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WATCH: Shavuot in Israel: Traditions, customs and biblical meaning

In this episode of ALL ISRAEL 101, join Kayla Sprague as she explores the biblical festival of Shavuot

Young kids celebrating the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, in Moshav Yashresh, June 2, 2022. (Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In this episode of ALL ISRAEL 101, join Kayla Sprague as she explores the biblical festival of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, and discover how Shavuot is celebrated in modern Israel, with customs like eating dairy foods, all-night Torah study, reading the Book of Ruth, first fruits ceremonies, and even water fights! For believers in Yeshua, see how Shavuot coincides with the Christian holiday of Pentecost described in Acts 2.

Click on the video to watch or read the transcript below.

Good morning from the market, the shuk, here in Jerusalem. I'm Kayla Sprague and welcome to ALL ISRAEL 101.

Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, along with Passover and Sukkot. But where is it founded in your Bible and how is it celebrated in Israel today?

We want to show you and tell you these things – and stay tuned to the end because we're going to be asking people here in Jerusalem how much they know about Shavuot.

Shavuot is biblically described as an agricultural festival marking the end of grain harvest.

Key scriptural references for Shavuot include Exodus 23:16: "You shall keep the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labor, of which you sow into the field. You shall keep the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather from the field the fruit of your labor."

Compared with other scriptures throughout the Bible – Numbers 28 and Leviticus 23 – we learn that Shavuot biblically commemorates the end of grain harvest and includes offerings and a day of rest dedicated to the Lord.

In modern Israel, Shavuot is celebrated with various customs that reflect both its agricultural roots and its religious significance.

One of the most popular traditions on Shavuot is the consumption of dairy products.

This tradition could be linked to the idea of purity and innocence, as the Israelites were considered pure like newborns as they received the Torah.

Common foods include cheesecake, lasagnas, quiches and other delicious dairy-based dishes.

Another important tradition is the all-night Torah study known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot.

Many stay up all night studying the scriptures to commemorate God giving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

This practice is rooted in a legend that the Israelites overslept on the morning they were to receive the Torah, and now they stay up all night as a way to rectify this.

The Book of Ruth is also read during Shavuot because its events take place during the harvest season.

It highlights themes of loyalty and conversion, which are very significant to this holiday.

In agricultural communities like kibbutzim, Shavuot is marked with ceremonies showcasing the first fruits of the harvest. Even to this day, children participate in parades wearing white and carrying baskets of produce.

A unique and fun tradition in Israel involves water fights, likely due to hot water during this holiday.

The custom is popular, as you can imagine, among younger Israelis.

For believers in Yeshua, Jesus, Shavuot holds additional significance as it coincides with Pentecost on the Hebrew calendar.

Pentecost is a Christian holiday commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.

It's described in the New Testament in the Book of Acts: "On the day of Pentecost, the apostles were gathered when a sound like a rushing wind filled the house, and tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:1-4).

For Messianic Jews and Christians, Pentecost is seen as the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, marking the birth of the Christian Church.

It's celebrated as a time of spiritual renewal and empowerment.

Now we want to do something fun on this special occasion and ask people here on the streets of Jerusalem how much they really know about Shavuot.

Let's go!

Rabbie Ariel: Every year we receive as an individual and as a nation, the whole Torah and the people of Israel. When Moses came, he said, you know, here is the deal. God offers you to receive the Torah. He says, uh, do you want it? Nobody asks what's written there. Let's discuss it with our lawyer. Everybody says 'na'aseh v'nishmah,' we will do and then you will explain us; we are ready to do everything. So the fact is, it was one time in history, human history, that God revealed Himself to millions of Jews.

Edon: And also it's a holiday that we celebrate the first of the week. That's the time of the year. We have a few holidays that it's connected to the routine of the fields and their fruits and everything we have. So that's basically it.

Kayla: Amazing. So why do people eat dairy?

Edon: Because we said that there's a saying that the Torah is like a milk or something like that. And so that's why we eat it. Like many, many traditions, Someone said something or someone wrote something many years ago and we just go with it.

Kayla: So what book or what scroll is usually read on Shavuot?

Keren Or: So it's called Megilat Ruth [The Ruth Scroll]. It's about Ruth, who left her whole family to help this Jewish woman, Naomi. It's actually a really interesting story. My sister is named Ruth after her. And it's about how brave she was leaving her old family for this community. And that's about it."

Kayla: Amazing. Well, I hope you have a happy Shavuot.

Rabbi Ariel: I bless everybody that we may merit to receive the Torah with joy and eternally.

Kayla: Shavuot is a vibrant celebration in Israel. It's deeply rooted in biblical significance and the joy of experiencing these customs here within community and celebrations and unique local expressions, highlights the enduring heritage and rich biblical faith of the Jewish people.

Thank you for joining us for ALL ISRAEL 101. Happy Shavuot.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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