Celebrating a Humanistic Shavuot

The spring holiday of Shavuot began in ancient times as a minor harvest festival, the second of three harvest festivals (the other two being Sukkot and Passover, respectively). The feast signified the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest.

In rabbinic times, a radical transformation of the festival took place. According to a verse from the book of Exodus: “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.” As such, the festival became the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Traditional Jews often stay up all night on Shavuot to study Torah, and some congregations decorate the synagogue with plants and flowers.

For Humanistic Jews, the holiday is an interesting one to celebrate, as we do not view the Torah as a book of divine origin, but we are inspired by the idea of Shavuot to honor all the sources of our wisdom. We use the Shabbat nearest Shavuot to celebrate the whole of Jewish literature, from Sigmund Freud to Elie Weasel, in a creative way. If you’re at a loss for literature to choose from, Adam Chalom has a list of notable Jewish authors and thinkers to get you started.

Humanistic Jews also look at Shavuot as a nature-themed holiday, as the festival is directly linked to the agricultural cycle as a celebration of the first fruits of planting. Have a picnic in the park with some fresh loaves of Challa!

Click here for more background on Shavuot.