Keith Hunt - A Jew looks at Pentecost Restitution of All
Things


  Home Navigation & Word Search

A Jew looks at Pentecost

Traditions added for ....

                           THE JEWISH FESTIVALS

FROM THE BOOK of the same name by "Hayyim Schauss" - published in
1938


THE FESTIVAL OF SHOVUOS - PENTECOST


Introduction

     Shovuos the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost), comes on the
sixth day of the Jewish month Sivan. 

(Ah, this is in accordance to the Pharisee dating, which was and
is IN-correct - Keith Hunt)

     It is observed for two days by Orthodox and Conservative
Jews. In Palestine and among Reform Jews one day is observed, as
originally ordained. It is the festival when home and synagogue
are decked in green, and all the world is fragrant with plants
and flowers, for it occurs in the most beautiful and balmiest
season of the year.
     In the past Shovuos was an unpretentious holiday and made
few special demands for its observance. In our day this holiday
has assumed a new importance in Reform and in Conservative
congregations, owing to the Confirmation ceremony which was
introduced in the past century and which has come one of the
outstanding characteristics of Shovuos.


The Wheat Harvest Festival

     The word Shovuos means "weeks," and was therefore used to
designate the festival that ended the weeks of the grain harvest.
We have already learned that the holiday originally had a more
precise and apt name, Chag ha-Kotsir, the feast of harvest. The
grain harvest started with the reaping in of the barley and after
seven weeks ended with the cutting of the wheat, an occasion for
a festive holiday. It is understandable, therefore, that such a
festival, bound up as it is with the agricultural seasons, sprang
up among Jews only after they had settled in Palestine and had
become tillers of the soil.

(Well, it was given to Moses from the beginning and was observed
in the 40 year wandering in the desert. The day can still be
observed without having to be in the agricultural industry, as
common sense would dictate - Keith Hunt)

     The beginning of the the grain harvest was marked by the
sacrifice at the sanctuary, of the omer, the first sheaf of the
newly cut barley; (The correct time of cutting the first-fruits
is explained in my studies of Pentecost - Keith Hunt) fifty days
later, at the close of the harvest period, two loaves of bread,
baked from the wheat of the new crop, were offered as a
sacrifice. This bread-offering was called "the first-fruits of
wheat harvest," and the festival was therefore also called Yom
ha-Bikkurim, the day of offering the first loaves of the new crop
to God.

     In the early days of the Jewish kingdom this sacrifice was
offered and the festival observed in the local sanctuary, the
Bomoh, or "high place." But later, when the "high places" were
abolished, the sacrifice was made only in the Temple in
Jerusalem. Even then, Shovuos played a minor role in comparison
with the other two harvest festivals; it was considered no more
than a continuation of and an epilogue to the Festival of
Unleavened Bread. There was no effort made, even in later
biblical times, to tie up the festival with any historic event;
it remained through that time, an agricultural holiday, festival
of the completion of the grain harvest. ***In none of the books
of the Bible is there any trace or mention of Shovuos in
connection with the giving of the Torah.***

(Did you notice what this writer just said? Read between the ***
again! This festival is NOT mentioned ANYWHERE in the Bible with
the giving of the Law of God - the Ten commandments - Keith Hunt)


Without Fixed Date

Shovuos is the only Jewish festival for which ther eis no fixed
date, and it was therefore a matter of great discussion in the
period of the second Temple. The Pentateuch does not state on
what day of the month Shovuos is to be observed. It says only
that it is to be celebrated fifty days after the offering of the
omer, the first sheaf of the barley harvest, which was to be
offered on "the morrow after the Sabbath." Thus, the Sadducees,
the party of conservative priests, interpreted this as meaning
that the omen was to be offered the first Sunday of Pesach, and
that Shovuos, therefore, would always fall on the seventh Sunday
after Pesach.
     However, the Pharisees, who sought to interpret the Torah in
accordance with the conditions of the day, interpreted the word
Sabbath, in that case, as meaning not Saturday, but the day of
rest, the first day of the festival. According to the Pharisees,
therefore, it was necessary to offer the omer on the sixteenth
day of Nisan; Shovuos, therefore, coming on the sixth day of
Sivan.

