The holiday of Shavuot commemorates God giving the Torah/Ten Commandments to the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Shavuot means “weeks” (Shavuah = week), because we’ve counted the Omer, which is 7 weeks (49 days) from Passover.
On the first night of Shavuot, we stay up all night learning Torah. It is tradition to eat dairy on Shavuot, and so it is common to find plates of cheesecake available at these all night study sessions. On both days of the holiday, families and synagogues will serve special dairy dishes that are often family traditions, like blintzes, cheese bourekas, kugel, quiche, and casseroles.
Many have the custom to decorate their homes and synagogues with flowers, fruits, and fragrant plants to celebrate the holiday. Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, where Israelites would bring sacrifices to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. During Shavuot, families would bring their first harvest of choice fruits.
The Ten Commandments are read in synagogue during special services on the first day of Shavuot. The Book of Ruth is read during services on the second day.
The story of Ruth is about a Moabite widow who follows her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel, after the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons in Moab. Refusing to return to her own family after her husband’s death, Ruth essentially converts to Judaism, by pledging her loyalty to Naomi and her people: “wherever you go, I will go, wherever you stay, I shall stay, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God”. Once they have returned to Naomi’s hometown, Naomi instructs Ruth to glean from her kinsman Boaz’s fields. Boaz marries Ruth, and King David is born from their family line.
You can read the entire story of Ruth at: www.sefaria.org/Ruth
The Book of Ruth is associated with Shavuot for several reasons:
- Ruth’s declaration of joining Naomi’s people is analogous to the ancient Israelites accepting the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
- The story takes place around the time of the wheat harvest, which would mean the timeline must be nearby to Shavuot.
- The Book of Ruth ends with a geneology leading to King David, and it is said that David died on Shavuot.