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May 11, 2010May 11, 2010  0 comments  Jewish Holidays


What do cheesecake, wheat harvests, fruits and the Old Testament have in common? Don't worry if you don't know - it's actually confusing even to those who do know and I'll explain that in a minute. The answer is they are all related to the holiday of Shavuot  or the Pentecost as it's known in English.


Shavuot is actually one of the strangest holidays on the Jewish calendar. That's because it's a holiday which has undergone a dramatic transformation over the centuries. Back in the days before Jesus, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Shavuot was primarily a harvest festival. It celebrated the end of the counting of the Omer, a festive time when the ancient Israelites would bring offerings from their fruit  harvests (known as the "First Fruits") to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Omer was a seven week period lasting from Passover to Shavuot and involved counting down the days until the end of the wheat harvest.


Fast forward a few hundred years and the harvest aspect of Shavuot has largely been forgotten. In its place is a festival celebrating the giving of the Torah, or Old Testament at Mount Sinai. The Bible itself doesn't actually tell us that this is what happened on Shavuot. Instead, we rely on the ancient Talmud (a collection of study notes from the 4th century AD) to provide us with this information. The counting of the Omer too has been changed and is now primarily associated with a time of mourning for the loss of the students of Rabbi Akiva, a Talmudic scholar whose students were said to have died from a plague during this period.


The split personality of Shavuot means that the Orthodox and secular communities in Israel celebrate the holiday in very different ways. The Orthodox focus primarily on the giving of the Torah. That's where the cheesecake comes in. As anyone who has eaten in a kosher restaurant knows, Jews do not eat meat and milk together. This is based on the Old Testament verse, "thou shalt not cook a kid in its mother's milk."


At the time of the giving of the Torah, the ancient Israelites had never kept kosher and they didn't have the proper utensils for slaughtering animals nor did they have pots and pans to cook meat in. Therefore, they ate dairy food only for several days (so the Talmud tells us) and a tradition has arisen to eat cheesecake on the holiday in commemoration of this event.


Secular Jews by comparison, who settled Israel and created farms here decided to focus on the harvest festival aspect of Shavuot. And while most Israelis no longer live and work on farms, there is still a tradition of making an offering of first fruits and grains, however instead of offering them to the Temple, they are offered to the poor and hungry. Although truth be told, everyone enjoys a good cheesecake on Shavuot.


In my opinion, the best cheesecake in Israel (aside from aunt Batya who lives in Kibbutz Yakum) is from a chain store called English Cake. They have branches located all over the country, but are headquartered in Jerusalem. There are a wide variety of cheesecakes available from them, including traditional favorites such as New York cheese cake and more exotic kinds, like Kiwi cheese cake and of course sugar free cheese cake for those watching their calories or for diabetics.


For those interested in learning more about the Jewish roots of their Christian faith, another interesting tradition on Shavuot awaits  you in Jerusalem on Erev Shavuot (the night the holiday begins) this year. According to the Talmud, the ancient Israelites overslept on the night of Shavuot and God had to awaken them to give them the Torah. Therefore, as a way of making up for that, many people have a tradition to study all night long. While most sessions are conducted in Hebrew, several English speaking programs are available as well, including some offered by Pardes and the Merkaz Hamagshimim, both in Jerusalem. These programs are open to people of all faiths. In the past, we've participated in the sessions at the Shalom Hartman Institute and at the Yedidya in Ba'kaa, just south of the German Colony.


English Cake

7 King George Street




Pardes Institute

29 Pierre Koenig




Shalom Hartman Institute

11 Gedalyahu Alon Street, Jerusalem



Kehilat Yedidya

12 Nachum Lifshitz Street, Baka Jerusalem



Merkaz Hamagshimim

7A Dor Dor Vedorshav,

German Colony



May 23, 2012May 23, 2012  0 comments  Jewish Holidays

It is commonly believed today that the Jewish festival of Shavuot and the Christian holy day of Pentecost have little, if anything, to do with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the two are actually the same holiday, albeit with varying traditions and an extended interpretation on the Christian side.