(Which places the Festival on a FIXED date, which is completely
contrary to the instruction of the Lord. It would have been easy
for God to have said, "Pentecost will be on the 6th day of the
third month - which is not stated anywhere in the Bible. You have
to count to Pentecost. Hence in this case the Sadducees were
correct - Keith Hunt)

     The Pharisaic tendency became standardized as the procedure
for Orthodox Judaism, and to this very day Orthodox Jews begin
"counting" S'firoh, on the second day of Pesach. The S'firoh is a
form of benediction in connection with which the fifty days
between the supposed offering of the omer and the observance of
Shovuos are counted. Daily, after the evening prayers, the days
and weeks are counted off and the fiftieth day is Shovuos. Among
the Samaritans and the Karaites the time for the observance as
recommended by the Sadducees followed, and Shovuos is always
observed on a Sunday.

(Other Jewish sects also agreed with the Sadducees. It is the
only logical way, when no fixed date was set by the Lord. It must
be counted each and every year. It always falls on a Sunday but
not on the same calendar day - Keith Hunt)

     The Falashas, the black Jews of Abyssinia, have still a
third date for Shovuos. They observe it on the twelfth day of
Sivan, six days after our observance. In ancient days there was
still a fourth date for the observance of the festival. "The Book
of Jubilees," a product of the days of the second Temple, orders
the observance of Shovuos in the middle of Sivan, that is, the
fifteenth day of the month. 

(All of these "other" ways are also as INcorrect as the Pharisee
way - Keith Hunt)
 
 
The Giving of the Torah. 

     Shovuos retained its character as a nature festival longer
than any other of the Jewish holi-days, but it could not remain
so forever. It took on, in time, a new historic signnificance and
a new siritual content. It appears that as far back as the days
of the second Temple, Shovuos was a twofold festival. It was the
festival of the wheat harvest, when a sacrifice was offered from
the new wheat crop; it was also considered the observance of the 
pact entered into between God and mankind. At least, that is the
interpretation presented in the previously mentioned book "Book
of Jubilees." The festival is celebrated, according to this book,
as a symbol that the pact God made with Noah, in which he
promised no further general flood, is renewed each year.
     How widespread this interpretation of Shovuos was in the
days of the second Temple we do not know, for we cannot tell if
the above book presents the thoughts of the masses of the folk or
of just a small group. But the book does show us that in the days
of the second Temple there was alread a demand for a new
interpretation of Shovuos on an historical basis. 
  
     At any rate, Shovuos did not play a great role in the Jewish
life of those days. It was obviously a festival observed only in
the Temple, and not to any noticeable extent outside of
Jerusalem. 

***The holiday first attained importance when it became the
festival of the giving of the Torah, of God revealing Himself on
Mount Sinai.***

***Through this association with the giving of the Torah, Shovuos
attained a great importance and became an exalted, spiritual
festival; a festival no longer associated with agriculture and
nature, but symbolic of the spiritual treasure and culture that
the Jewish people possess.***

(Again, please take note what this Jewish writer has just told
you. There is no evidence in the Bible that Pentecost is when God
gave the Ten Commandments to Israel - Keith Hunt)

In the nineteenth century Shovuos was given new significance by
Reformed Jews, as a day of confirmation. Till the beginning of
the nineteenth century (and amongst Orthodox Jews to this very
day) only boys went through the Bar Mitsvah, individually, on the
Sabbath nearest to their thirteenth birthday. This was mainly a
private family celebration. 
     Reform Jews, when they modified the synagogue worship, also
changed Bar Mitsvoh to Confirmation. They included girls in the
ceremony, set aside a definite day of the year for it, and made
it a community festival.
     The early leaders of Reform Judaism selected Shovuos the day
of confirmation, because it is the holiday of the confirmation of
the Jewish people in their faith by Moses. It is also the day on
which the Book of Ruth is read in the synagogue, telling of
Ruth's acceptance into the fold of Israel. This innovation was
accepted in all progressive communities and gave new vitality and
life to this old festival.

(It was making religion from the ideas of men, making traditions,
adding to the law of God. It was making Pentecost stand out to
Jews because the Christians had their Pentecost day as a great
celebration. The Jews in so doing were trying to keep their
children's eyes off what the Christians taught as the meaning of
Pentecost - the giving of the Holy Spirit - Acts 2 - Keith Hunt)


