I don't have the time to post my own detailed explanation of Shavuot in the manner of Simcha's tutorials, and I'm too busy trying to put together materials for my Shavuot study session that I'm calling: "Ruth, Shavuot, and 'Everything you always wanted to know about conversion, but were too polite to ask' ". I've been slotted for a (gulp) 45 minute session during my minyan's Tikkun Leil Shavuot on Tuesday night. I'm going to use sources ranging from Rashi and Talmud to a contemporary article and will share many of my own experiences as a convert.
Shavuot is probably my favorite holiday after Pesach because it has special meaning for me as a convert. Although I converted in the previous month of Iyyar, I tend to think of Shavuot as being a kind of conversion anniversary time, just like Tu B'shvat is the birthday for trees.
Quickie - its the end of the Omer period. It is fifty days after Passover (counting from the second night). Its English form is 'Pentecost' (the fifty) and it is both an early barley harvest festival (first fruits) and the traditional anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai (which is why in Christianity, it is the day when 'fire from Heaven' descended on the apostles and they began speaking in tongues - it was a 'second revelation').
'Shavuot' means both 'weeks' and 'vows'.
Oddly enough, it's a relatively minor holiday in scope these days - only one day. The observance is: stay up past midnight (all night if possible) studying Jewish texts (often, a bit of Torah, a bit of Prophets, a bit of Writings, a bit of Talmud....). Decorate the home with flowers and fruit, and, of course, eat cheesecake (dairy foods). Read the Book of Ruth (set in the same season of the year)
Because Ruth is about a convert, this is a favorite time of year to celebrate conversions, and it is customary in some congregations to have 'religious school graduation' (confirmation) about this time.
"only one day"....except for those of us who do not live in Israel and who observe "Yom Tov Sheni", in which case it is two days. Both of my minyanim read some or all of the book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot. On the first day of Shavuot, my "primary minyan" has someone read "Akdamut", an Aramaic liturgical poem. I don't know if it is read in my "tiny minyan" because we always go to our other minyan for the first day of Shavuot.
I didn't know that Shavuot also means "vows". That it means "weeks" made sense since then it corresponded to the 7 weeks plus a day of counting the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot. But the meaning of "vows" means that it also corresponds to one of the alternative names for Shavuot of "Z'man Matan Torateinu" ("time of the giving of our Torah") in which the Hebrews became Jews by accepting the Torah.
I'm in the middle of crisis mode at work (which started just before Shavuot---really bad timing since I took off work for the holiday). But I took a break from that work to write up this description of my minyan's Tikkun Leil Shavuot for the JBC website and will just copy with slight modifications here:
Shavuot started in the middle of a Chicago heatwave with temps in the 90′s. So during the Tikkun Leil Shavuot we experienced a partial loss of power which meant that we lost half of our lights and the A/C partway through dinner. Since it was dark in the annex where we usually meet and where we had davened Mincha earlier, we davened Maariv in the main sanctuary since the other congregations weren’t using it. The mechitza for the Orthodox congregation was up so we davened together on the “men’s side”, although I agree with the woman who said that we should have used the women’s side since it gets so little use. (There are seldom more than a handful of women at the Orthodox services which makes me glad that I’m a member of an egalitarian minyan.)
Before dinner we had a round-robin of your choice of about a half dozen 5-minute mini-sessions. One that was very beneficial to me was on meditation—the “sh–” was hitting the fan at work and I had been emailing furiously just before going to shul because I was taking leave for the holiday in the middle of a work of high priority and urgency, some of which I should have forseen and done stuff many months earlier including getting data that was the responsibility of someone is now on maternity leave. (Were still in crisis mode with more calamities happening like important computer files that seem to have been accidentally deleted or moved since Tuesday, so I’m just taking a break to write this before getting back to work.)
