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Laws and Customs of Shavuot 5780

For a print version of the article click here
Click here for Shavuot Times in various locations (from www.chabad.org)
Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
Erev Shavuot, Thursday, 5 Sivan, May 28
  • As on every Erev Yom Tov, it is proper to take a haircut (if one’s hair is overgrown) on this day.
  • It is proper to cut one’s nails on this day.
  • It is proper for men to immerse in the Mikvah on this day as the Jews did before they received the Torah.
  • Make an Eiruv Tavshillin.
Shulchan Aruch HaRav 529, Mateh Efraim 625:11, Shelah:Masechet Shavuot
Eiruv Tavshillin
One must make an Eiruv Tavshillin on this day in order to permit cooking on Friday for Shabbat. One should take a complete challah (or roll) and a cooked portion of food and recite the text and blessing of the eiruv (page 327 in the new Chabad Siddur).  One who is making the eiruv on behalf of the community should have someone else pick up the food used for the eiruv and say the text printed in the Siddur (Ani mezakeh).
For the cooked food, one should use a piece of fish, chicken or an egg.
On Friday, the food should be prepared in such a way that it is all edible before Shabbat begins.
The food and challah which one put aside should be kept separate and not eaten until Shabbat begins.
It is preferable to use the challah of the eiruv for Lechem Mishnah on Friday night and on Shabbat day and then to eat it on Shabbat day for the third meal. This follows the principle that if an object was used for a mitzvah, it should be used again for another mitzvah.
One who did not eat the matzah or food on Shabbos has still fulfilled the mitzvah of eiruv.
One who forgot to make the eiruv may be able to rely on the eiruv made by the rabbi of the community as follows:
  • If one completely forgot to make an eiruv or was so busy that he did not have a chance to do it, he may rely on the eiruv that was made by the rabbi of the community on behalf of all the community members. Similarly, an unlearned person who did not know about this mitzvah or who thought that one may rely on the rabbi in the first place and thus did not make his own, may rely on the rabbi’s eiruv (even though his thinking was wrong).
  • Some say that one may only rely on the rabbi’s eiruv one time in their lives. (See Mishnah Berurah, 527:22 and Kaf HaChaim, 48. The Alter Rebbe does not cite this view.)
  • On the other hand, one who postponed making the eiruv in a manner that is negligent and then forgot to make an eiruv, cannot rely on the rabbi’s eiruv. Rather he should give his ingredients to a friend or neighbor who did make an eiruv and have the friend cook them for him.
One who will be a guest for both eating and sleeping at someone else’s house need not make his own Eiruv Tavshilin as he is considered to be a member of his host’s family. Some say that he should make his own eiruv but without a bracha. (See Piskei Teshuvot, 527:17).
However, one who does not plan on cooking on Friday but is planning to light Shabbat candles should make an eiruv without a bracha.
If a child’s birthday is between Lag Ba’Omer and Shavuot, the Chabad custom is to postpone the Upsherinish (first haircut when a boy turns three) to Erev Shavuot.
Igrot Kodesh vol. 12, page 441
Trees and Flowers
It is customary in many communities to decorate the synagogues and homes with greenery and flowers to commemorate the joy of the Giving of the Torah at which time Mount Sinai was covered with foliage and greenery.In addition, it is customary in many communities to put trees in the synagogues and homes. This reminds us that we are judged regarding fruits of the tree on this holiday and that we must pray in this regard.  Some say that this custom should not be followed as it is reminiscent of the holiday of a different religion.
Flowers are not considered muktzah as they have been designated for decorative use. One may not, however, put them into water on Yom Tov as this may cause them to open. This would be considered akin to planting. One may, however, add water to a vase  that is already in use. On Shabbat, one may not even add water.
