Thoughts for the Week

Thursday, May 25


We are about to begin the festival of Shavuot where MJC will join with four other communities for a night of praying, learning, and eating copious amounts of dairy.

The first time dairy is connected to Shavuot is as early as the 1500 found in Sefer HaMinhagim (the book of customs), there Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau mentions the tradition, which must have already been a practice, but does not explain it. The custom is often connected to the idea that Israel is a land flowing with milk and honey, however, honey does not make a comeback from Rosh Hashanah for Shavuot.

In his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Moses Isserles connects the consumption of dairy on shavuot with the double bread offering (Shtei Halechem) given at the Temple on Shavuot. The initials of the four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26 which explain the sacrificial meal offering spell, mi halav (from milk) מִנְחָ֤ה חֲדָשָׁה לַֽיהֹוָה בְּשָׁבֻעֹ֖תֵיכֶ֑ם.

Still not satisfied with the explanation? Clearly our sages were not either, as there are more. On shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, in the Song of Songs, the great love poem between God and Israel,  the Torah is likened to milk:  “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon” (4:11). Once again however, this offers an understanding of why we eat milk but not the absence of honey.

Another understanding is that as the Israelites were receiving Torah they were like innocent newborns who only eat milk. The explanations go on, including a kabbalistic understanding, using gematria, where it is sited that the numerical value of the word chalav (milk) adds up to 40 – the number of days that Moses spent up mount sinai receiving Torah.

Finally, the most common answer given is that when the Israelites received Torah at Mount sinai, they became beholden to its laws, including those on Kashrut and ritual slaughter. There was no time to kasher their meat for the meat meal so a dairy meal was had.

No matter which of these explanations proves satisfactory to you, I hope you enjoy your delicious cheesecakes, cheeseboards, blintzes and other delicious dairy delights along with us as we come together to celebrate Shavuot. 

Rabbi Anna

May 25, 2023