Out of respect for the sanctity of the holiday (Thursday evening, May 28-30, 2020), please print out this holiday guide before the onset of the holiday, 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 28–30, 2020). 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 celebrates the completion of the seven-week Omer 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 the 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 Is Shavuot 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


Holiday Traditions


Learning on Shavuot Night - Tikkun Leil Shavuot

On the first night of Shavuot 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.

Click here to print your Shavuot study material before the onset of the holiday.

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

Why Eat Dairy on Shavuot

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 Why We Eat 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

Since Shavuot is also called the “Harvest Festival,” it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. Furthermore, our Sages relate that although Mount Sinai was situated in a desert, when the Torah was given the mountain bloomed and sprouted flowers.

Click here to learn more about this custom.

Shavuot Calendar 2020

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.

 

Thursday,
Sivan 5—May 28

Shavuot eve (Erev Shavuot)

It is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and boughs. All decorations must be done on Thursday before the onset of the holiday.

Make an Eruv Tavshilin before the holiday begins so that we will be able to cook and prepare for Shabbat on Friday, as well as to be able to light Shabbat candles.

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.

 

Friday,
Sivan 6—May 29

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, before nightfall. Click here for candle-lighting times in your city, and and click here for the blessings.

In some communities, 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.


 

Shabbat
Sivan 7—May 30

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 (Shabbat vi)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 (Shabbat and) 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