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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ukraine's Jewish community celebrates the Festival of Weeks (Shavu'ot) or Pentecost

Shavu'ot (Ukrainian: Shviyes,) commonly known as the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both religious, historical and agricultural significance for Jews.

Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah  to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago. Therefore it is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu — the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah.

Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the temple. So yet another name for Shavu’ot is Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits).

The period from Passover to Shavu'ot (Schviyes) is a time of great anticipation. According to the Torah, Jews are obligated to count the days from Passover to Shavu'ot. Each day is counted, from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu'ot — 49 days or seven full weeks.

This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. (An omer is a unit of measure.)

The counting is a reminder of the link between Passover – which commemorates the Exodus from slavery in Egypt – and Shavu'ot – which commemorates the giving of the Torah by the Almighty to the Jewish People.

Passover represents physical freedom from bondage, whereas the giving of the Torah on Shavu'ot is a spiritual redemption from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Therefore redemption from slavery was not complete until Jews received the Torah.

Shavu'ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day after Passover.

In Israel Jews from around the globe celebrate the explanations of Zohar (cabbalist mystic teachings) received from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a great Tsaddik (righteous Rabbi), resting on Mount Meron.

In Ukraine Jews visit the grave of another giant in Zohar, Rabbi Tszi Hirsh Eichenshtein, resting in Zhidachiv, L’viv Region.
May the memory of both Tsaddikkim be blessed.

It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the process of receiving the Torah. It is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.

The Book of Ruth is read at this time publicly, as King David was a descendant of Ruth the Moabite.

Women and girls light holiday candles to usher in the holiday, on both the first and second evenings of the holiday.

All men, women and children should go to the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.

It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot, then pray as early as possible in the morning.

On the second day of Shavuot, the Yizkor memorial service is recited.

As on other holidays, special meals are eaten, and no “work” may be performed.

It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. It is believed this is because upon receiving the Torah, including the kosher laws, the Jewish people could not cook meat in their milky pots, which had yet to be rendered kosher.

This year (5771 on the Jewish calendar) Shavu'ot will occur on the following days of the Gregorian calendar –from sunset June 7, 2011 until nightfall June 9, 2011.


(Thanks to Meylakh Sheykhet of the Jewish Heritage Centre in Lviv, and host of Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos. Listen to his audio presentation on the Features page.)

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