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    A date and name for Shavu’ot

    Shavu’ot has no Talmudic tractate of its own, unlike Pesach, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, even Purim.

    (There is no tractate of Chanukah, but that’s a different problem.)

    There is no date specified for Shavu’ot in the Torah: all we have is a law to count 49 days of the Omer and keep the 50th as a festival.

    The Pharisees and Sadducees debated about when to begin the count, so that each group kept Shavu’ot on a different date.

    The accepted tradition is that Shavu’ot is the anniversary of the Revelation upon Mount Sinai, though the Torah spells out the agricultural aspect, Shavu’ot as the Day of the First Fruits.

    Even the name of the festival is a problem – is it Shavu’ot, weeks, or Shevu’ot, oaths?

    If the second view is correct, one could speak of two oaths – God’s promise that He will not abandon Israel, and Israel’s promise that it will not abandon the Torah.

    We prefer the option of calling the yom-tov Shavu’ot, the Feast of Weeks. In Greek it became Pentecost, “fifty”; Judaism called it Atzeret, “conclusion”, linking it to Pesach as Sukkot is linked to Sh’mini Atzeret.

    The idea? Pesach gave us physical freedom but the Torah given on Sinai completes the liberation.

    The story is that Shavu’ot indeed has a story. The Torah source clearly links Pesach and Shavu’ot by means of the Omer, so once we have a date for Pesach we know how to calculate Shavu’ot.

    True, the Sadducees argued about the date when the counting began, but they have been left behind by history.

    When we ceased being an agricultural people we moved our emphasis to the historical, ethical and spiritual side of the three pilgrim festivals.

    Shavu’ot needed an extra effort, since the text did not precisely state that the giving of the Torah coincided with the festival of the First Fruits, but tradition made the connection and gave us, as Rabbi Jakobovits put it, a festival which “denotes the first ‘ripening’ or ‘maturing’ of Israel: through the giving of the Torah the purpose of Jewish history began to come to ‘fruition’”.

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