishes served to commemorate the holiday.

Why Do We Eat Dairy On Shavuot?

The custom of consuming dairy on Shavuot stems from several interpretations. It’s largely in honor of Exodus 3:8, which refers to Israel as a “land flowing with milk and honey”. However, the story of Passover also offers an explanation. According to recorded Jewish history, Moses and the Israelites were not prepared or familiar with kosher meat laws when they left Egypt, so dairy products became their main source of sustenance after receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

Shavuot Traditions of Giving

Shavuot is a time marked by giving. This connection dates back to the festival’s origins centuries ago when ancient Israelites pilgrimed to the Temple in Jerusalem with the “first fruits” of their harvest. The literal giving of the Torah also underpins this tradition; the Torah is considered the ultimate gift from God to his people.

Today, Jews continue this tradition of giving by participating in tzedakah (charity) and other acts of kindness. Notable Chabad rebbes and influential religious leaders promote the importance of giving during holidays like Shavuot as a way to honor its themes of gratitude and generosity.

Luckily, the abundance of Jewish nonprofit charity organizations in Israel means it’s easy to find a great cause. There are organizations for children’s education, nonprofits for orphans, support groups for widows, nutrition security programs, community healthcare initiatives, and so many more.

While choosing to donate to Jewish charities can make an impact, signing up to volunteer with one can as well. The Eight Degrees of Giving teach us that true loving-kindness manifests in many forms beyond money.

Shavuot Jewish Festival Traditions and Colel Chabad

Israel’s history of organized charity began with Colel Chabad. Founded upon the principles of the Chabad movement by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in 1788, our non-profit organization has been helping Israel for over 230 years.

But Colel Chabad is far more than just a charity for the poor. We administer a wide range of programs geared toward every member of the Jewish community. Donations to us fund important programs like:

Nutrition Security: Meals-On-Wheels

During Shavuot, ensuring access to nutritious meals is a meaningful act of charity. Through programs like Colel Chabad’s Meals-on-Wheels, individuals and families in Israel receive essential nutrition, breaking the cycle of poverty and fostering stability.

Chesed Menachem Mendel Orphan Intervention 

Orphan intervention programs align with the spirit of Shavuot, emphasizing care for the vulnerable. The Chesed Menachem Mendel program provides tailored support, including psychological therapy and educational assistance, helping widows and orphans thrive despite their challenges.

Beis Finger MS Residence & Rehabilitation Center

On Shavuot, contributing to medical initiatives like Colel Chabad’s Beis Finger MS Center embodies the important healing of the sick. This facility provides essential care and support to individuals with multiple sclerosis and offers hope and aid to improve their quality of life.

Daycare Centers

It is profoundly meaningful to support childcare initiatives like Colel Chabad’s Daycare Centers on Shavuot. When working mothers have reliable childcare, we enable them to maintain employment and provide for their families. 

Home Heating Program

During Shavuot, contributing to initiatives like the Home Heating Program provides heating assistance to vulnerable households. Colel Chabad is proud to offer essential warmth to ensure families can navigate the winter months with comfort and security.

Getting involved with Colel Chabad is easy, yet the impact is massive. By supporting our organization, you are not only helping the poor and vulnerable in Israel but also contributing to a legacy of Jewish values that has been passed down for generations. Help us make a difference by donating online today.


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