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Shavuot History


Shavuot, known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, is reflected in the Bible, which recounts how, after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel proceeded to Mount Sinai in the desert. Moses ascended the mountain to meet God, who gave him the Ten Commandments, which were written on two tablets to be delivered to the Children of Israel.

According to the Torah, it took precisely 49 days, or seven weeks, for the ancient Israelites to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai. The Torah commands: "And you shall proclaim that day (the 50th day) to be a holy convocation!" (Leviticus 23:21). The name Shavuot, "Weeks," symbolizes the completion of this seven-week journey. The rabbis tightened this connection by associating Shavuot with Moses’ receiving the Torah from God atop Mount Sinai.

Shavuot also is a harvest holiday. In the time of the Temple, the ancient Israelites brought their first fruits to the Temple to offer to God at Shavuot. Along with Sukkot and Passover, it is one of the Shalosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals), during which people gathered in Jerusalem with their agricultural offerings.

Shavuot is known by several names:  Chag Hashavuot (the Festival of Weeks), Chag Habikkurim (the Feast of the First Fruits), and Chag Hakatzir (the Festival of Reaping). Ashkenazi Jews may pronounce and write the name of the holiday as Shavuos.

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