Answers to questions about Shavuot.


LeIluy Nishmat Sonya bat Yisroel.


1. What does the word "Shavuot" mean?


Shavuot means weeks since this holiday is always 7 weeks after Pesach.


2. What other names have this holiday?


Yom Habikurim – the day of new fruits, and Hag Hakatzir – the holiday of harvest (of wheat). In Israel barley usually is gathered around Pesach and wheat around Shavuot time.


3. Is there any connection between the word "Shavuot" and its homonym "Sh'vuot" (oaths)?

Yes, the words “oath” in Hebrew has a clear connection to the word “seven”, as is discussed in Kabala.


4. How many times does the Torah mention the name of the holiday as “Shavuot”?

The Torah calls this holiday Shavuot in three places: Shemot 34:22, Devarim (16:10 and 16:16)


5. In our day the first day of Shavuot always falls on the 6th of Sivan. When else could the day of Shavuot fall?

5th or 7th of Sivan.


6. If a person travels around the world after Pesach, when he should celebrate Shavuot?

This may depend on whether when the Torah tells us to count 49 days, it expects one to always celebrate Shavuot according to his individual count. Such an opinion was indeed offered, and according to this, the one who traveled around the world may end up celebrating Shavuot a day earlier or later than everyone else. However most authorities didn’t agree with this reasoning. At any rate it’s not advisable to cross the dateline during the 49 days of Sfira is it’s uncertain if after doing so one can count the Omer with a Brocha.


7. In the description of the sacrifices in Mussaf of Shavuot the word "sin offering" is not mentioned (see. Bamidbar 28:30). Why is that?

Learning Torah can atone for all sins (Yerushalmi).  Note that there was a goat brought on Shavuot for a sin offering, it’s just the word “hataat” (sin) is not mentioned in the Torah.


8. On Shavuot two loaves of chametz break were brought to the Temple. What was their meaning and what was done with them?

These breads were shaken in different directions and then divided between the kohanim; they are not offered on the altar. Before this procedure, all the grain sacrifices had to be from the harvest of the previous year, and only after the offering of this new wheat, could menachot be brought from the new harvest.



9. What is certain known contradiction between the Zohar and the Talmud with respect to these breads?

Zohar seems to hold that these breads were burnt on the altar.


10. What is the earliest source of custom not to sleep on Shavuot?

Zohar (3:98a).


11. Why do we eat dairy on Shavuot?

There are more than a hundred explanations given to this minhag. The simplest is that milk symbolizes the Torah.


12. What lenience is brought with regards to eating dairy on Shavuot in some early authorities? (The later sages did not agree with this leniency and today it is not practiced).

Some allowed not to wait a full six hours after eating meat before eating dairy. However the Halacha does not follow this opinion.


13. In some sidurim during Mussaf of Shavuot two goats for sin offering are mentioned, rather than one as in the other holidays. Why is that?

Siddur Tehilat Hashem has such a nusah. The reason is that besides the goat that was brought with Mussaf, there was another goat for sin-offering brought as addition to the two breads.


14. What is the basis of tradition that it was on Shavuot that our people heard "Aseret Hadibrot" at Sinai?

It’s based on the counting of days after we arrived to Sinai (on the first of Sivan) and the six days that passed before the actual revelation. However this is not a unanimous opinion regarding when the revelation actually happened.


15. "Aseret Hadibrot" literally translates as “Ten Sayings”, but are usually called "The Ten Commandments". How many actual Commandments are there in "Aseret Hadibrot"?

There are more than 10 commandments in "Aseret Hadibrot". For example, a number of different commandments are included in the prohibitions to make idols, worship them, or make any “images” of G-d. Similarly Shabbat includes a number of different mitzvot, for example the prohibition to do work, the mitzvah to rest, the obligation to make this day special; (some also count separate mitzvot of making sure that children, our servants and our animals rest on Shabbat on this day).


16. And how does the Torah call “Aseret Hadibrot”?

Aseret Hadvarim.


17. When "Aseret Hadibrot" are being read it’s customary in most communities to stand up, but there are rabbis who are against this custom. Why is that?

Our sages were afraid that people might think only the commandments included in “Aseret Hadibrot” are important, while in actuality there are many other crucial commandments (kashrut laws, family purity laws, holiday observance, not hating anyone, loving others, avoiding quarrels, being honest etc). In general our sages teach us to observe all commands of the Torah with great diligence and not pick and choose only those commandments that we think are the “most important”. All the words of Torah are holy and we should not overemphasize the “Ten Commandments”.


18. There are two different ways to read "Aseret Adibrot." What are they based on?

Sometimes we read each “Dibur” as a separate verse. This makes some verses very long, and some very short (e.g. “Don’t steal”). Since the pronunciation of letters depends on the middle and end of the verses, there are differences in pronunciation (for example for Ashkenazim, one division of verses produces “Lo Tirtzoch” and the other: “Lo Sirtzach”).


19. What are the haftoras we read in the two days of Shavuot and why?

On the first day we read about the mystical Divine Chariot from Yechezkel since our people have saw something similar at Mount Sinai. On the second day we read the prayer Habakuk, which hints to Sinai revelation.


20. Why is it a custom to read the Megillat Ruth on Shavuot?

There are many reasons given, the simplest being that the main events in the book took place during the harvest close to Shavuot time.


21. Why is Yizkor said on the second day of Shavuot (as well as the last day of Pesach and Shemini Atzeret)?

These days we read a passage from the Torah, which describes the mitzvah to give ma'aser and thus when reading Yizkor one reminded to promise donations as well.


22. Why do we decorate the room with flowers on Shavuot? What is the earliest source of this custom?

Apparently this way we commemorate the giving of the Torah which is called the Torah of life and a Living Tree. A similar practice is referred to in Aramaic translation of the book of Esther. According to the Targum, Haman told Ahashveyrosh how Jews celebrate every holiday, and in particular, how they decorate the "roof" with flowers on Shavuot.


23. Why the day after Shavuot we don’t say Tachanun?

This day, like every day after Yom Tov is considered a bit festive, so as not to jump to a regular weekday right after the holiday. It is called "Isur Hag" and fasting is forbidden. Some have a custom to make a meal too.


24. In many communities it’s customary not say Tachanun for six days after Shavuot. Why is that?

During the Temple times, those who were not been able to bring their korbanot on Shavuot, could bring them in the next six days.