In Eastern Europe

     Shovuos does not give Jewish children as many days of
freedom as does Pesach, but the Hebrew school is open only half
days from the beginning of the month of Sivan. Rosh Chodesh, the
first day of the Jewish month, was always considered a
semi-holiday in Jewish schools; since there are only four days
after that till the coming of the festival itself, these are also
made minor holidays. The three days before Shovuos are marked off
as the days during which the Jews were forbidden to approach
close to Mount Sinai. The one day that remains, the day after the
New Moon, also becomes a semi-holiday, and is called Yom
ha-M'yuchos, the "choice day." Its exclusiveness, it is claimed,
lies in the fact that on that same day of the week Yom Kippur is
bound to fall. But what do children care for the importance
ascribed to those days? They are satisfied that they are free and
attend school for only half the day.
     The weather is mild. The sun pours oceans of light and
warmth upon the town. The trees are green with leaves and the
fields are gay with flowers. The grass is fragrant and makes the
heart feel light and summery. All await the beauteous festival,
when Jewish homes are decked in green, when dairy dishes grace
every Jewish table, and when the words of Akdomus, that beautiful
Aramaic ode composed by the Chazan of Worms in the eleventh
century, are chanted in the synagogue.
     Even in school the instruction is festive and breathes the
spirit of the holiday. The children are taught the Book of Ruth.
So clear is the imagery thereof that they are carried back to the
days of old, when Jews reaped the harvest of the fields of their
own land.
     The older children sit around a long table with the teacher
and study the Book of Ruth. But their thoughts are not on their
studies; they are thinking of Bethlehem, the town where David was
born and spent his childhood. They imagine they are standing at
harvest time in the fields that surround the town. Gentle breezes
blow from the hills of Judah. The fields are filled with the
freshly cut sheaves. They hear the whir of the reaping scythe,
and the song of the workers in the fields. And everywhere is the
pleasing aroma of the newly-fallen gleanings which Ruth is
gathering in the field.
     Their thoughts are carried still farther afield when the
teacher recites, or rather sings, as he interprets Akdomus. King
David descended from Ruth and Boaz, and from David's seed, it is
believed, will come the Messiah. In Akdomus is presented vividly
a picture of the day when the Messiah will have arrived, the time
of eternal bliss on earth.
     They see the golden thrones, approached by seven stairs;
seated on the thrones are the saints, gleaming and shining like
the stars of heaven. Above them are spread canopies of light, and
below ripple streams of fragrant balsam. There is no end to the
joy and happiness of the saints. They dance in Paradise,
arm-in-arm with God himself; He entertains them with a mammoth
spectacle, arranged especially for them, the combat between the
Leviathan and the Behemoth. 
     So enthusiastic does the teacher become at this point that
his imagination expands and grows, and he paints a picture of the
two fantastic creatures that is so clear, one would think he had
seen them himself. The Leviathan, he says, encircles the sea that
surrounds the world. He lies coiled up, with his tail in his
mouth; should he, for one moment, release his tail, then the doom
of the world would come. Just as great and fearful is the
Behemoth. He eats, in one day, the pasturage on a thousand hills;
and when he is thirsty, all the water that flows from the Jordan
into the sea makes just one gulp for him.
     The teacher tells of the feast which God will prepare after
the coming of the Messiah, and his imagination makes it more
vivid and colorful even than its description in Akdomus. He
pictures the saints seated around a table made of precious
stones, eating the flesh of the Leviathan and the Behemoth. But
the feasting does not interest the listening children. Their
thoughts recur to the combat between the two monsters; they see
the monster of the deep giving mighty blows with his powerful
fins, while the Behemoth again and again gores his rival with his
gigantic horns.


Shovuos Eve

     After feasting the congregation goes to the Bes ha-Midrosh,
the House of Study, to spend the entire night reading Tikkun. 
     The children, alas, must go to bed. They are extremely
envious of their older brothers and their parents who stay awake
all night in the synagogue and pray at the earliest
service in the morning.
     At every festival it is customary to promenade about the
town, but at no festival is there as much promenading as at
Shovuos. It seems as if this particular holiday was made for
promenading. The streets of the town and the roads about the town
are filled with Jews, walking after the midday meal, all dressed
in their festival clothes. From every house comes the aroma of
fried blintzes, cheese rolled in dough. It is just as much of a
tradition to eat dairy dishes on Shovuos as it is to decorate the
house with green plants.


The Second Evening

     Only half of the second evening of Shovuos is spent in the
synagogue. But this time the congregation recites, not Tikkun,
but the Psalms of David. The practice of staying awake in the
synagogue on this night is not bound up with the giving of the
Torah, as is the first night, but with a tradition that King
David died on Shovuos.
     On the long table in the House of Study burns a great
memorial candle. Around the table sit pious Jews, dressed in
their holiday best, holding copies of the Psalms in their hands.
The flame of the candle, large enough to last twenty-four hours,
flickers above them as they read and chant the Psalms, the songs
of David, king of Israel, and in this manner observe the
anniversary of his death.


