1. Myth: Shavuot Is Always on 6 Sivan

Every year, the holiday of Shavuot takes place on the 6th (and 7th) day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (corresponding to May-June). It would seem that Shavuot has always been celebrated on this date.

Fact: Shavuot Is the 50th Day From the Omer

The Torah instructs us to count seven weeks (49 days) from the day of the omer offering, and to celebrate Shavuot on the 50th day.1 The omer offering was brought on the second day of Passover (more on this below), and according to the calendar we follow today, 50 days later is 6 Sivan.

In Temple times, however, each month was established anew by the rabbinical court, based on the testimony of witnesses who had observed the new moon. (Read: The Jewish Month.) The length of each month varied accordingly, and Shavuot therefore occurred on either the 5th, 6th, or 7th day of Sivan.

Interestingly, alternative Shavuot dates are possible today as well—for someone who crossed the International Dateline between Passover and Shavuot. In such a case, your 50th day is different from the 50th day of those around you. If you crossed the line westward (e.g., from America to Australia), your Shavuot will begin on 7 Sivan. Conversely, if you crossed the line eastward (e.g., from Australia to America), you will begin celebrating on 5 Sivan.

If you are planning to cross the dateline between Passover and Shavuot, make sure to discuss the relevant halachic details with a competent rabbi.

Watch: Counting the Omer and the International Dateline

2. Myth: Shavuot Is Always on Sunday

Although this mistake is pretty much a thing of the past, it is probably the oldest Shavuot myth in history, dating back to Talmudic times.

The Torah instructs us to “count seven complete weeks from the day after the day of rest, from the day you bring the omer offering.”2 This seems to imply that the omer offering was brought on Sunday (the day after the “day of rest”—Shabbat). If this is when the seven-week count begins, it should always conclude on Shabbat, and Shavuot—the fiftieth day—should always be celebrated on Sunday.

Fact: The “Day of Rest” Is the First Day of Passover

Along with the Written Torah, G‑d gave us the Oral Torah to ensure the correct interpretation of the law. The Talmud cites an oral tradition,3 sourced from Moses, who received it from G‑d Himself, that the “day of rest” in this verse refers not to Shabbat, but to the first day of Passover. (Indeed, it is common for Scripture to refer to holidays as “days of rest” or “appointed times.”)

Hence, the omer offering was always brought on the second day of Passover, no matter which day of the week it was, and Shavuot is 50 days later, be it a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

Read: Why Do Jews Start Counting the Omer Early?

3. Myth: It Is Enough to Celebrate Shavuot for One Day

Many people erroneously believe celebrating Shavuot for one day is sufficient.

Fact: Shavuot Is Celebrated for Two Days in the Diaspora

According to Torah law, Shavuot is a single day. In Temple times, since each month was established anew by the rabbinical court in Jerusalem, and it took time to send out word, the communities in the Diaspora were often unsure as to the correct day of the holiday. As such, in the Land of Israel, where word traveled faster and there was no doubt which day was the first of the month, Shavuot was celebrated for one day (as per Torah law), while in the Diaspora a second day was observed to cover all bases.

In the 4th century CE, a fixed calendar was established, and people knew in advance when the festivals would occur. Nevertheless, the Talmud explains that we are bound by rabbinic law to observe a second day. On a simple level, the reason for this ancient requirement is to uphold the customs of our forefathers. Deeper, mystical reasons are also provided.

Read: Why Do We Still Celebrate Holidays for Two Days in the Diaspora?

4. Myth: It’s a Mitzvah to Eat Dairy

On Rosh Hashanah it’s a mitzvah to hear the shofar; on Sukkot—to eat in a sukkah; on Passover—to eat matzah; and on Shavuot—to eat dairy. Shavuot without cheese blintzes is not Shavuot, right?

Fact: It’s a Custom (Albeit a Delicious One)

The Torah does not instruct us to eat dairy; in fact, it is not even mentioned in the Talmud. Eating dairy foods on Shavuot is a custom that evolved in post-Talmudic times, with numerous explanations (see next myth for more on this). As with all customs, we express our devotion to G‑d by doing even more than He asks of us.

Read: Love, Marriage, and Hakafot

5. Myth: It's Primarily Because That’s What We Had After Sinai

Perhaps the most well-known reason for eating dairy is that when G‑d gave the Torah, the Jews became obligated to observe the kosher laws. All the meat in their possession was rendered unfit, and since the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered nor could utensils be koshered. They had no choice but to eat dairy, and we commemorate this by doing the same.

Many believe that this is the only reason, or at least the primary reason, for eating dairy on Shavuot.

Fact: This is Only One of Many (Earlier) Reasons

This explanation can be traced to a book printed about 100 years ago, presenting Torah thoughts of the chassidic greats of the 18th century. However, many other fascinating reasons have been given for this custom, some of them from centuries earlier.

Discover 12 reasons for this custom: The Custom of Eating Dairy on Shavuot

6. Myth: No Need to Eat Meat on Shavuot

The typical Shabbat and festival fare includes a sumptuous meat-based dish. Eating meat is one of the ways we fulfill the mitzvah to rejoice on the holidays. Some assume that Shavuot is an exception. Since we must wait a specified amount of time between eating meat and dairy, the custom to eat dairy would seem to override the obligation to eat meat.