After Maariv, we had three learning session periods in which there were three options for each period. My presentation was one of the middle sessions. I had only time for the introductory material: brief summary of the book of Ruth, how it is related to Shavuot particularly in that it is a holiday for “z’man matan Torateinu”, the “giving of our Torah” which is what Ruth does personally when she becomes the archetype convert. Then the Talmud Bavli Yevamot 47a-47b which includes the best known Talmud description of conversion: “When a [prospective] convert comes to convert in these times…we inform him of a few mitzvot that carry a lesser penalty and a few that carry a severe penalty…” and also the way verses 1:16-18 from the Book of Ruth can be reframed into Ruth's part of a dialogue between Naomi and Ruth (I'll append below). I also shared the fact that I wear a ring that is engraved with the Hebrew phrase (without vowels) from Ruth 1:16 כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵך = “…for wherever you go I will go..” The ring symbolizes my conversion and my marriage (both my secular one and my Jewish one) with all the multiple ways in which those two aspects of my life are intertwined and are reflected in the story of Ruth.
So I didn’t get to the heart of what I planned to talk about: Conversion requirements and practices of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism; recognition of conversion validity between the movements; US converts who make aliyah and converts’ status in Israel. So I figure I can present that material as a Tikkun session next year with the title: “The Modern Day Ruth: Conversion Then and Now”.
Toward the end of the third session, while I was learning some really interesting Talmud on what makes something an “idol”, the building lost the rest of its lights. My husband defiantly kept teaching his session on “milk” (something from Talmud on what if a father was able to breastfeed a baby). The holiday candles partially illuminated the social hall where he was teaching, but the minyan board member who has the “House” position (and takes the “authority” he thinks that gives him a little too seriously) was shouting that we all had to leave the building. So the night ended without the planned game show activity for which I had been recruited to read a script as an "expert" on the panel, but that too can be done next year.
Talmud Bavli Yevamot 47a-47b Our Sages taught: When a [prospective] convert comes to convert in these times...we inform him of a few mitzvot that carry a lesser penalty and a few that carry a severe penalty, and we inform him of the grave importance of leaving gifts for the poor, and we inform him the consequences of violating the mitzvot, saying: Know that, until now, when you ate forbidden fat, you were not subject to kareit [spiritual excision], and when you violated Shabbat, you were not liable to be stoned, but now [you will be]...but one does not overburden him nor engage in exacting detail. If he accepts, he is circumcised immediately...once he is healed, we immerse him immediately...once he immerses and comes up out of the water, he is like a Jew for all purposes. -------
From the Book of Ruth, Chapter 1:
(16) And Ruth said: "Do not beseech me to abandon you and to turn away from you, for wherever you go I will go; and wherever you lie, I will lie; your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d. (17) Wherever you die I will die; and there I will be buried; may G-d do this for me and more, for death will separate me from you." (18) And she (Naomi) saw that her (Ruth's) resolve was strengthened to go with her, and she stopped speaking to her. ---------
Talmud Bavli Yevamot 47b: (Regarding one who wishes to convert) "We don't go into great detail for him, and we don't investigate him." Rabbi Elazar asked: "What is the source for this." It is written: "And she (Naomi) saw that her (Ruth's) resolve was strengthened to go with her, and she stopped speaking to her." (Ruth 1:18).
- Naomi: We have a prohibition of Sabbath Borders - Ruth: Wherever you go I will go. - Naomi: Yichud (privacy between an man and a woman outside of matrimony) is forbidden to us. - Ruth: Wherever you lie, I will lie. - Naomi: We concern ourselves with 613 commandments. - Ruth: Your nation is my nation. - Naomi: Idol worship is forbidden to us. - Ruth: Your G-d is my G-d. - Naomi: four forms of the death penalty were given to our courts. - Ruth: As you die, so shall I die. - Naomi: Two graves were given to the court. - Ruth: And there I shall be buried.
Immediately (after this conversation) "And Naomi saw that Ruth's resolve was strong."
Rashi’s Commentary: “From here our Sages derived that a [prospective] proselyte who comes to convert is told some of the punishments [for violating the commandments], so that if he decides to renege, he can renege, for out of Ruth’s words, you learn what Naomi said to her."
Last Edit: Jun 12, 2011 14:29:59 GMT -5 by Debbie B.