On the surface, Shavuos (Shavuot) is a “plain-vanilla” holiday. Like the other two ancient Jewish pilgrimage festivals, Passover and Sukkot, it’s major. However, though Jews from Israel to Australia observe Shavuos, many American Jews don’t. It has kind of fallen off the radar of the non-Orthodox.
Odd that it isn’t paid more attention to. Shavuos is one of the “easiest” Jewish holy days, far easier, for example than the other two pilgrimage festivals, Pesach (Passover) and Sukkos. Unlike other Jewish holidays which require both material and spiritual preparations, Shavuos primarily requires spiritual “prep”. That’s in part what we’re doing when we count the Omer, we’re counting down from Pesach until Shavuos.
The laws associated with Shavuos are fairly straightforward and the customs are gorgeous.
Flowers and greenery adorn the shuls and homes of Jews of many Sephardi and Ashkenazi sects. On Shavuos many have the custom of staying up and learning Torah all night. There is no fasting and no special dietary requirements, except of course for eating the festive meals. However there is the widespread custom of eating dairy products such as cheesecake and blintzes. Not quite in the same league as dwelling in dwelling in flimsy shacks for seven days, fasting and repenting, or purging your house of cracker crumbs and pasta.
The reason Shavuos doesn’t have so many bells and whistles (except for the cheesecake), is because it doesn’t need them. Its raison d’etre renders them unnecessary: Shavuos commemorates and celebrates what is arguably the most important event in the history of the world, let alone Judaism—the giving of the Torah to the Jews on Mount Sinai.
That singular event wasn’t just the beginning of G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people. The tablets aka the “ten commandments” was what might described as an official statement, a contract even, of the nature of the relationship between G-d and mankind in general, as well as the Jews in particular. In fact, the world’s other two major monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, would later base much of their teachings on the commandments given at Sinai.
Meanwhile, for the lactose-intolerant, sinus afflicted, allergic, or finicky, here’s a dairy and gluten-free recipe in the spirit of Shavuos.
Chocolate Cream Pie
1 cup ground almonds or Bob’s Red Mill almond “flour”
4-5 medjool dates at room temperature, pitted and checked for insect infestation
1 tablespoon x-virgin coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey, optional
Process dates, oil and honey if using in food processor until smooth. Spread evenly onto bottom and sides of 8 inch pie plate and press down. Freeze until you’ve completed the filling recipe.
1 ripe (soft to the touch) Haas avocado
1 large, very ripe banana
2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder and/or raw cacao powder
2 tablespoons raw honey or agave, or to taste
2 teaspoons x-virgin coconut oil (optional, but it makes it creamier)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whirl ingredients around in food processor or blender until very smooth. Fill pie crust and freeze for at least 2 hours. Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Serve. Don’t tell anyone what’s in it–they won’t know unless you tell them. Alternately, skip skip the pie crust and the freezer and serve the pudding chilled, in dessert dishes. Also, if you are serving it plain, as a mouse or pudding, the banana is optional.