Fact: There Is Still an Obligation to Eat Meat (Separate From Dairy, of Course)

Shavuot is no exception; the obligation to eat meat remains. There are numerous customs regarding when to serve dairy so it should not conflict with the meat. One common practice is to serve a dairy meal immediately after morning services. Then, after reciting Grace After Meals and waiting an hour, a meat meal is served.

Try out some of our Shavuot recipes.

7. Myth: Tractate Shevuot Is About Shavuot

There is a Talmudic tractate devoted to each of the major holidays—Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Purim, and Passover (although Chanukah is a noticeable exception). There is also a tractate named Shevuot. Obvious conclusion: Tractate Shevuot is about Shavuot.

Fact: Tractate Shevuot Discusses Oaths

Interestingly enough, Tractate Shevuot is not about Shavuot but about oaths. While the holiday’s name means weeks, as it is celebrated seven weeks after the omer offering, the similar word shevuot means oaths, and that is the subject of the tractate.

Although Shavuot is blessed with a myriad of beautiful customs, it has very few unique laws. Many laws relating to festivals in general are discussed in another tractate—Beitzah.

There is, however, a connection between Tractate Shevuot (oaths) and Shavuot (the holiday): On this day G‑d swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.

For more on Shavuot, visit our Shavuot minisite.

8. Myth: We Received the Two Tablets on Shavuot

Shavuot is the day G‑d gave us the Torah. Many understand this to mean that we received the two Tablets (luchot)on this day.

Fact: We Got Them (and Lost Them) on 17 Tammuz

On Shavuot G‑d communicated the Ten Commandments to us, the first two directly and the last eight via Moses. Moses then ascended Mount Sinai and remained there for 40 days, where G‑d gave him the Tablets upon which these Ten Commandments—the foundation of all 613 mitzvot G‑d taught him during that time—were inscribed.

The 40 days concluded on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. When Moses descended with the Tablets, he was met with the sight of the Jews worshipping the golden calf. Horrified, he threw the Tablets to the ground, shattering them instantly.

Moses then ascended Mount Sinai once more to intercede on behalf of the sinners. G‑d heeded his requests and forgave the Jews, and 80 days later, on Yom Kippur, Moses descended once more with a second set of Tablets.

Read: What Shape Were the Luchot: Round, Square or Rectangular?

9. Myth: The Giving of the Torah Was a One-Time Phenomenon

The giving of the Torah was a wondrous experience, unmatched by anything since. The common perception is that on Shavuot we commemorate a climactic event that occurred over 3,330 years ago.

Fact: Every Year—Every Day—We Receive the Torah

From a deeper perspective, the Jewish festivals do not merely commemorate long-gone events. On a spiritual realm, the incidents of yore recur each year, imbuing us with ever-increasing energy and vigor.

Moreover, we are taught that G‑d gives us the Torah anew each and every day. This idea is expressed in the blessing we recite—in present tense—each morning before studying Torah: Blessed are You L‑rd who gives us the Torah.

So this year on Shavuot, picture the momentous giving of the Torah as a current reality. It’s happening today! And next year, when circumstances allow, be sure to attend synagogue and hear the Ten Commandments read from the Torah.

Read: The Revelation on Mount Sinai

10. Myth: The Ten Commandments Are the Most Important Mitzvot

It is common knowledge that the Ten Commandments are the most important of the 613 mitzvot, while the remaining ones are less significant and perhaps not binding. Or are they?

Fact: Every Mitzvah Is Equally Important

While the Ten Commandments certainly occupy a unique role, we should not underestimate the significance of any mitzvah, no matter how small it seems.

A mitzvah is the will of G‑d, and its value far exceeds anything we can grasp. Each and every mitzvah is an opportunity to forge a personal connection with G‑d Himself. So go ahead and do any that you can!

Read: What Is a Mitzvah?

11. Myth: We Slept in Because We Were Apathetic

The Midrash relates that the night before the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people turned in early for a good night’s sleep. The next morning, they slept in and Moses had to wake them. To rectify this wrongdoing, it is customary to stay up all night on Shavuot and study Torah texts.

This story is commonly viewed as a shameful part of our history, reflecting our forefathers’ lack of enthusiasm to receive the Torah.

Fact: We Wanted to Prepare by Drawing Spiritual Energy

Although the Jews did sleep in on that fateful morning, there is a deeper dimension to the story, giving us a more positive way to look at what happened.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the Jews went to sleep not because of apathy, but because they felt that was the best way to prepare. When you sleep, your soul ascends to the supernal realms and receives renewed spiritual energy. What better way to prepare for the giving of the Torah, they felt, than to spend the preceding hours basking in spirituality?

Despite their good intentions, that was a mistake. By going to sleep, the Jews demonstrated they had misunderstood the point of the Torah. The Torah wasn’t given so that we can become spiritual beings, but for us to grapple with and refine our physical nature. We therefore stay up to fix their mistake. We spend the night learning, working with our body, inspiring it, and purifying it, so that every part of us, both the physical and the spiritual, is ready to receive the Torah anew.

Read: Learning on Shavuot Night