Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday, please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday (sundown on Tuesday May 30–June 1, 2017), and keep it handy throughout the holiday for reference purposes.

Shavuot 101

What Is Shavuot (Shavuos)?

The holiday of Shavuot is a two-day holiday, beginning at sundown of the 5th of Sivan and lasting until nightfall of the 7th of Sivan (May 30–June 1, 2017). In Israel it is a one-day holiday, ending at nightfall of the 6th of Sivan.

What Shavuot Commemorates

The word Shavuot (or Shavuos) means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.

The Torah was given by G‑d to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai on Shavuot more than 3,300 years ago. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of G‑d’s gift, and G‑d “re-gives” the Torah.

The giving of the Torah was a far-reaching spiritual event—one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Our sages have compared it to a wedding between G‑d and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means “oaths,” for on this day G‑d swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him. Learn more about the Giving of the Torah and what it means to us today.

In ancient times, two wheat loaves would be offered in Holy Temple on Shavuot. It was also at this time that people would begin to bring bikkurim, their first and choicest fruits, to thank G‑d for Israel’s bounty. Learn about bikkurim here.

How Shavuot Is Celebrated

Click here for more about Shavuot.

What Is the Torah?

The Torah is composed of two parts: the Written Law and the Oral Law. The written Torah contains the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings. Together with the Written Torah, Moses was also given the Oral Law, which explains and clarifies the Written Law. It was transmitted orally from generation to generation, and eventually transcribed in the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and the entire corpus of Torah literature that was developed over the millennia.

The word Torah means “instruction” or “guide.” The Torah guides our every step and move through its 613 mitzvahs. The word mitzvah means both “commandment” and “connection.” Through the study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvahs, we connect ourselves and our environment to G‑d. G‑d’s purpose in creating the world is that we sanctify all of creation, imbuing it with holiness and spirituality.

On the holiday of Shavuot, the entire Jewish nation heard from G‑d the Ten Commandments. The next day Moses went up to Mount Sinai, where he was taught by G‑d the rest of the Torah—both the Written and Oral Laws—which he then transmitted to the entire nation.

Click for related content:

What is the Torah?
The Torah: Law, Truth and Peace

The Role of Children

When the Torah is read in the synagogue on Shavuot, we experience anew the Sinaitic transmission of the Torah by G‑d. Just as the Sinai event was attended by every Jewish man, woman and child, so too, every Jewish person should make every effort to be present in a synagogue on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, as the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah.

There is also special significance to bringing children, even the youngest of infants, to hear the Ten Commandments.

Before G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He demanded guarantors. The Jews made a number of suggestions, all rejected by G‑d, until they declared, “Our children will be our guarantors that we will cherish and observe the Torah.” G‑d immediately accepted them and agreed to give the Torah.

Let us make sure to bring along all our “guarantors” to the synagogue on the first day of Shavuot.

Click here for the Shavuot Kids Zone.

Holiday Traditions

Learning on Shavuot Night - Tikun Leil Shavuot

On the first night of Shavuot (this year, Tuesday night, May 30, 2017), Jews throughout the world observe the centuries-old custom of conducting an all-night vigil dedicated to Torah learning and preparation for receiving the Torah anew the next morning. One explanation for this tradition is that the Jewish people did not rise early on the day G‑d gave the Torah, and it was necessary for G‑d Himself to awaken them. To compensate for their behavior, Jews have accepted upon themselves the custom of remaining awake all night.

The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is recited as part of the program of study for Shavuot night. Additionally, in many synagogues it is read publicly on the second day of Shavuot. There are several reasons for this custom:

  1. Shavuot is the birthday and yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of King David, and the Book of Ruth records his ancestry. Ruth and her husband Boaz were King David’s great-grandparents.
  2. The scenes of harvesting described in the book of Ruth are appropriate to the Festival of Harvest.
  3. Ruth was a sincere convert who embraced Judaism with all her heart. On Shavuot all Jews were converts—having accepted the Torah and all of its precepts.

Click here for the Book of Ruth

Click here for the story of Ruth

Click here for the story of King David

Eating Dairy Foods on Shavuot: Why and When

It is customary to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot. Menus range from traditional cheese blintzes and cakes to quiches, casseroles and more.