Shovuos in Custom and Ceremony 

     A whole series of customs and traditions are bound up with
the observance of Shovuos, and these are so ancient that it is
impossible for us to be certain of their origin. The
interpretations given them are either later deductions or
uncertain theories.
     The custom of counting S'firoh, that is, counting the days
from the offering of the omer (the first sheaf of grain) to the
offering of the two loaves of new bread forty-nine days later, is
very ancient; it is prescribed in the Pentateuch. Ancient, also,
is the custom that no feasts or joyous events are to be held
during those days, except on Lag Bo-Omer, the thirtythird
day in the counting of the omen. Equally old is the custom of
carrying bows into the woods on Lag Bo-Omen. These are all
customs that come from ancient days and primitive conceptions.
     These and other Shovuos customs were later interpreted in
various ways. The custom of decorating the homes and synagogues
with green plants, for instance, is variously explained. One
theory is that the day is marked in heaven as the day of judgment
for the fruit of the trees. A second explanation says that it is
a reminder of the grass that grew on Mount Sinai at the giving of
the Torah. The people who originated this latter explanation
forgot, apparently, that on such a mountain as Sinai, that
spouted fire, there was very little likelihood of grass growing.
     Most logical is the theory that it is bound up with the
former meaning of the holiday, when it was the festival of the
wheat harvest.
     Even the custom of eating dairy dishes during the festival
goes back to olden times. The people gave to this custom, also,
their own interpretation. According to this explanation, when the
Jews returned to their tents after receiving the Torah, they were
so tired and hungry that they could not wait until the women
prepared a meal of meat, so they rushed to eat whatever dairy
products were about.
     According to the interpretations given by popular lore, the
custom of staying awake all of Shovuos eve is explained as
follows: it is said that God made himself manifest on Mount Sinai
at noon. It happened that the Jews were still asleep at the time
and Moses had to go to their quarters to wake them. Therefore,
Jews keep awake all of Shovuos eve to show that at present there
would be no need to wake them to receive the Torah.

     A strange and unexplainable custom is current among the Jews
of Morocco, where all, young and old, pour water upon each other
on Shovuos, paying no attention to the fact that holiday clothes
are being worn. Pitcher upon pitcher of water is thus poured,
especially in the late afternoon.

     Shovuos, therefore, is an ancient festival, with customs
that are so old that it is impossible at this date to trace their
origin with any certainty. It is not as old a festival as Pesach.
It does not carry us back to desert days, but the holiday is as
old as the settling of the Jews in Palestine and harks back to
the period when Jews began to live off the fruit of the earth and
to observe the agricultural seasons of the year.

                          ......................


So much for Jewish understanding and traditions of Pentecost. No
wonder Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees made void the
commandments of God by their traditions (Mark 7). They do not
even know it goes back to the very time of God bringing Israel
out of Egypt and giving them HIS Festivals. Pentecost is as old
as Passover but for the 50 days from the wave-sheaf offering.
Pentecost was observed in the 40 year wilderness wandering. You
do not have to be gathering wheat to celebrate this holy day of
the Lord. All were not farmers in Israel of old. It is quite
possible (as it was for ancient Israel in the wilderness) to
count from the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the
Feast of Unleavened Bread, for seven Sabbaths, or 49 days, seven
weeks, and get to the 50th day, after the seventh Sabbath or 49
days. Just as easy for ancient Israel in the wilderness as it is
for us today in any part of the world.
The Feast is the birthday of the Christian church (Acts 2) but
Jews having to try and keep their children from Christianity,
had, they felt, to adopt many things to give all kinds of
celebration to Jewish children for Pentecost, to do anything to
keep their minds off the real importance of this Feast day in the
truth of the Lord.

They are blinded, few of them called to to salvation in this age,
as the apostle Paul was to write about in Romans 9 through 11.

But YOU can know the truth of Pentecost IF you hunger and thirst
after righteousness. As Jesus said, seek and ye shall find, knock
and the door will be opened to you. He is the truth and the
light.

Keith Hunt
 

 
  Home Top of Page


Other Articles of Interest:
  ... ... ...

 
Navigation List:
 

 
Word Search:

PicoSearch
  Help