Every spring, Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, a two-day holiday, beginning at sundown of the 5th of Sivan and lasting until nightfall of the 7th of Sivan. Meaning “weeks,” Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period that began with Passover.
Shavuot is a time in which we celebrate and renew our acceptance of the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago – a moment our sages have compared to a wedding between God and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means “oath” and on this day God swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him. Like all Jewish holidays, Shavuot is associated with a number of laws and customs. Here are a few:
• Study Torah…all night – It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot (Tuesday night, May 18). One explanation for this tradition is that the Jewish people did not rise early on the day G-d gave the Torah, and it was necessary for G-d Himself to awaken them. To compensate for their behavior, Jews have accepted upon themselves the custom of remaining awake all night.
• Hear the Ten Commandments – Since all Jews stood at Mount Sinai, we reaffirm our covenant with God and His Torah by going to synagogue on the first day of Shavuot (Wednesday, May 19) to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.
• Read the Book of Ruth – The Book of Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot. There are several reasons for this custom: (1) Shavuot is both the birthday and yahrtzeit of King David, and the Book of Ruth records his ancestry. Ruth and her husband Boaz were King David’s great-grandparents; (2) The scenes of harvesting described in the book of Ruth are appropriate to Shavuot, which is also known as the Festival of Harvest; (3) Ruth was a sincere convert who embraced Judaism with all her heart. On Shavuot all Jews were converts – having accepted the Torah and all of its precepts.
• Eat dairy foods – It is customary to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot. One reason: With the giving of the Torah the Jews became obligated to observe the laws of kashrut. As the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered nor could utensils be koshered, and thus on that day they ate dairy. Another reason: The Torah is likened to nourishing milk. Also, the Hebrew word for milk is “chalav.” When the numerical value of each of the letters in the word “chalav” are added together – 8, 30, 2 – the total is forty. Forty is the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai when receiving the Torah.
• Adorn the house with flowers and greenery – Since Shavuot is also called the “Harvest Festival,” it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. Furthermore, our sages say that, although Mount Sinai was situated in a desert, when the Torah was given the mountain bloomed and sprouted flowers.
• Observe the laws of Yom Tov – On Shavuot we observe the basic laws of any Yom Tov, or holy day: We enjoy two meals on every day of Yom Tov-one at night and another during the daytime; we wear new or special clothing; we don’t use electrical appliances, go to work, handle money or write. Unlike Shabbat, however, on Yom Tov we are permitted to cook and bake, lighting a fire from a pre-existing flame.
The above information is culled from www.chabad.org.
Dairy recipes for Shavuot
Cayenne Wake-Up Chunks
Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (see interview, p. 4) offers one of her favorite recipes. “I think of Cayenne Wake-Up Chunks in connection with Shavuot since at Mount Sinai we were all to be awake and present for the revelation; thus the custom of the tikkun (the all night study) for Shavuot. I hope you like it!”
1 lb dark chocolate, chips or broken into pieces
1 cup peanuts 1⁄2 cup raisins, dates, or other dried fruit
1⁄8 cup coffee beans
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, to taste
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Granola, dry cereal, or oatmeal (optional)
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or waxed paper. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; remove from the heat. In a food processor with the chop blade, combine the peanuts, raisins, coffee beans, and cayenne. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Stir the cocoa into the melted chocolate. Once the mixture is even and getting stiff, add the chopped nuts and fruits; keep stirring. Taste to check the spice level.
If the mixture is too moist and sticky, add more nuts, granola, or chopped cereal, or wait until firm enough to handle. (Cooling in the refrigerator will firm the mixture faster.) Roll the mixture into balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Cool completely. Remove from the baking sheet and store in a covered container. Makes approximately 20 chunks.
From the kitchen of Sue Meyerowitz of Bloomfield
You can add a bit of pizzaz to this recipe, says Sue, by using fruit-filled blintzes.
1 / 4 cup sugar
6 1 /2 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspooon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 pint sour cream
Beat eggs. Add vanilla and melted butter. Add in sugar and salt. Beat in sour cream. Place blintzes in a greased lasagna pan. Pour mixture over blintzes. Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown along the edges.
Blintzes from Tsfat
Taglit-Birthright Israel recently released Israel to Go: Look & Cook Book, a cookbook featuring 20 recipes derived from the foods native to the Mediterranean. The recipes chronicle the exotic cultural experience offered to participants of Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.
Taglit-Birthright Israel sends Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26 on a free 10-trip to Israel to strengthen each participant’s Jewish identity. Since its inception, more than 350,000 Jewish young adults have taken part in Taglit-Birthright Israel from more than 65 countries, all 50 U.S. states and from nearly 1,000 North American college campuses. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a partnership between the Government of Israel, private philanthropists and Jewish communities around the world.
Although, at the moment, Israel to Go is being given as a thank you gift to trip participants and donors to the Birthright-Israel Foundation and is not available to the general public, Taglit-Birthright did share some of the book’s recipes, including this one Susana Szegadi of England. Szegadi wrote the following about her Birthright group’s visit to Tzfat in northern Israel – and her discover of this delicious Middle Eastern recipe for blintzes.
“The magic of Tzfat hit me right away after I got off the bus. The tiny streets with their wonderful views, the medieval, pretty synagogues and mystery they radiate; the perfumed air, that undiluted scent of history and beauty. This holy city could be a perfect spot for an exotic tale; the kind of tale where magic is expected. And there, in the middle of an arcade, is a lovely man making crepes and filling them with mouth-watering ingredients. I was in love with blintzes already; I used to make them with mushrooms, cottage cheese or yogurt and oranges, but this was something different. Maybe it was the aura of that place, but I was absolutely swimming in joy after the first bite. This heavenly dish, originally Askenazi and put in the spotlight by Hungarians, reflects it all; the whole magnetism of Tzfat, the special, hard taste of cumin and the milder flavor of goat cheese… Every time I start preparing this royal food in the kitchen, I feel like I am wandering on the streets of Tzfat.”
Ingredients for the filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 big red onion, cut into large slices
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chili and black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 bunch arugula
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch spinach
2-3 cloves garlic, well chopped
1 package goat cheese
Hummous, lettuce, tomato (to serve)
Making the filling
Pour the oil in a wok or a large saucepan and braise the onions. Add the chili, pepper, cumin, garlic and any other spice you may wish to try. Wait until the chilis are soft and gradually add the rocket or arugula, watercress and spiniach. Just mix it in; it does not need to cook. Crumble the goat cheese over the leaves and mix it together. Taste and season if necessary.
Ingredients for the batter
½ cup milk
½ cup water
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
1 package vanilla sugar or the seeds of 1/3 vanilla pod
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon oil
Making the batter
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, and water and blend well. Gradually add the flour, sugar, vanilla, salt and oil. Beat well until there are no lumps in the batter. Apply a thin coating of oil to a frying pan. Place the frying pan on medium heat. Ladle approximately 1/3 cup of batter into the frying pan, or as much as needed to thinly cover the bottom. Fry on one side until small air bubbles are formed, and top is set. Bottom should be golden brown. When done, carefully loosen edges of the crepe and slip out of the skillet onto a plate. Repeat the above procedure until the batter is finished. Grease the frying pan as needed. Turn each crepe so that the golden brown side is up. Place threetablespoons of filling in one edge of the crepe. Roll once to cover the filling. Fold the sides into the center and continue rolling until completely closed. Heat two tablespoons of oil in the frying pan and place each crepe seam side down in the skillet. Fry two minutes on each side, turning once.