Reasons for Dairy on Shavuot

There are a number of reasons for this custom. Here are a few:

  • On the holiday of Shavuot, a two-loaf bread offering was brought in the Temple. To commemorate this, we eat two meals on Shavuot—first a dairy meal, and then, after a short break, we eat the traditional holiday meat meal. Learn more about waiting between dairy and meat.
  • With the giving of the Torah, the Jews became obligated to observe the kosher laws. As the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered nor could utensils be koshered, and thus on that day they ate dairy. Read more about the koshering process.
  • The Torah is likened to nourishing milk. Also, the Hebrew word for milk is chalav, and when the numerical values of each of the letters in the word chalav are added together—8 + 30 + 2—the total is forty. Forty is the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah. Read more about what happened when Moses was up on Sinai.
  • When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, the angels urged G‑d to reconsider His decision to give His most precious Torah to earthly beings. “Bestow Your majesty upon the heavens . . . What is man that You should remember him, and the son of man that You should be mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:5-7). One of the reasons why the angels’ request went unheeded is because of the Jews’ meticulous adherence to the laws of the Torah—including the kosher laws. Not so the angels, who when visiting Abraham consumed butter and milk together with meat (Genesis 18:8). On Shavuot we therefore eat dairy products and then take a break before eating meat—in order to demonstrate our commitment to this mitzvah. Read more about whether Abraham served the angels non-kosher food.

Read more reasons for eating dairy on Shavuot here.

What to Cook and When to Serve It

There are numerous customs regarding when to serve dairy. The practice in Chabad 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.

Important note when planning your menu: If you will be having meat within six hours of your dairy meal, make sure that you serve only milk and soft cheeses—not authentic aged (“hard”) cheese, which would warrant a six-hour wait before meat can be consumed. Read the reason for this here.

Looking for dairy recipes? We have a wide range of delicious ideas ranging from simple to sophisticated, sure to please every palate.

During the holiday meal, it is also appropriate to drink wine, which contributes to the festive nature of the repast.

Adorning the Home with Greenery and Flowers

Many have the custom to decorate the synagogue and home with greenery and flowers in honor of the holiday of Shavuot.

The earliest mention of this custom is by Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Halevi Moelin, known as the Maharil (Germany, 1365–1427), who writes that it was the custom to spread grass and fragrant flowers on the floor of the synagogue in honor of the “joy of the holiday of Shavuot.”1 However, the custom may go as far back as the Babylonian exile: Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, known as the Chida (Jerusalem, 1724–1806), cites an ancient Midrash that alludes to this custom being practiced at the time of the Purim story.2

Although Rabbi Moelin mentions only the synagogue, others add that it was the custom to decorate the house as well.3

Since these earlier sources don’t elaborate on the connection between greenery and the holiday of Shavuot, subsequent commentators have offered many explanations, although different explanations apply to grass, trees, flowers, and plants in general.

[Before discussing the reasons, it should be noted that some, most notably Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilnius, known as the Gaon of Vilna (1720–1797), advocated abolishing the custom of placing greenery as a decoration in honor of the holiday of Shavuot, due to it having become the practice of non-Jews to honor their own holidays by decorating with greenery and trees.4 Thus, there are many communities that, despite the explanations cited below, refrain from decorating the synagogues with greenery on Shavuot.]

1. Green Pastures in the Desert

Perhaps the most famous reason given is that G‑d warned the Jews at Sinai that “the sheep and the cattle shall not graze facing that mountain [Sinai].”5 Now, the Torah was given in a desert. This indicates that a miracle occurred, temporarily turning that area into fertile land with an abundance of greenery. In commemoration of this miracle, it became the custom to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot with greenery.6

2. Fragrant Speech

Expounding on the verse “His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as banks of sweet herbs; his lips are lilies dripping with flowing myrrh,”7 the Talmud explains that “from each and every utterance [of the Ten Commandments] that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, the entire world was filled with fragrant spices.”8 Accordingly, on Shavuot we decorate with fragrant flowers and greenery.9

3. Judgment of Trees

The Mishnah states that on the holiday of Shavuot, G‑d judges the earth and determines the abundance of the fruits of the trees for the coming year.10 Therefore, trees are placed in the synagogue to remind us to pray for the trees and their fruits.11

4. Baby Moses’ Basket

Moses was born on the 7th day of the month of Adar. Three months later, when his mother was no longer able to hide him from the Egyptians, she put him into a basket and placed the basket among the reeds of the river, whereupon he was found by Batyah (Bithiah), daughter of Pharaoh, and miraculously saved. Three months from the 7th of Adar is the 7th of Sivan, the second day of Shavuot. In commemoration of this miracle, we decorate the holiday with grass and reeds.12

5. “A Rose Among the Thorns”

Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spira of Dynów, known as the Bnei Yissaschar (1783–1841), explains the custom of beautifying the holiday with flowers, as well as a custom to adorn the Torah scroll with flowers, as follows:13

Elaborating on the verse “As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters,”14 the Midrash tells the story of a king who had an orchard planted with beautiful trees. He entrusted it to a tenant and went away. After a time, the king returned and found it full of thorns, so he brought woodcutters to cut it all down. However, looking closely at the thorns, he noticed among them a single rose. He smelled it, and his spirits calmed down. The king said: “The whole orchard shall be saved because of this flower.”

