Shavuot In the Community

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There is general feeling of sadness from Passover to Shavuot. There are a number of theories for why Jews view this period with sadness, one of which refers to a plague that killed many students of the famed talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva during this period. Whatever the reason, it is a time of semi-mourning when traditional Jews do not perform wedding ceremonies, cut their hair, or attend live musical performances. The period of sadness is interrupted on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, on Lag B'Omer (the Hebrew letters "lamed" and "gimmel" which spell "lag" add up to 33). Some traditional Jews end the semi-mourning period on this day, and some continue it after that day until three days before Shavuot. The main Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Orthodox custom is to mourn from Pesach until three days before Shavuot with the exceptions of Lag B'Omer, Rosh Hodesh (the new moon) for the month of Iyar, Rosh Hodesh for the month of Sivan, (and for many) the fifth of Iyar (Israeli Independence Day).

It is customary to begin the evening service of Shavuot a little later than usual--after darkness has fully fallen--in order to be certain that the 49th day of the counting is completed. A long-standing custom for Shavuot is to stay awake all night and study. There are a few reasons for this, among them the legend that the Israelites mistakenly fell asleep on the night before receiving the Ten Commandments. There is a traditional agenda for the study called "Tikkun Leil Shavuot" (preparation for Shavuot), which includes excerpts from all of Jewish sacred writings.

shavuot quiz

For those who observe two days of Shavuot, there are two Torah scrolls read on each day. The first scroll of the first day is Exodus 19 and 20 about the giving of the Ten Commandments. The second scroll is Numbers 28, describing the festival of Shavuot. The traditional haftarah (prophetic reading) is Ezekiel 1 and 3 containing the prophet’s vision of God. Reform Jews who celebrate one day of Shavuot also read from Exodus 19 and 20, but prefer an excerpt from Isaiah 42 for the haftarah. It speaks of God’s people teaching the "true way" to the nations. The first Torah reading for the second day is Deuteronomy 15 and 16, which among other things describes the pilgrimage festivals. The second reading is the same as the first day. The haftarah is from Habakkuk 2 and 3 and mentions the revelation at Sinai.

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