Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jews Love: Shavuot

Actually, it is my least favorite holiday. I dislike staying up late, and it is traditional to stay up all night and learn Torah. Although I do love dairy products, the trend in recent years has been to reclaim meat for Shavuot*. Not so clear why. I love dairy products! They do not hurt my delicate stomach, and they mean a far better class of dessert. Also: we read the Book of Ruth, from which comes one of the most popular quotations read at weddings (your G-d is my G-d, wherever you go I will follow, etc, etc) which was actually said from one woman to another. Another strike for homosexuality in Judaism! I don't hate the Book of Ruth, I just find it kind of icky. It does, however, give us the best euphemism for sleeping with someone, "uncover[ing] his feet." Awesome.

If you want a good rundown of some of the most prevalent customs, and their bases, you should read this post by Angel of Woman Honor Thyself. If you want a more scholarly description, check out Rabbi Professor David Golinkin's piece for About.com. Yael of Olehgirl talks about her personal experience of Shavuot in Israel, and again I am reminded of how much more fun chagim* are in Israel. Judy of Jerusalem Diaries goes further to stoke my jealousy with her description of the thousands of people packing the streets of Jerusalem. Yehudit Bracha of Jewschool describes her Shavuot in Israel as "like a pub crawl, but with Torah." Amazing. She also repeats a portion of a lecture she attended about Jubilee years. The concept being that in every 7th year the land is allowed to lie fallow, and all debts are forgiven. Unfortunately what this meant in practice is that people did not lend to someone right before the Jubilee year, so people were growing hungry. No less a figure than Rabbi Hillel himself decided to abolish the practice of a Jubilee year, as it was causing a social ill, and not a social good.

This brings me back to a conversation I have had with Harley over and over again. We don't sell our children anymore to pay debts, and we don't celebrate the Jubilee year, nor do we keep a number of other practices that we consider to be "inapplicable." They've fallen away over the years for numerous reasons. Why can we not, then, discard some of our more distasteful current practices? For instance, the fact that homosexuality is "an abomination," or the laws that allow a civilly divorced man to remarry, but keep his wife chained to him? Why aren't those allowed to fall away too?

Ok, sorry, back to Shavuot. Other thoughts: Amiram Hayardeny of My China Experience talks about the holiday in terms of Jewish population and census taking. Although he does make one point that I disagree with about the Ultra-Orthodox community: "as they take on restrictions, more and more people leave." I don't actually think that, that is true. While the real number of people leaving Orthodoxy may have risen, percentage-wise they have, by far, the highest rate of youth retention. As the movement grows, the small percent who leave becomes a larger number, but I think that it would be false to say that the growing restrictions are mirrored in a growing defection rate. Another Jew abroad, Marc Watson, spent his Shavuot in Costa Rica, which apparently has a great museum of Jewish history, and, will wonders never cease, a kosher Burger King.

If you want to focus on food, By the Bay of Gluten-Free By the Bay has a recipe that, although I was doubtful, looks delicious in photos for "Reduced Fat Cheesy Baked Ziti." Elisheva Hannah Levin of Ragamuffin Studies created a Shavuot lesson that included a traditional festival meal (with source material from Joan Nathan) which had some delicious-looking homemade blintzes.

And a last Shavuot-related thought: Smooth Stone reminds us that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, not just to Moses, but to the entire Jewish people, which is, as always, a beautiful thought.

*Shavuot is the Jewish Pentecost
* Chagim are Holydays


Anonymous said...

I love dairy, and appreciate a holiday where a dairy meal is accepted, but Shavuot made me appreciate balance. After 4 big dairy meals all I could think about was a nice corn beef sandwich. I propose all 2+ day Yom Tovim should include both dairy and meat meals for varieties sake.

Annie said...

Anon- I second that. Although too much meat over shabbat (3 fleishik meals) left me with a still-ongoing stomachache.

Anonymous said...

Well 3 large meals on one day are excessive regardless of meat/dairy decisions. Despite the cost of kosher food, Jews just eat way too much.

Annie said...

Anon- I wouldn't necessarily make that blanket statement, that Jews just eat way too much . I think that on festivals the style of eating leads to overindulgence, but on a day-to-day basis, (as shown in a previous post) Jews actually eat less than those of other religious groups, at least in America.

Smooth said...

Thank you for the link, I appreciate it. :D

Anonymous said...

Ah man, you have no idea ow ridiculously annoying Shavuot was this year. I'm at Cambridge and I do their kitchen, and it's a meat kitchen (we just never searve any dairy). So we had to try to searve cheesecake to about 60 people out of a dang nab meat kitchen, and anytime anything fell on the counter or anywhere we'd go "eek, no, um, ooo...". It was ridiculous. Entirely paper plates. No sink that's not meaty to wash up in. Oy.

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