Rama 494:2 and Mishna Berurah 10 in the name of the Gra. See Ex. 34:3,  Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 494:5 and 336:18
Tzedaka for the Holiday
One should remember to provide the necessities of the holidays for those in need. Sufficient support should be provided so that the poor have enough to make Yom Tov in a comfortable and enjoyable manner. This is especially important regarding the holiday of Shavuot, which is only two days long and whose needs may therefore be overlooked. This Mitzvah benefits both the giver and the recipient.
Maimonides (Laws of Yom Tov 6:18) writes: “When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are
destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his
courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without
feeding the poor and the embittered, is considered to be not rejoicing
with a mitzvah, but rather to be rejoicing with his belly.”
It is especially important to provide for Torah scholars and other righteous poor people who refrain from asking for help.
  • One should remember to light a 24 -hour candle so that one will have a fire with which to light the Yom Tov candles before thesecond night of Yom Tov.
  • In addition, those who recite Yizkor, should light a 48-hour candle so that it is burning during the second day of Shavuot. Alternatively, this can be lit before the second night of Yom Tov from a pre-existing flame.
  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that it is a good idea for young girls who are ready to start lighting Shabbat and Yom Tov candles to begin doing so on the Yom Tov of Shavuot. By doing so, the brachaof shehechiyanu can also be referring to the mitzvah of the candles. If one wishes to start before the Yom Tov, it is best for the girl to wear a new dress and say shehechiyanu while bearing in mind the mitzvah.
Torat Menachem, 5743, vol. 3:1536, Kaf HaChaim, 529:42, Sefer HaSichot, 5750, vol. 2:481, note 38
Shavuot, 6 and 7 Sivan, Thursday night, May 28– Motzei Shabbat, May – 30)
  • Shavuot is the (birthday and) Yahrtzeit of King David.
  • Shavuot is also the Yahrtzeit of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He passed away on Wednesday, the first day of Shavuot 5520 (1760), and is interred in Mezhibuzh.
For this reason, the Chabad Rebbes would tell stories of the Baal Shem Tov on Shavuot.
  • “Whoever ponders the attitude of Tosafot (Shabbat 89a D.H. Torah) regarding Shavuot, will understand that this festival is an auspicious time on high. On this day G-d confounds the “supernal accuser” of Israel (Satan), similar to His confounding the accuser during Shofar-sounding on Rosh Hashana and on the holy day of the Fast of Yom Kippur” (Hayom Yom  3rd of Sivan).
  • “Shavuot is an opportune time to achieve everything in improving Torah-study and avoda (service of G-d) marked by fear (awe) of G-d, and also to strive in teshuva (repentance) concerning Torah-study, without interference by the accusing Satan, again just like the time of Shofar-sounding on Rosh Hashana and the holy day of the Fast of Yom Kippur” ( Ibid, 4th of Sivan)
  • The Talmud says (Pesachim 68b) regarding the holiday of Shavuot, all opinions agree that one must celebrate with food and drink, and it isn’t sufficient to study and pray only. This is to show that we are delighted that we received the Torah (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494, 18).
  • It seems from the Talmud (See Bava Batra 147a) that the weather of the following year can be predicted based on the weather on Shavuot.
  • There was a custom to begin the formal education of Jewish boys (cheder) on Shavuot. There was usually an accompanying ceremony which involved eating cake and eggs that had verses of the Torah written on them (Maharam quoted in Mordechai Shabbat, 369).
  • There was also a custom to dedicate new Sifrei Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. (See Sha’arei Teshuvah, 494, 11)
 Sha’arei Teshuvah 494:7, Yalkut Shimoni 735, HaYom Yom, 7th of Sivan, Sefer HaSichot 5704, 140
First Night of Shavuot (Thursday night, May 28)
The blessings on the candles are: Lehadlik ner shel Yom Tov and She’hechiyanu.
The evening service begins with Shir Hama’alot (page 161 in the new Chabad Siddur) and includes the Holiday Amidah (page 331).
Even those who customarily accept Shabbat and Yom Tov early should refrain from doing so on Shavuot in order to have a complete 50 days of the counting of the Omer (Mishnah Berurah 494:1).
