Shavuot begins at sunset May 14, 2013 and lasts until nightfall May 16, 2013
"You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... You shall convoke on this very day -- there shall be a holy convocation for yourselves -- you shall do no laborious work; it is an eternal decree in your dwelling places for your generations." -Leviticus 21:15-16, 21Jews can no longer bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem, so there are no particular mitzvot, or commandments, associated with Shavuot. There are, however, several rituals that are traditional components of celebrating the holiday.
Many people stay up all night studying Torah. This custom evolved from the story that says that when the Israelites were at Sinai, they overslept and had to be awakened by Moses. As a result, many modern Jews stay up all night to study and celebrate receiving the Torah.
These events, known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, which literally means “Rectification for Shavuot Night,” are understood as the custom of studying with a community in order to re-experience standing at Mount Sinai, where the Jewish people received the Torah. The Tikkun Leil Shavuot was developed by 16th century mystics in Safed, who believed that by studying on Shavuot, they were symbolically preparing Israel to enter into a sacred relationship with God. Modern interpretations and versions of this practice include study on a wide range of topics.
In recent years, Tikkunim have become extremely popular for all Israeli Jews. In Jerusalem, one can spend the whole night wandering from tikkun to tikkun, which are held in homes, synagogues, community centers, and educational institutions of every religious and ideological flavor. Most of these gatherings use the name, but ignore the traditional format. They simply are evenings of study for the sake of study and fellowship, and the various themes and topics they address are endless. (Sounds fun to me, doesn't it?)
It also is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot because Jewish tradition compares the words of Torah to the sweetness of milk and honey. Blintzes and cheesecake are among the popular foods to make and enjoy for the holiday.
At one small synagogue I belonged to, one woman always made cheesecake before the holiday, chocolate or pumpkin, and it was delicious. I'll always associate her cheesecake with the holiday. (She now lives in another state).
In the Congregation
Traditionally the Book of Ruth, part of the Bible section known as Writings, is read during services on Shavuot. Ruth is a young Moabite woman who married an Israelite man. When her husband died, she followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel and adopted the Jewish faith and people as her own. To feed herself and Naomi, she gleaned in the field of Boaz, a rich man. Boaz is taken with her, and eventually they marry. Among their descendents is the famed King David who built the first Temple.
The theme of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism is central to this story. In Ruth 1:16–17, she states: “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Thus and more may God do to me if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth is often considered to be the archetype of all who “choose” or convert to Judaism—accepting the Torah, just as Jews accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai—and this passage traditionally has been understood as her conversion statement.
The ceremony of Confirmation—for high school students who have continued their studies and Jewish involvement beyond b’nei mitzvah—often is held on or near Shavuot. Just as the Jewish people accepted the Torah on Shavuot, so do confirmands reaffirm their commitment to the covenant and adult Jewish life.
It is customary to decorate ones home with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot as a reminder of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple. Many Jews prepare and eat dairy foods—often cheesecake or blintzes—on Shavuot as a reminder of the sweetness of Torah. Often families gather together on the holiday to enjoy a meal that features such dishes.