A glimpse into the Jewish holy day of Shavu'ot -- beginning this evening
Shalom to you. This evening brings an important holy day in the Jewish sacred cycle of the year. It is Shavu’ot, the day on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and open ourselves again to the possibility of revelation. Our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers share the story of Sinai and the vision of revelation. As a way to offer you, my friends, a glimpse into our Jewish religious traditions, I’m sharing with you the brief message below which I just sent to the Ahavat Olam Synagogue e-mail lists. If you have any comments or reflections, I’d love to hear back from you either privately or on a list. I probably won’t be able to respond for at least a few days, but would be delighted to hear from you.
B’Shalom, ma’asalaam – in peace,
Shalom to you! Everyone knows that Hanukkah has its latkes and Pesah its matzah balls. Our holy day of Shavu’ot, beginning with sunset this evening, has its special foods as well. Dairy on Shavuot is a long-standing tradition, written about in Talmudic times nearly 2,000 years ago. Most popular among Ashkenazi communities (from eastern and northern Europe ) are blintzes and cheesecake – yum!. (If you know other communities’ special dishes for Shavu’ot, please tell us.) Take a peek at the article from today’s Israeli Haaretz newspaper below or at http://www.haaretz.com/.
But, dairy on Shavu’ot? What’s the connection?
The most intriguing possibility that I’ve heard is the midrash that in the revelation at Sinai our mothers and fathers heard for the first time the mitzvah against mixing milk and meat. Because it was a new commandment, no one yet had separate dishes and utensils for dairy and meat. So, right then they had to eat only dairy until they could organize themselves to keep dairy and meat separate.
On the surface, this midrash strikes me as preposterous. It’s clearly the product of a very creative imagination – and I love it for that. But, still, what’s the teaching in the midrash?
Beneath the surface, it points to at least two valuable approaches to becoming a nation dedicated to living a holy life in this world.
One is the immediate response of accepting the higher guidance for our lives. As soon as the freed Hebrew slaves receive the revelation, they act on it – no hesitation. As the Torah says, “Na’aseh ve-nishma’ – we will DO and we will listen”.
Another is the principle of honouring the living creatures who produce milk and whose lives humans take in order to have meat to eat. The Jewish practice of separating milk and meat, while it is not complete vegetarianism (which was the ideal condition in the Garden of Eden), places very strong boundaries on unrestrained meat-eating with its accompanying killing of God’s other creatures.
As we go into Shavu’ot with sunset this evening, may we all open ourselves to the search for wisdom and understanding and the responsiveness to it in our times as is offered to us in this midrash from ages long past.
Last update - 01/06/2006
Milk and cheese sales skyrocket on eve of Shavuot holiday
By Nofar Sinai
The sale of cheese and milk has skyrocketed over the last weekend as Israelis have prepared for the holiday of Shavuot, during which tradition stipulates Jews to consume dairy products.
"This year, sales of milk and cheeses jumped by about 300 percent," the deputy director for marketing at Tara Dairies, Harel Haiken, said on Wednesday.
Haiken says sales of dairy products per capita have been on a constant upswing in recent years, with Israel in first place in the world in per capita consumption of white cheeses.
In 2003, according to Haiken, consumption was 4.4 kilograms per person; in 2005 the number was 4.8 kilograms. Milk consumption is also up, from 43.8 liters per person in 2003 to 46.3 liters per person in 2005.
According to a survey commissioned by Strauss Dairies and conducted by the Brandman Institute, 81 percent of consumers serve cheesecake at the Shavuot holiday table. However many more people are buying ready-made cheesecakes this year than baking at home. This said, the survey reports that 66 percent prepared the cake themselves, while 21 percent purchased it ready-made.
Only 10 percent of those surveyed said they were not hosting guests for the holiday. Forty-one percent of those asked said it was important that holiday dishes be easy and quick to prepare.