The holiday Kiddush is on page 329.
Grace after meals includes Ya’aleh Veyavoh (pg. 92) and the Harachaman recited on a Yom Tov (pg. 95).
Studying Torah the Entire Night
It is customary for men to remain awake and study Torah during the entire first night of Shavuot. As the Zohar, Parshat Emor, says “The early Chassidim would not sleep on this night. Rather they would study Torah.” This is to rectify the mistake of the Jews who overslept on the day of the receiving of the Torah (Magen Avraham 494:3), and to help us prepare to receive the Fiftieth Gate of Understanding on the day of Shavuot. (Zohar ibid)
  • Although the Jewish people have “corrected” this mistake many times over, we must do this every year since we should re-experience the giving of the Torah each year, and we should be prepared for this by studying rather than by sleeping. (Ta’amei HaMinhagim)
  • Despite this custom, if one’s wife’s Mikvah night is on the first night of Shavuot, one should not nullify that mitzvah.The Arizal said that whoever does not sleep at all on this night but rather studies Torah is assured to live out that year without any harm befalling him. (Quoted in the Mishnah Berurah, ibid.)
  • The Mitteler Rebbe (the second Rebbe of Chabad) said that one who remains awake all night on Shavuot (and studies Torah) is assured to merit the Keter Torah [the crown of Torah] (Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad, pg. 44).
  • The Arizal established a text to be studied on this night which includes sections of the Tanach, Mishnah, Zohar as well as the 613 Mitzvot.  The text is known as the “Tikkun Leil Shavuot” (Tikkun means rectification).   Even Torah scholars should recite the Tikkun (Chida in Lev David, 31).
  • If one cannot say the entire Tikkun, one should at least say the part that includes sections of the Tanach (Kaf HaChayim 494, 8).When saying the 613 mitzvot, one should intend to fulfill all of the mitzvot on the level of speech (ibid, 7).
  • One who did not complete the Tikkun at night should do so the next day (The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, quoted in Kovetz Lubavitch, vol. 3, 35).
  • Women do not need to say Tikkun. If a woman counted the Omer, some say it is proper for her to say the part of the Tikkun which includes the Tanach [the written Torah] ( Kaf HaChayim, ibid, 8).
  • Certainly, a woman who stays up and studies Torah will be blessed by Hashem.
  • Some are not particular to recite the Tikkun. Instead they study other parts of the Oral Torah (See Piskei Teshuvot 494, 3).
  • If the community is reciting the Tikkun, one should not separate himself and learn other things (Yalkut Yosef, Shavuot, ot 7) .
  • It is proper for men to go to the Mikvah before dawn in order to prepare themselves to receive the holy revelations of this day. One should immerse four times. (See Kaf HaChaim ibid, 7 and Sha’ar HaKavanot of the Arizal.)
  • According to the Arizal, one who stayed up the entire night may recite all of the morning blessings as usual despite the fact that he has not slept.[41] This is the Chabad custom.[42]One should go to the bathroom before washing the hands and reciting the blessing “al netilat Yadayim” and “Asher Yatzar.” (See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 46:7, and Siman 4 note 52, Siddur HaRav, Mishnah Berurah 494:1, and Likutei Sichot, 9, page 276.)
  • Some say that one should not say the blessings on the Torah oneself but should rather hear them being recited by someone else and respond “Amen”.  One who took a long nap on Erev Shavuot may certainly say these blessings in the morning. Alternatively, one may also have in mind when saying the blessing of Ahavat Olam (or Ahava Rabba) before the Shema of Shacharit that it should “count” as a blessing on the Torah. In this case, one should study some Torah immediately after the Amidah (Mishnah Berurah 47:28).
  • Some say that the blessing of “Elokai Neshama” and “Hama’avir Sheina” should similarly be heard from someone else (Ibid, 46:24).
  • If one wishes to continue studying Torah after dawn, one should first recite (or hear) the blessings of the Torah  (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 47:2)..
The First Day of Shavuot (Friday, 6 Sivan/ May 29)
If one stayed up the entire night and is afraid that he may be unable to concentrate on his prayers, it is better that he nap for a few hours before praying (Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag, 1 pg. 110).
In this case, one should recite the morning Shema before going to sleep.
  • Many communities recite Akdamot at the beginning of the Torah reading of this day. This is a beautiful poem in Aramaic about the giving of the Torah. There is a disagreement as to whether it should be read before the blessing over the first Aliyah or after reading the first verse of that Aliyah. The preferred custom is to say it before the blessing on the Torah (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494:7).
  • Although Akdamot are printed in the Chabad Siddur, it is not the Chabad custom to recite them (Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag 2, pg. 168). It is said that the Rebbe would recite them privately.
The Ten Commandments
The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged every Jewish man and woman to be present for the reading of the Ten Commandments. Parents should bring their children. Even babies (above the age of 30 days) should be brought (health permitting). (Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag 2, pg. 168, Likutei Sichot, 23:251 and 256. See  Likutei Sichot, ibid, pg. 251 that those who want may bring babies even younger than 30 days old.
  • This is based on the Midrash (Pesikta of Rav Kahane Chapter Bachodesh HaShlishi) which says that when we read the Ten Commandments on Shavuot, it is as if we are receiving the Ten Commandments again directly from   G-d.
  • See Ta’amei HaMinhagim, page 279 that all the souls of the Jewish people who would ever be born also stood at Mount Sinai. Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk would say that he remembers not only the event of the giving of the Torah but also remembers who stood next to him. See also ibid, page 280, in the name of the Arizal that on each Yom Tov the event of that Yom Tov reoccurs for all the Jewish people living at that time.
  • It is customary in many communities to stand during the reading of the Ten Commandments while facing the Sefer Torah (Sefer HaMinhagim, Chabad). The Sefardic custom is to remain seated (Kaf HaChayim, 494:30 See also Teshuvot HaRambam 46).
  • The Commentaries discuss (Ta’amei HaMinhagim, page 280) why the Ten Commandments were said in the singular form – “You (singular) shalt not kill etc. Rav David Deitch explained that the reason is to teach us that one should not say “What does G-d care if I do not serve Him? He has so many angels and tzadikkim (righteous people) who serve Him. Why is my service important?” G-d therefore said to each person, “I am the L-rd, your G-d (in the singular)” as if to say “You should imagine that you are My only subject, and there is no one to serve Me but you.”
The Haftorah
The Haftorah of this day is referred to as “The Chariot of Yechezkel.” Due to the holiness of this haftorah, it is customary that a great person who is a Torah scholar read it. According to some customs, if a congregant reads the haftorah along with the Ba’al Maftir, he should stand up while doing so (Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid, 6).
In Israel, where there is only one day of Yom Tov, Yizkor is recited on this day.  The same is true of Megillat Rut for those who customarily read it.
  • As on every day of Yom Tov (and every day in Sefardic and most shuls in Israel), the Kohanim bless the people during Chazzan’s repetition of the Musaf of Shavuot.
Eating Dairy Foods
It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. There are many reasons given for this. (See ibid, 16.)
Among them:
1) After the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people did not have kosher utensilsor kosher meat, so instead of taking the time to slaughter and salt the meat etc., they ate a dairy meal ( Mishnah Berurah, 494:12).
2) A variation of the same explanation is that since the Torah was given on Shabbat, they were not allowed to slaughter the animals and otherwise prepare them for eating (Ta’amei HaMinhagim in the name of Ge’ulat Yisrael).
3) The two breads that one has with the two meals (the original custom was to eat dairy and meat meals, both of which includedbread, see below) is reminiscent of the two loaves that were part of the Shavuot sacrifice (Rama, 494:3).
