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Shavuot

Shavuot, which means "weeks," is one of three Jewish "pilgrim festivals," along with Passover and Sukkot. It celebrates the end of the seven-week Omer counting, which begins with Passover and lasts fifty days. It is celebrated as a two day holiday by the diaspora, but as a one day holiday in Israel.

Each Shavuot there is a remembrance of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt Sinai. Although it is really just the Ten Commandments which are believed to have been given to Moses there, the giving of the whole Torah is remembered. During Biblical times, two wheat loaves were offered at the Holy Temple on the day. People also would bring "bikkurim," which were their first fruits.

In modern times, flowers and sweet-smelling plants are often put up in homes before the arrival of the day. Women and girls light candles to begin the holiday, and observers stay up and read the Torah the whole first night. Everyone goes to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on the first day. On the second day, the Yizkor memorial prayer is read. Some read the book of Ruth publicly. King David is said to have died on the day and he was a descendent of Ruth. Special meals are eaten, consisting of dairy products. Common foods include cheese blintzes, quiches, and casseroles. Jews do not work on the day, although Jewish custom says that cooking, baking, carrying objects and equipment, and transporting fire are permitted. Jewish confirmations sometimes take place around the same time as the holiday.

How to Observe

If you are an adherent of the Jewish faith, you could follow all the common rituals for the holiday. Decorate your house with flowers, light candles, read the Torah all night, read the book of Ruth, go to the synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments, and read the Yizkor memorial prayer. You could also eat foods such as cheese blintzes and quiche. If you do not follow Jewish teaching, you can still celebrate the day by reading the Torah and eating Jewish foods.

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