Thursday, April 22, 2010

Do you know the history of Pentecost?

Shavuot, also spelled "Shavuos," is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (corresponding to late May/early June; it will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 19 in 2010). It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer and the day the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. It is one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals (shalosh regalim) mandated by the Torah.

Unlike the other two pilgrimage festivals (Passover and Sukkot), the date on which Shavuot occurs is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Rather, its occurrence is directly linked to the occurrence of Passover. Beginning on the second day of Passover, the Torah mandates a 49-day (seven-week) counting period (the Counting of the Omer), which culminates in the 50th day, Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks expresses anticipation and desire for the Giving of the Torah. At Passover, the Jewish people were freed from being slaves to Pharaoh; at Shavuot they accepted the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.

Shavuot has many aspects and as a consequence is called by several names. In the Torah it is called Feast of Weeks; Festival of Reaping, and Day of the First Fruits. The Mishnah and Talmud refer to Shavuot as Atzeret, as it provides closure for the festival activities during and following the holiday of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Christians gave it the name Pentecost ("fiftieth [day]"). However, the actual Christian commemoration of Pentecost occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

In modern Israel and among Karaite and Reform Jews, Shavuot is celebrated for one day. In the Jewish diaspora outside Israel, the holiday is celebrated for two days, on the sixth and seventh days of Sivan.

Now you know.