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June 11, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

We have an additional opportunity this year to remember Pentecost, or in the Hebrew calendar Shavuot, or weeks.  This is due to the additional catch up month added to the Jewish year 5775.   This puts the festivals in 5776 a month behind the common calendar in 2016.

In Numbers 28:26 this festival is called “the Day of Firstfruits.”  It is an extension of the Festival of Firstfruits which follows Passover on Nissan 16.  On that day in the first month the firstfruit offering of the barley harvest was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Fifty days later, or at Shavuot, the firstfruits of the wheat harvest are presented.  However, this time they are offered in the form of two long, flat, leavened loves of wheat bread (Lev. 23:17).  These are waved before the altar and later eaten by the priests in the Temple.

Both Passover and Pentecost were originally partially harvest festivals, although the primary celebration of Passover was the Exodus.  Because of the destruction of the Temple and the defeat of Israel by the Romans in two wars of revolt in 70 AD and 135 AD the meaning of Shavuot shifted from an agricultural festival to a celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses in the third month out of Egypt (Ex. 19:1).     Having said this, the modern synagogue celebration includes the heightened use of flowers and the color green as a reminder of the original meaning of the festival as a celebration of agriculture.

Each of the Jewish holidays is accompanied by special foods traditional for the celebrations.  During Shavuot it is customary to prepare and eat dairy foods.  The laws of kosher forbid the eating of meat and dairy in the same meal.  As a result Jewish tradition has produced a plethora of dairy recipes that are a wonder to consume.  Some of the dishes served during Shavuot are cheesecakes, cheese blintzes and cheese kreplach.  Kreplach are dough pockets stuffed with cheese and are similar to ravioli noodles.  My very favorite cheese dish is noodle kugel.  I have a recipe that is beyond excellent.  My problem is that it is time consuming and messy, and I have not made it in a while.

Another tradition connected to Shavuot is spending the entire night of Shavuot studying the Bible.  The holyday begins at sunset and lasts through the sunset of the next day.  This means that the beginning of the day, which is night, is spent studying the Torah.  This year Shavuot begins at sunset on Saturday night, June 11.  One of the books chosen for study during the night is the Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is often read in the synagogue during Shavuot.  The explanation of this is that the events of the book take place during the spring barley harvest.  A second emphasis is found in Ruth’s embracing the God of Israel and his people.  The words of Ruth to Naomi still warm the heart of the reader.  “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.  May the LORD do so to me and more if anything parts me from you.”

Ruth knew the sacred name of God.  In the Hebrew she uses it in this quotation.  In English it is usually translated “LORD” with capital letters.  However, Ruth used the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush.  She knew God, and was determined to follow him wherever he led.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs