Date: Begins on the 6th of Sivan
Duration: Two days for Jews in the Galut and one day for Jews living in Yisrael.
Names: Zeman Matan Torateinu (Season of the Giving of the Torah; Chag HaBikkurim (Festival of Firstfruits.
Source: "Until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days..." (VaYikra 23:16)
General Theme: This holiday, which occurs 7 weeks after the 2nd day of Pesach, commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot, like Pesach and Sukkot, is one of the three pilgrimage festivals. During the Temple days the Yisraelim brought an offering of their firstfruits (bikkurim). Thus Shavuot has also come to be known as the spring harvest festival of firstfruits. The festival is a time of accepting religious obligations, the Mitzvot, and reaffirming our Covenant with G-d.
Traditional Foods: Blintzes, cheesecake, and other dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot. One reason for this custom is that it is derived by our Sages from the passage, "Honey and milk shall be under your tongue" (Shir HaShirim 4:11), which implies that the words of the Torah may be as pleasant and acceptable to our ears and hearts as milk and honey are to our tongues.
Customs: Candles are lit on both evenings of Shavuot to usher in the holiday. This is followed by the festival blessing over the wine for Shavuot and the blessing over the bread.
It is customary to spend many hours on Shavuot night in reading and studying various Jewish texts. Called in Hebrew "Leil Tikkun Shavuot," this special gathering to study is often held in the synagogue as well as in various homes in the Jewish community.
Synagogues are usually decorated with greenery and flowers reflecting the agricultural aspect of Shavuot.
During the morning services of Shavuot, the special Hallel psalms of praise are recited. In addition, the Torah is read on both days of Shavuot. On the 1st day, the reading includes the Ten Utterances (Shemot 19 and 20). On the 2nd day, the reading is from Devarim 15:19-16:17 and includes a description of the three pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot.
On the evening of the 2nd night of Shavuot it is customary to light a Yahrzeit memorial candle in memory of one's deceased loved ones. At services on the morning of the 2nd day of Shavuot, there is a Yizkor memorial service.
Many synagogues invite their Hebrew high school students to participate in a Confirmation service on Shavuot. These students lead the service, confirm their allegiance to G-d, and often are presented with Confirmation diplomas.
On the 1st Day of Shavuot, a special liturgical poem called "Akdamut" is recited at morning services before the Torah reading. The poem suggests the unspeakable majesty of G-d.
On Shavuot day it is customary to read Sefer Rut. The reasons for its association with the festival are the story of how Rut, a Moabite woman, embraced the religion of Yisrael, and the account it gives of the grain harvest and the treatment of the poor in the harvest season. There is also a tradition that King David was born and died on Shavuot. Because David descended from Rut, the reading of this book, in which the birth of David is recorded, is appropriate to the occasion.