Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, occurs this year on Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30. It is the second of the three major Jewish festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).

The period from Passover to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation. Each day is counted from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed the Jews from physical bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed them spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality.

The book of Ruth is read during this holiday. There are varying reasons for this custom and none seem to be definitive - but it is a deep-seated custom followed by Jews all over the world.

There is a custom among some Jewish communities to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning. This custom may have been started during mystical times in the middle ages and has seen a resurgence in recent years.

It is also customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot. There are varying opinions as to why this is done but some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with "milk and honey."

Adapted by Amy Ripps from www.jewishvirtuallibrary.com