Traditional celebratory procession in Israel

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). This year Shavuot falls on Sunday 24th May.

Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah (the five books of Moses) to the Israelites who were assembled at Mount Sinai. After the period of Jewish slavery in Egypt, the Shavuot celebration was extended to include Moses’ return from the top of Mount Sinai with the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

Shavuot originally marked the end of the seven weeks of the Passover with the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. At one time, Jewish men were expected to bring their first sheaf of barley to the Temple in Jerusalem as a thanksgiving offering. Consequently, Shavuot is also known as the Festival of Weeks, the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of the Harvest.

Sometimes Shavuot can also be called the Jewish Pentecost, as the word Pentecost here refers to “the count of”. The Christian festival of Pentecost also has its origins in Shavuot. In the Christian calendar, Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter Sunday. In the Jewish calendar, the older celebration of Shavuot occurs fifty days after Passover. Both Passover and Easter always occur at approximately the same time of the year.

Many Jewish people in the United Kingdom observe various traditions associated with Shavuot. Prayers are said giving thanks to God for the Torah, which they then read throughout the night.
Specific foods are associated with the Shavuot celebration. Dairy foods form the basis of the feasting, including cheese blintzes (thin pancakes with cheese), cheesecakes, and flavored milk. Meat is avoided as it is believed that the rules about the preparation of meat were revealed in the Torah. The people of Sinai were reluctant to eat meat until they fully understood those rules.

During Shavuot, homes and synagogues are decorated with flowers and plants, and many Jews take the period of celebration as holiday, as you are not permitted to work during Shavuot beyond cooking, baking, and the lighting of fires.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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