When is Shavuot 2023? Date of Jewish holiday, what is it, how is it observed, why is it called Feast of Weeks

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Known as the ‘Feast of Weeks’, Shavuot marks the revelation of the Torah to Moses

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday, is also known as Shavuos or, in English, the Feast of Weeks and marks the revelation of the Torah to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. The holiday is also one of three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism.

Meaning 'weeks', Shavuot also commemorates the wheat harvesting in the land of Israel as well as the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer, a verbal ritual associated with Passover. So when is Shavuot in 2023, and how is the festival observed? Here’s what you need to know.

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When is Shavuot 2023? 

In 2023, Shavuot will fall on the evening of 25 May until nightfall on 27 May. It is a movable feast as the date varies with the Hebrew lunar calendar. Shavuot commences on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which falls between 15 May and 14 June in the Gregorian calendar.

However, the Torah does not specify the actual day of Shavuot, which leaves two interpretations of when it should fall; the day the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, and the day it occurs in relation to the Counting of the Omer - a time of spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah.

In the former theory, most of the Talmudic Sages suggest the Torah was given on the 6 Sivan. They say the Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Sinai on the new moon, and the Ten Commandments were given that following Sabbath.

However, in the latter theory, the Torah states the Omer offering is the first day of the barley harvest, which began on the second day of Passover, and continues for 49 days, ending on the day before Shavuot.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a basket of fruit he received from local children in memory of the Biblical commandment for farmers to bring the “first fruits” (bikurim in Hebrew) to the Temple ahead of the holiday of ShavuotFormer Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a basket of fruit he received from local children in memory of the Biblical commandment for farmers to bring the “first fruits” (bikurim in Hebrew) to the Temple ahead of the holiday of Shavuot
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a basket of fruit he received from local children in memory of the Biblical commandment for farmers to bring the “first fruits” (bikurim in Hebrew) to the Temple ahead of the holiday of Shavuot | GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images

What is the history behind Shavuot? 

The main significance of this festival is that it is the day on which the Torah was revealed by God to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This belief stems from Orthodox Judaism, which believes the revelation occurred on this date in 1314 BCE.

However, when it is connected to the Bible, Shavuot is also the season of the wheat harvest in Israel, which lasted seven weeks. Harvesting began during Passover, and the concluding festival was known as Shavuot.

In the Bible, Shavuot is referred to as the ‘Festival of Weeks’ (Exodus and Deuteronomy), the ‘Festival of Reaping’ (Exodus) and the ‘Day of the First Fruits’. Shavuot, the plural of the word meaning week or seven, connects to the fact that the festival happens exactly seven weeks after Passover.

However, in the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the day was known as Aṣeret, meaning ‘holding back’, as a reference to not working on the day as well as the conclusion of the holiday and the season of Passover.

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How is Shavuot observed? 

In the post-Temple era, Shavuot has no specific laws attached to it, other than the standard refraining from creative work. Observances include reciting additional prayers, making kiddush, a blessed wine, and partaking of meals in a state of joy.

However, a few customs which take place on Shavuot in the Ashkenazi communities are:

Aqdamut: Aqdamut, the reading of a piyyut (liturgical poem) during Shavuot morning synagogue services.

The poems speak about the greatness of God the Torah, and Israel, composed by Rabbi Meir of Worm, whose son was murdered during the First Crusade in 1096.

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Consuming dairy food: Known as ḥalav, meaning milk, Ashkenazi Jews consume food such as cheesecake, cheese blintzes and cheese kreplach. For Syrian Jews, cheese sambusak, kelsonnes and atayef (a cheese-filled pancake) are eaten.

However, Yemenite Jews do not consume dairy. The reason dairy is eaten draws upon old traditions, where before receiving the Torah, Israelites were not obligated to follow its rules, but since the revelation of the Torah, only Kosher food could be eaten - so they opted for dairy instead.

Reading the Book of Ruth: Rut, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services, but outside Israel it takes place on the second day.

The book of Ruth is read because the beloved King David, Ruth’s descendant, was both born and died on Shavuot. The book of Ruth also occurs at harvest time - the celebration of Shavuot.

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Yereq (greening): According to the Midrash, Jewish texts, Mount Sinai blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit, so the decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery is encouraged. Greenery is also associated with Moses, as he was found in bulrushes on the river Nile.

Engaging in all-night Torah study: This practice stems from a story, known as Tiqun Leyl Shavuot or Rectification for Shavuot Night, as the morning the Torah was given the Israelites overslept, and Moses had to wake them up as God was waiting on the Mountaintop. To rectify this, many religious Jews stay up all night to learn the Torah.

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