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Shabbat and Shavuot

May 22, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, May 22, 2015.

Shabbat and Shavuot

The end of this Shabbat transitions into one of our major holidays - Shavuot – one of the three Pilgrim Holidays during which Israelites were expected to make the journey with their sacrifices. There has always been a little confusion about Shavuot. Most Jews know it as the holiday which marks the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and it is known by its second name, “Zman Matan Torah – The Time of the Giving of the Torah. The Torah itself, however, describes it as a harvest holiday – the holiday of the first fruits, primarily wheat.  Apparently, during the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, when people brought their baskets of sacrifices to the Temple, it was known ONLY as a harvest festival. The date of the holiday is the sixth of the month of Sivan. The Torah itself tells us that the revelation on Mt. Sinai happened in the third month (Sivan), so after the destruction of the Temple, when sacrifices could no longer be brought, the rabbis emphasized the Torah-Giving aspect of Shavuot – and that is how we’ve celebrated ever since.

Another confusion is about the actual date of the holiday. According to the Torah, 49 days are counted after Passover, and the 50th day is the celebration of Shavuot. The days are marked by “The waving of the sheaves.” A sheaf of wheat was waved every day between Passover and Shavuot to mark the period. However, the commandment in the Torah is a little confusing:

An you shall count unto you from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete, even to the day after the seventh week shall you number fifty days; and you will present a new meal-offering unto the Lord.

Wait a minute! The day after the Sabbath? Does that mean the Sabbath during Passover? If so, Shavuot would ALWAYS be on a Sunday, right? The Rabbis two thousand years ago, however, interpreted the word “Sabbath” in this case to be “The Day of Rest.” To them, the term seemed to mean the first day of Passover which was, after all, a day of rest. So for most of world wide Jewry, each year Shavuot occurs on a different day of the week. However, for the Karaites, a Seventh Century Jewish sect that rejected Rabbinic law and broke away from mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, Shavuot is ALWAYS celebrated on a Sunday. Part of the Karaite ideology is to read the Torah literally – and therefore the day after the Sabbath is indeed Sunday. This year is special, however. Shavuot IS celebrated on a Sunday, and both Karaites and Rabbinic Jews will be celebrating Shavuot on the same day!

Shabbat Shalom