Shavuot–History, Customs and a Story: “Greens for Shavuos” by Sholem Aleichem
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: Why do some people decorate their homes with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot?
Shavuot (pronounced Shavuos by Ashkenazi Jews) is not as well-known as other holidays but it is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated for one day in Israel and two days in the diaspora. This year it begins on the evening of May 16th.
Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover and celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai as well as the grain harvest for the summer. In biblical times, Shavuot (along with Passover and Sukkot) was one of the three pilgrimage festivals. At this time all the Jewish men would go to Jerusalem and bring their first fruits as offerings to God.
Today there are a number of ways in which Shavuot is celebrated:
Staying up all night to study the Torah. (While usually done in person, this year there are many events you can participate in online. You can find them by Googling “Shavuot online events”.)
Reading the biblical Book of Ruth. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot because King David was born and died on that holiday, and also because the events of the story occurred at harvest time. This is a story with special significance for Jews-by-choice, and many modern Jews relate it to the importance of accepting strangers and immigrants.
Shabbat Kallah – Sabbath of the Bride. In Sephardi communities, the Shabbat before Shavuot is called “Shabbat Kallah”. The Torah is likened to a bride, and the Jewish people to a bridegroom coming to meet his bride. The synagogue service is followed by dancing and refreshments.
As with all holidays Shavuot has its special foods, in this case, dairy. Some of the most common explanations are:
–Before they received the Torah, the Israelites were not obligated to follow its laws, which include the ritual slaughter of animals and kashrut. Since all their meat pots and dishes now had to be made kosher before use, they opted to eat dairy foods.
–The Torah is compared to milk by King Solomon, who wrote: “Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue”.
–Still others say that Shavuot occurs during the fertile spring period, when animal mothers produce lots of fresh milk.
It is customary to decorate one’s home with greens and fresh flowers on Shavuot as a reminder of the spring harvest and the ancient ritual of bringing the first fruits to the Temple.
Our story, Greens for Shavuos by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, is about a young boy who lets his imagination run away with him when his mother allows him to go and gather greens for the festival. It also contains a reflection on how easy it is for us to give in to our basest instincts, and the consequences of the reckless abuse of power. This version was translated by Hannah Berman and published in 1922 by Alfred A. Knopf in the book Jewish Children.
CHAG SAMEACH, HAPPY SHAVUOT, TO ALL OF YOU FROM ALL OF US AT RADIO SEFARAD.