Shavuot and Dairy

Shavuot marks the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and it's tradition to eat dairy products in celebration. But why? Here are some interesting theories, complemented by guiding questions and activities.

THE FIRST KOSHER MEAL

With the receiving of the Torah, the Jewish people also began observing the laws of kashrut. But upon receipt, they did not yet have the tools they would need to prepare kosher meat. As a result, their first meal after receiving the Torah was dairy in observance of the new given laws.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What does it mean to keep kosher? Compare how kashrut is observed in both Israel and America.

2. What mitzvot are a part of your life?

3. What types of laws and/or values do Jews in Israel and America abide by?

4. If you were to add an 11th commandment, what would you add and why?

MILK

Chalav is the Hebrew word for milk and holds the numerical value of 40. But why? The number 40 connects to Shavuot in a number of ways: The Jews wandered the desert for 40 years, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah, 40 days praying for forgiveness for the Golden Calf, and another 40 days returning with new commandments. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  1. Why do you think Israel is referred to as “the land of milk and honey”?
  2. Look at other Modern Hebrew words and discuss the numerical and/or Biblical connections. For example: Why do Jews often give donations in increments of 18? From where does the word Shavuot come?

CHEESE

The Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Another name for Mount Sinai in Hebrew is Har Gav'nunim. What Hebrew word is etymologically related to Gav'nunim? G'vina (גבינה), which means cheese!

DISCUSSION QUESTION
  1. When Americans (and Israelis) take a picture, we say “cheese” so it forces us to smile. Except the Hebrew equivalent, g'vina, doesn't quite force us to smile in the same way. What Hebrew words can Israelis say to make them smile for a photo? (Example: “Yofiiiiiiii“)

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

Cook a dairy dish! Below are recipes for dishes that are commonly eaten in Israel for Shavuot: 

For the Sake of Justice: Israel's Basic Laws and its Supreme Court, an activity about the laws that govern Israeli society

Take a more detailed look at the 613 mitzvot: Create drawings, a skit, or another form of expression around a mitzvah that resonates or has been performed recently!