Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuot - A Festival Ignored

היום שמנה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-eighth day, making six weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שב מלכות

A day of foundation in a week of majesty

Tablet Magazine - a daily Jewish e-magazine from Nextbook, Inc - posted an article today, "Field Study: Why the holiday of Shavuot is all but ignored across America." This essay looks into the factors that make this the least practiced of the three Pilgrimage holidays - the remaining to being Pesach and Sukkot.
In its earliest incarnation, Shavuot marked a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the harvest’s first fruits and is one of a historical trio of harvest celebrations, along with Sukkot and Passover, known as the shalosh regalim. According to Paul Steinberg, a rabbi at the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles and the author of a series of books on the Jewish holidays, rabbis in the Talmudic period needed to reinvent Shavuot after the Jews left Israel for the Diaspora and no longer traveled to Jerusalem with harvest offerings. So, through what Steinberg calls the use of “complicated mathematical formulas” that were debated for centuries, the sages associated Shavuot with the giving of the Torah. But that interpretive shift, says Steinberg, has not “captured the imagination of Jews in America or anywhere else.”
The article goes on to talk about the custom starting to catch on in more American cities--staying up all night in study sessions called tikkun leil Shavuot. I will be participating in one such event in Berkeley tomorrow night into morning.

One of the comments on that piece caught my eye. While there's a definite snark factor that makes me want to say, "back off Jack," There are points in there that hit home:
Almost all American Jews celebrate and commemorate Passover in some form or another but only the Orthodox by and large celebrate Shavuot.
Another strange American Jewish phenomenon is that while most observe Shabbat by making Kiddush, very few observe Havdala, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat.
Why are these two Mitzvoth, Shavuot and Havdala, neglected by most
American Jews, and is there any connection between the two?
I believe there is a connection.
Passover celebrates freedom from slavery and exodus from Egypt.
Shavuot celebrates the giving and receiving of the Torah and the Jews commitment to serving HaShem and His Torah.
Friday night Kiddush represents the Sanctity and Holiness of Shabbat.
Havdala repesents the leaving of the sanctity and holiness of Shabbat and the return of the mundane week.
By only celebrating Passover and not Shavuot, the American Jew is celebrating Freedom, but neglecting to commit to serving serving HaShem and His Torah.
By observing Kiddush but neglecting Havdala the American Jew is stating that everything is Kodesh-HOLY- without any distinction between that which is truly holy and that which is actually mundane.
How typically American to try to have your cake and eat it at the same time!
There is something to be said about people preferring the warm and fuzzy liberation/holy stuff and checking out on the commitment to the practice. I don't condemn anyone over this, as the writer of the comment seems to express. Instead, I wish more people would realize the mindfulness that consistent spiritual practice can bring to their lives

1 comment:

sara said...

I miss you! Thanks for these wonderful Omer posts...