4) Milk represents purity. Milk is produced by the body from blood, and blood is associated with the impurity of Niddah (the blood of the menstrual cycle). Thus, consuming dairy represents the Jewish people being purified from the tuma (impurities) of Egypt (see Zohar Parshat Emor, 97b).
5) The whiteness of milk represents G-d’s pure loving kindness. The Torah was given to us out of G-d’s boundless kindness (Benei Yissachar, Chodesh Sivan 4:5).
6) One of the six names of Mount Sinai is Gavnunim (see Bamidbar Rabbah, 1:8 and Tehillim, 68:16) which is similar to the word gevinah – cheese. (Tamei HaMinhagim, page 281 in the name of Rav Shimshon of Ostrapolyah). See also there, page 279 that the name Sinai alludes to the sneh (thorn bush) in which G-d first revealed Himself to Moshe. This occurred on Mount Sinai. Indeed, there is a tradition that the stones from Mount Sinai have the image of a thorn bush inside of them. No matter how many times they are broken, this image appears.
7) Since milk comes from a living animal, it was actually not kosher until the giving of the Torah as it was considered eiver min hachai (part of a living animal). Since the laws of eiver min hachai are part of the Noahide code, the Jewish people were not allowed to consume milk at that time. It was permitted by the Torah which praises the land of Israel as the land of milk and honey. We commemorate this by eating dairy on this day. (See Bechorot, 6a based on Exodus, 3:8 and many other verses and Ta’amei HaMinhagim, in the name of Rav Nachum Ahron Roke’ach.)
Meat Meal
In addition to the dairy meal, one should eat a meat meal on Shavuot day as one should doon every Yom Tov (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 529:4).
The best way to accomplish both of these concepts is to first eat a dairy meal (or kiddush), recite the grace after meals, wait a half hour or an hour and then have a meat meal (Rama 494:3 Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid See Y.D. Siman 88 and 89 with the commentaries).
The main halacha is that one need not recite the grace after meals between eating dairy and meat. It is preferable, however, to do so (see Pri Megadim, Siftei Da’at, Y.D. 89:16. See also, Zohar P. Mishpatim, 125a, quoted in Shach 15 on Y.D. ibid).
  • Chabad custom, based on the Zohar, Parshat Mishpatim, is to wait an hour between milk and meat. Many Ashkenazim wait only one half-hour. See Piskei Teshuvot, 494, note 68 who gives a source for this custom. The Sefardic custom is simply to eat and drink something in between without (necessarily) waiting any time at all.
  • The tablecloths should be changed between the two meals, and a new loaf of bread (if one is washing for both meals) should be served. (See Rama 494:3 that it is proper to have bread at the meat meal as well.)
  • Some do not wash for the dairy meal but rather eat it as a “Kiddush,” and then wash for the second meal. They should recite the bracha acharonah (concluding blessing) before beginning the meat meal (Darkei Teshuvah, 89:19 and Shach, Y.D. 89:6).
  • It is customary for Ashkenazim to wait six hours after eating hard, aged cheese before consuming meat (See Y.D. 89:2 in the Rama). This includes Parmesan and Swiss cheese. See here for a comprehensinve list of six hour cheeses.
  • In some communities it is customary to eat a dairy meal on the night of Shavuot and a meat meal on the day of Shavuot (see See Piskei Teshuvot 494:11)
  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged his Chassidim to visit other congregations on the second night of Shavuot, and, if possible, share Torah insights. This is referred to as Tahalucha (a march). See Likutei Sichot, 8:252 that this is especially relevant to Shavuot when G-d (so to speak) “traveled” to the world to give us the Torah.
  • All cooking should be done early on Friday so that the food is edible before Shabbat begins. This is in accordance with the laws of Eiruv Tavshillin.
Second Night of Yom Tov (Friday night, May 29)
The candles should be lit from a pre-existing flame.
When lighting, one should be careful not to wave out the match, but rather to put it down and allow it go out by itself.
