Friday, May 23, 2014

SHAVUOT: Spring Holidays in Eastern Europe

"Moses on Mount Sinai". Painting by Jean-Leon Jerome, 1895-1900.

Shavuot is the commemoration of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, and the acceptance of the Law by the Jewish people. It occurrs  seven weeks after Passover, counting from the second day.
Shavuot is also one of the three ancient Jewish pilgrimage holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, when Jews in Israel were required to travel to Jerusalem and to offerings to the Temple.  The offerings brought on were the first fruits of the land, which in ancient Israel was barley, which was ready to harvest in the spring.

"Shavuot" Painting by Moritz David Oppenheim 1880.

Since Shavuot has a strong agricultural base, The Jews of Eastern Europe decorated their homes and the Synagogue with garlands, flowers and greenery. The greenery was a reminder of the grass that the Jews stood on when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. The holiday was celebrated in the Synagogue and in the home. Since the Jews were promised a “Land of milk and honey” by God, dairy products are served on Shavuot.  Orthodox Jews in Eastern Europe observed Shavuot for two days.  On the first day, only dairy foods were eaten, which included many dishes made with cheese. Cheese filled kreplach, (dumplings) made in triangle shapes were served on the first night of Shavuot.

Triangle shaped Kreplach for Shavuot
A dinner which included meat was served on the second day.  Two loaves of challah were baked, one long one with a braided dough ladder on the top, and one round.

A "Seven Heavens" Challah for Shavuot

Ladder Challah for Shavuot

In Eastern Europe, young children between the ages of three and five, began their study of the Torah during Shavuot.  They were given honey, cake and candy so they would associate Torah study with sweetness and joy.

Paper cut  for  Shavuot showing the Ten Commandments and the Torah by Stephen Funk

Another interesting custom that developed around Shavuot was the making of paper cuts called Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) or roiselekh (little roses).  These were elaborate designs made from paper cut in intricate designs.  This custom was practiced primarily in Ukraine and Lithuania: in Galicia and Bukovina in Ukraine, and in neighboring areas of Poland and Russia.  The designs were floral, or traditional Jewish motifs.

Modern Paper Cut by Israeli artist Yehudit Shadur

Shavuot begins on June 3, 2014.

     Jewish Life: Shavuot in the Community.  The Jewish Federation of North America. Shavuot in the Community.
     Jewish Life: Shavuot at Home. The Jewish Federation of North American, Shavuot at Home.
     Ross, Lesli Koppleman. Shavuot Decorations., The Jewish Federation of North America.