The Sabbath horn just blew across the land – signaling the beginning of the Jewish festival of Shavuot.
This is one of Judaism's three pilgrimage festivals (along with Passover and Sukkot). It begins now (Tuesday evening) and ends at nightfall on Wednesday.
Shavuot marks the giving of the first five books of the Old Testament. In our Christian tradition we call them the Books of the Law or the Books of Moses, and in Judaism they are referred to as the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
They are considered Judaism's most basic scripture and you may recall that it was at Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, where this scripture was given to Moses.
Shavuot literally means “weeks” and is celebrated exactly seven weeks after the first day of Passover, which marks the exodus itself.
Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10 specify the celebration of Shavuot.
So what is happening right now here in the Old City of Jerusalem amongst the Jews? One can hear festive evening prayers, which are going to be followed by an equally festive meal!
Many people will follow the custom of staying awake all night and studying religious texts, and then saying morning prayers at the earliest permitted time. This is meant to express ones' enthusiasm of the Jewish people to receive the Torah.
Most synagogues and yeshivas organize special classes and lectures throughout the night of Shavuot. Here in Jerusalem, there is a custom of going down to the Western Wall tomorrow morning where it will be exceptionally crowded – for Shavuot morning prayers.
This is when one can see crowds of men and women dancing and singing along with the special hymns and scriptural readings – which includes the Book of Ruth.
Special memorial prayers for the departed are also said. Some communities maintain the custom of decorating their synagogues with green plants and flowers; this is in keeping with traditions that Mt. Sinai was a green mountain and that Shavuot is a day of judgment for fruit trees.
In ancient times, Shavuot marked the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jewish farmers brought their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), where special offerings were brought (Numbers 28:26-31).
Shavuot is also known as the “Day of First Fruits” and the “Harvest Festival” (as it is referred to in Numbers 28:26 and Exodus 23:16.
For us as Christians we recall that it was Pentecost, when via the Holy Spirit's decent, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was spoken by the disciples to the crowds as they had come from all over the world to celebrate this Jewish holiday. That good news was heard individually and simultaneously in men's own mother tongues, here in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-31)!
Middle East Correspondent