The candles must be lit on time as once Shabbat begins it is forbidden to light.
Those who say Yizkor should light a 24-hour candle at this time (from a pre-existing flame).
The Bracha of She’hechiyanu is recited at candle-lighting by the women or at Kiddush by the man who recites the Kiddush.
Shabbat Day and the Second Day of Yom Tov (May 30)
In many communities the Book of Ruth is read publicly without a beracha (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid, 13 and 470, 17) on the second day of Shavuot before the Torah reading.
Chabad custom is not to read it publicly. It is read privately as part of the Tikkun. Sefardim and various Polish Chassidim also do not read Megillat Rut publicly (Otzar Minhagei Chabad, Sivan, page 305 and 306).
Many reasons have been given for the reading of this book on Shavuot. (See Sha’arei Teshuvah ibid, 7, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 494:13 and Ta’amei HaMinhagim). Several of them:
  • Since King David was born and passed away on Shavuot (see above), we read the book about his lineage.
  • The Book of Ruth teaches us that the Torah is only acquired through suffering (i.e., voluntary relinquishing of earthly pleasures as personified by Ruth).
  • Shavuot is a harvest festival , and so the Book of Ruth describes the harvest and how the poor were treated in the harvest season with sympathy and love.
  • Ruth is the gematriyah of 606, which is the number of mitzvot we accepted when we received the Torah. (We were already commanded to observe the seven Noahide laws.)
  • The Jewish people converted and became halachically Jewish at the time of the Sinai revelation. Since Ruth was a paradigm of a righteous convert it is appropriate to read her story on this holiday.
Those that follow the custom of the Vilna Gaon read this from a scroll and say a blessing before doing so (Mishnah Berurah, 490:18).
See Piskei Teshuvot 490, note 23 that the Vilna Gaon would also recite shehechiyanubefore reading Megillat Rut.
Ashkenazim recite Yizkor on this day. One who is davening without a minyan may recite Yizkor as well.
It is customary that those who are in mourning for the loss of a parent do not recite Yizkor during the mourning period (12 months). The Chabad custom is that they remain in Shul during Yizkor but do not recite it (Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad).
The custom of Yizkor is to give tzedaka (after Yomtov) in memory of the departed.
According to Chabad custom, Av HaRachamim should be recited even by those who do not say Yizkor (the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe).At the close of every Yom Tov, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would lead a farbrengen (inspirational Chassidic gathering) that included singing the songs associated with (or composed by) the Ba’al Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch and all of the Chabad Rebbes. This would serve as a bridge between the holiness of the Yom Tov, and the mundane time of the rest of the year.
Motzei Shabbat and Shavuot (May 30)
The Havdalah of this night  includes a candle or smelling spices as on every Motzei Shabbat.
Isru Chag (Sunday, May 31)
One should eat an additional dish of food on this day in order to celebrate it as a mini-holiday (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 429:17).
Days of Tashlumin, Sunday, 8 Sivan/May 31– Thursday, 12 Sivan/June 4
The five days that follow the holiday of Shavuot (or six in Israel) are known as yemeitashlumin (days of compensation) as in the Temple era one could bring the holiday sacrifices on these days.
Many communities do not recite Tachnun (supplicatory prayers that follow the morning and afternoon Amidah on most weekdays) during the first 12 days of Sivan (See Mishnah Berurah, 131:36). This is also the Chabad custom ( Siddur HaRav).
Some resume Tachnun on 9 Sivan/June 1 (See Rama, 49: 3), while others do not resume until 14 Sivan (Shabbat, June 6). (In fact, no tachanun is ever said on Shabbat but certain prayers are omitted when Shabbat occurs on days that would otherwise have no tachanun).
One may not fast or deliver eulogies on these days. (See sources cited in Piskei Teshuvot, 494, note 51. See there regarding the fast of a Chattan and Kallah).
Wishing you a Chag Same’ach and a Shabbat Shalom.
May we all receive the Torah with inward joy!

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