The Festival of Weeks is almost here, although the countdown began weeks ago. For those who are unfamiliar with the Jewish holiday Shavuot, which is also known as the Festival of Weeks, it occurs this year on June 4. Shavuot is the second of three major festivals of agricultural and historical importance in Judaism.
What is the Festival of Weeks?
The Festival of Weeks honors the agricultural time in Judaic history when the first fruits were harvested and delivered to the Temple. It is also known as Hag ha-Bikkurim, or the Festival of the First Fruits. From a historical aspect, The Festival of Weeks commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and another name for it is Hag Matan Torateinu, or The Festival of the Giving of Our Torah.
How the Date is Determined
Shavuot is known as The Festival of Weeks due to the fact that it is 7 weeks—or 49 days—after Passover. The counting begins from the second day of Passover and ends the day before Shavu’ot. The date of the Festival varies from year to year, since it is counted from Passover. The weeks leading up to the festival are counted down with great anticipation. The counting serves as a reminder of Shavuot’s connection with Passover.
While Passover freed the Jews physically from slavery, the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed them spiritually from the bondage of idolatry and immorality. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, as the holiday falls on the 50th day following Passover; however it is not the same as the Christian Pentecost holiday.
The significance of the Festival of Weeks is that it commemorates the giving of the Torah, rather than the receiving of it. This is due to the fact that those who practice Judaism are always receiving the Torah, but Shavu’ot is the celebration of the time in which it was actually first given.
Although Shavu’ot does not always fall on the same date on the calendar, two new moons always pass between Passover and Shavu’ot. Shavu’ot always lands on the 6th day of Sivan (which would be the 6th and 7th of Sivan for those located outside Israel.)
The celebration of the Festival of Weeks include staying up the entire first night of Shavu’ot in order to study the Torah and pray first thing in the morning. Work is not allowed during the celebration. During Shavu’ot, it’s customary to eat at least one dairy meal. This commemorates the promise of Israel, or the Land of Milk and Honey. The Book of Ruth is read during the Festival of Weeks for various reasons.
Other Upcoming Jewish Holidays
Other upcoming Jewish holidays to remember include The Three Weeks and Rosh Hashanah. The Three Weeks is observed this year beginning July 15 and running through August 5. This is a time of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile or galut, and is marked with the Fast o the 17th of Tamuzz on July 15 and the Fast of Tish'a B'Av on August 4 and 5. Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, is observed in 2014 beginning at sunset on September 24 and ending at nightfall on September 28. Rosh Hashanah commemorates creation and is seen as a day of coronation of G-d as king.