Religion & Beliefs

Seven Days for Shavuot

The giving of Torah happened at one specific time, but the receiving of Torah happens all the time, in every generation.  – Isaac Meir Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, 1799-1866 In the Torah our ancestors were instructed to make three annual … Read More

By / May 28, 2009


The giving of Torah happened at one specific time, but the receiving of Torah happens all the time, in every generation.  – Isaac Meir Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, 1799-1866

In the Torah our ancestors were instructed to make three annual pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem, at Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. Both Sukkot and Passover are weeklong celebrations, noted for their joyous observances, but Shavuot is a one or two day festival with few symbolic rituals. It’s time to change that. Like the other chagim, Shavuot should be observed for a full week. Shavuot’s origins are agricultural–early summer was the season when the first fruits and grains were brought to the temple. In many communities, the synagogue is decorated with plants and flowers, and the agricultural roots of the festival are also recalled by eating dairy meals. The Book of Ruth, with its harvest references, is read on Shavuot. However, since the Temple was destroyed, the agricultural aspect of the holiday has diminished in significance; instead, Shavuot, which comes exactly 7 weeks and one day after Pesach (and the Exodus from Egypt), has come to be observed as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Usually, contemporary Jewish communities observe the giving of Torah by staying up all night studying from the Tanakh and rabbinic texts. This custom began in mystical circles in 16th century Safed as a way of preparing Jews to receive the Torah once again. I propose expanding on the tradition of Torah study by suggesting that we extend our Shavuot observance to a full week, dedicating each day to another level of Torah study, using Torah in the broadest sense. Texts will be chosen each year to expand upon our understanding of revelation and deepen our capacity to be vessels of Divine inspiration. Study sessions can incorporate music by Jewish composers and art by Jewish artists, along with meditation and movement, from dancing to dance midrash. During these sessions we will also create stories, prayers, poems, songs, dances, and pictures that emerge from our studies. Gardening, flower arranging, cooking classes, and hiking in nature, and time at the mikveh will also be held, allowing us to celebrate all of our senses. First Day of Shavuot – will be organized around texts and themes from the Tanakh. Second Day of Shavuot – will be organized around texts and themes from the Talmud. Third Day of Shavuot – will be organized around texts and themes from Midrash. Fourth Day of Shavuot – will be organized around texts and themes from kabbalah. Fifth Day of Shavuot – will be organized around texts and themes from the siddur. Sixth Day of Shavuot – this day will be organized around Jewish writings from ancient and Medieval times until the beginning of the Enlightenment. Seventh Day of Shavuot – this day will be organized around texts written by Jewish writers since the Enlightenment, in all genres, secular and religious, including novels, stories, poems, prayers, essays. A full week-long celebration would give Shavuot its due as one of the three Torah-mandated chagim, and also illuminate the depth of Jewish textual tradition. Next year, let’s make the Festival of Weeks a week-long festival!

 

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Andrew Ramer will be a regular Zeek columinst on Jewish spirituality. He writes a regular column on spiritual practice for White Crane Journal and has published essays and stories in a number of magazines and anthologies including The Sun, Sh’ma, RFD, Monk,  Best Gay Erotica 2001, Kosher Meat,and Love Castro Street (forthcoming). He is the author of the forthcoming collection,Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval and Modern Jewish Stories. You can find out more about him at www.andrewramer.com