In a similar manner, the whole world was created only for the sake of the Torah. After 26 generations, the Holy One, Blessed be He, looked closely at His world to ascertain what it had yielded, and found it lacking. Looking closely, He saw a single rose—the Jewish nation. And when He gave them the Ten Commandments, and the Jewish people proclaimed “We will do, and we will hear,”15 His spirits were calmed. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “The orchard shall be saved on account of this flower. For the sake of the Torah and of Israel, the world shall be saved.”16

6. Harvest and the First Fruits

Some explain that this custom is based on the fact that Shavuot is called the “harvesting festival.”17 Additionally, Shavuot marked the start of the season for bringing bikkurim, first fruits, to the Holy Temple. We decorate with greenery and flowers in remembrance of the custom to adorn the baskets of bikkurim (as well as the oxen leading the procession) with flowers and greenery.18

7. Yissachar is Conceived

The Torah describes how Reuben went in “the days of the wheat harvest” and brought dudaim (flowers) to his mother Leah. Desiring the flowers, Rachel said to her sister Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s dudaim.”

Resentful of Rachel’s position as favorite wife, Leah replied, “Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband, that [you wish] also to take my son’s dudaim?” So Rachel said, “Therefore, he shall sleep with you tonight as payment for your son’s dudaim.” The Torah continues that from the union that night between Jacob and Leah, Jacob’s fifth son, Yissachar, was conceived.19

Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508–1593) explains that this incident occurred on the eve of Shavuot. Thus, Yissachar, who was conceived on Shavuot, was especially blessed that his descendants would be Torah scholars and sit on the Sanhedrin.20

Midrash Talpiot explains that based on the opinion that the dudaim that Reuben brought were a type of flower, the custom is to beautify the holiday with flowers.21


Of course, what matters most about this holiday is not the flowery decorations, but the commemoration of the giving of the Torah itself. All men and women, and even small children, are encouraged to attend the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot.

To locate a synagogue near you, click here.

Shavuot Calendar 2017

During the course of the holiday we don’t go to work, drive, write, or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook, to kindle a stove with a flame that existed before the holiday (or which was lit from such a flame), and to carry outdoors.


Sivan 5—May 30

Shavuot eve

It is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and boughs .

The holiday of Shavuot begins tonight.

Women and girls light candles tonight to usher in the holiday. Click here for candle-lighting times in your city, and click here for the blessings one recites while lighting.

After the holiday evening prayers, a festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday kiddush, is enjoyed.

On this night it is customary to remain awake and study Torah until dawn.



Sivan 6—May 31

First day of Shavuot
Torah reading: Exodus 19:1–20:23; Numbers 28:26–31
Haftorah: Ezekiel 1:1–28; 3:12

Reading of the Ten Commandments.

All men, women and children should go to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. Click here to find a synagogue near you.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged the bringing of even the youngest of children to the reading of the Ten Commandments in the synagogue on Shavuot. This is in commemoration of the Jewish people declaring: “Our children are our guarantors [that we will keep the Torah].” This, the Midrash states, was the only guarantee acceptable to G‑d.

The priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Musaf prayer.

Many communities chant the Akdamut poem before the reading of the Torah.

Kiddush is recited, and a holiday meal follows.

It is customary to eat dairy foods today. Click here for delicious dairy recipes.

Candle-lighting, from a pre-existing flame, after nightfall. Click here for candle-lighting times in your city, and and click here for the blessings.

Whoever will say yizkor tomorrow lights a yahrtzeit candle tonight, also from a pre-existing flame.

After the holiday evening prayers, a festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday kiddush, is again enjoyed.



Sivan 7—June 1

Second day of Shavuot
Torah reading: Deuteronomy 15:19–16:17; Numbers 28:26–31
Haftarah: Habakkuk 2:20–3:19

The Yizkor memorial service is recited (and charity is pledged) for the souls of departed loved ones.

The priests bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing during the Musaf prayer.

Kiddush is recited, and a holiday meal follows.

Some communities have the custom to read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot.

The holiday ends tonight at nightfall. Click here for end of holiday times in your location.

Candle-Lighting Blessings

For both evenings of the holiday:

  1. Ba-rooch Ah-tah Ah-doh-nai Eh-lo-hei-nu Meh-lech ha-oh-lam ah-sher kee-deh-sha-nu beh-mitz-voh-tav veh-tzee-va-nu leh-had-lik neir shel yom tov.

    (Translation:) Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the holiday light.
  2. Ba-rooch Ah-tah Ah-doh-nai Eh-lo-hei-nu Meh-lech ha-oh-lam sheh-heh-cheh-yah-nu veh-kee-yeh-mah-nu ve-hee-gee-ah-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

    (Translation:) Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Useful Shavuot Links:

Shavuot Mega-Site

Global Shavuot Event Finder

The Story of Shavuot

Shavuot Personalities

Holiday Insights

Underage Underwriters—60-Second Inspirational Video Clip

Shavuot Kids’ Zone

Traditional Shavuot Recipes

Shavuot Audio Classes, Videos and Songs