Even the name Pentecost (literally "the 50th [day]") is a reference to one of the key components of Shavuot - the counting of 50 days from Passover, known in the Jewish world as the "counting of the omer." Just as Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Pentecost is marked exactly 50 days after Easter, and we have already written about Easter's close connection to Passover and the notion that Jesus and his disciples were most likely enjoying a Passover seder prior to his crucifixion.

The theme of Pentecost is also a kind of extension of the Shavuot theme, which is a celebration of the giving of the Torah (God's Word) to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christians believe that Jesus is the "word made flesh" (John 1:14) and Pentecost is the moment following Jesus death and resurrection when that word was spiritually implanted in the hearts of his followers.

So, does it make sense for Christians to celebrate the biblical festival of Shavuot in addition to (or even in place of) Pentecost?

Sharon Sanders, co-director of Christians Friends of Israel, believes so, considering that Shavuot is the version of the holiday actually ordained by God.

"I remember well my childhood growing up in a traditional church where we celebrated only Easter and Christmas as set by the historical Church. I had no idea God actually established ‘appointed times' for those in His great assembly," Sanders told Travelujah. "It is unfortunate that many churches overlook the significance of the three main festivals God speaks clearly about in His Word; namely, Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot."

Today, Sanders lives in Israel and, like many Christians living in the Holy Land, actively participates in celebrating Shavuot with Jewish friends.

"I am thrilled to be able to celebrate Shavuot with the Jewish people," said Sanders. "I love celebrating the festivals of God in Israel because more emphasis is put on times of gladness, joy and fellowship with one another rather than commercialism and self-indulgence that so often comes with other festivals. Shavuot for me, as a Christian, is special because the Book of Ruth is read, a beautiful story about God's redemptive love."

Like many Christian ministers urging a return to the biblical, Hebraic foundation of the Christian faith, Sanders believes that Christians "will surely find a new awareness of the power of the Spirit of God" by becoming aware of and partaking in His appointed feasts. And there is no better place to do that than in Israel.


Celebrating Shavout in Jerusalem-May 27, 28


Because the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Shavout, to mark the holiday is customary to prepare oneself to receive the Torah, just as a bride prepares to meet her groom. Similarly, on the eve of Shavout (erev Shavout) it is customary to study  Torah all night long too. The texts that are studied will often vary from one community to another, but often includes passages from the Torah, Mishna or the Zohar.

The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot accompanied by various liturgical songs connected with the precepts in the Torah.

Dairy products are customarily eaten on Shavout. If you spending time in Israel you will notice that most of the supermarkets and advertising in teh country is focused on cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products. Cheesecake is a particularly popular item consumed on the holiday.  Fancy holiday meals based on dairy products are traditionally eaten

Where to go:

Shavout is one of the three harvest holidays making it very worthwhile to enjoy on a kibbutzh. The annual  Bikkurim ceremony commemorating the custom of bring the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born in the year is still retained and many kibbutzim will hold their own indiviual ceremonies. Wheat, barley grapes, figs, olives and dates are among the many foods blessed on this holiday. The bikkurim ceremonies include parades and beautiful displays of  produce grown on the kibbutz. Most kibbutzim ceremonies are open to the public though some may charge a small fee.


Sidebar- Sites to visit during Pentecost

May 27 -Catholic Pentecost

Church of the Dormition

St. Saviors Monastery

Mass is followed by a procession from Saint Savior to the Room of the Last Supper at Mt. Zion 

May 29 - Special mass in Italian at San Savior Church with Mons. Antonio Franco (Apostolic Nuncio)

June 3,4 - - Orthodox Pentecost

Holy Sepulchre Church - The Patriarch celebrates Divine Liturgy in th monring on Sunday

Mount Zion - Festive Liturgy in the Seminary for Orthodox Christians on Mt. Zion with a procession to the Cenacle and back - June 3, 2012.

Tomb of King David - on Mt. Zion

Patriarchal Church of Sts. Constintine and Helena

Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Russion Compount

Syrian Church of St. Mark in the Old City



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