Why Do We Eat Dairy on Shavuot?

dairy

Jews will observe Shavuot next week, which commemorates the Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai following the Exodus.

Numerous traditions surround the holiday, including refraining from work and studying all night; but food-wise, Shavuot is all about dairy. The reasons behind this are numerous–and some are clearer and better-supported than others.

The major textual/talmudic reasoning states that when the Israelites returned to their camp from Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah, all off their meat and cooking utensils were suddenly off-limits because they had just received the laws of kashrut. And as it was the Sabbath, they could not kasher their dishes or slaughter kosher meet (besides, who would want to go through all that trouble after hiking back from a mountain?).

Those with a kabbalistic bent point out that the Hebrew word for milk, chalav, has a numerical value of 40 when using the Hebrew number-letter system of gematria. And Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments. Therefore, some see a connection between the event and dairy.

Also, in the Song of Songs, King Solomon refers to the Torah as “milk and honey… under your tongue.” The image of the Torah as nourishment, the “mother’s milk” of the Jewish people, is another strong aspect of Shavuot.

More pragmatic scholarship suggests that this Spring harvest festival was the time when agricultural societies made cheese; so fresh dairy products were around in abundance during Shavuot.

Whatever the reason, the holiday is a great time to dig into blintzes, bourekas, cheese kreplach, and numerous other dairy dishes. Chag sameach!

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