Shavuot Themes & Theology

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The festival of Shavuot transformed from a purely agricultural into a historical and religious holiday. Originally mentioned in the Torah as a harvest festival, over time it took on new meanings so that now--like the other pilgrimage festivals--Shavuot has an agricultural, a historical, and a religious significance. These meanings contain a number of themes, such as: counting and marking time, a period of sadness leading to a time of explicit joy, and the mystical idea of marriage between God and Israel.

 The themes are reflected in the numerous names for the holiday. The agricultural is apparent in "Hag HaKatzir" (Harvest Festival) and "Yom HaBikkurim" ("festival of first fruits"); the marking of time is apparent in "Shavuot" ("festival of weeks") and "Atzeret," a name from the Talmudic period meaning a cessation of something or a solemn assembly; the historical and religious is apparent in "Zeman Matan Torateinu," the time of the gift of Torah.

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