Join Limmud’s Shavuot learning party

You can run a DIY Shavuot education session at home with Limmud's new pack


Shavuot is the most under-observed of the major festivals, probably because there is little ritual associated with it. No longer do we turn up to the Temple with a basket full of first fruits, saying “My father was a wandering Aramean”.

As the festival drifted further from its agricultural origins in the Bible, its rabbinic significance as the anniversary of the Giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai took over. In celebration, the influential kabbalistic circle in 16th-century Sefat instituted a night of learning Torah, a tikkun leil Shavuot.

Many synagogues today run a tikkun leil on the first night of Shavuot, even if not everyone goes all night. But if you can’t make one, you can still join the learning party by downloading a special Shavuot pack created by Limmud and do your own DIY-learning at home with family or friends.

It contains a set of passages from the Bible, Talmud and elsewhere on the theme of Peoplehood, which can serve as the springboard for discussion. It is a particularly appropriate theme for this festival. In Judaism, learning is a social act. Meaning is not something arrived at in lonely contemplation, but debated and argued over among friends.

Whether you approach the Torah from a sceptically secular or a deeply Orthodox outlook, it remains the book of Jewish peoplehood. For millennia, its stories and events – and their interpreration – have shaped the self-understanding of the Jewish people (and not everyone accepts that such an entity exists).

How to define peoplehood in our own times remains problematic. There are more than eight million Hebrew-speaking Israelis in the Jewish state but around a quarter are not Jewish. Marrying out in the diaspora once constituted an exit ticket from the Jewish community but there are many intermarried Jewish families who wish to identify with a Jewish collective in some way.

Indeed, Shavuot offers its own biblical commentary on the theme, in the book of Ruth, whose heroine is a convert from whom the Messianic line is descended. It can be read as a critique of drawing the boundaries of peoplehood too exclusively.


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