Every year in May or June, the 14th Street Y celebrates a Tikkun: a mesmerizing deep dive into Jewish and Israeli culture, our way of celebrating the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
But what do we really know about the Hebrew holiday that seals the spring and ignites imagination? As The Israeli Emissary of the 14Y, I’ve decided to answer three FAQs I’ve received from members, hoping to shed some light on Shavuot, especially when social distancing is still in place.
Where did Shavuot come from?
Shavuot is the last holiday of the three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, cherishing the acceptance of the Torah among the Israelites in Mount Sinai.
During the times of the first and second temple in Jerusalem, ancient Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Sukkot (around September/October), Passover (March/April) and Shavuot (May/June). The varying months are due to the lunar Hebrew calendar.
Following the destruction of the temple, the Jews faced a critical challenge: how can they make a pilgrimage without a temple in place? The rabbis who lead the community in crisis came up with a solution that ignites creativity: turn the eve of Shavuot into a sleepless night of constant torah studying.
This night has since been called “Tikkun”, the same night we will celebrate this Thursday, May 28.
Another popular tradition is eating dairy-based foods, primarily cheesecakes. In the biblical book “Song of Songs”, milk is a metaphor for grace and mercy. On a more practical note, focusing solely on dairy ensures the dishes are kosher safe.
Furthermore, Jews around the world read the book of Ruth on Shavuot eve. This book is a story about a Moabite woman whose life circumstances lead her to join the Jewish people and fall in love with an Israelite, resulting in lineage of King David. By telling this story, Shavuot spreads the universal appeal of Judaism to the nations of the world.
Where did the word “Tikkun” come from?
In ancient as well as modern Hebrew, many words have multiple meanings. The literal translation of “Tikkun” is to fix or repair, yet in the Shavuot context Tikkun comes from the word “Takana”, which means law. If you have attended the 14th Street Y Tikkun before, that might sound odd. Yet in the times when the Tikkun was first practiced, studying the Torah was all about rewriting the law.
At the time, most Jewish communities were living according to the manual of the Mishna and the Talmud, sacred books of laws aiming to adjust the Torah to an ever-changing cultural and societal context.
In a way, the Mishna and the Talmud are the traditional Jewish “constitution”, and studying them through the night validates the evergreen nature of that law codex.
How’s the Tikkun relevant to our modern lives?
Much like the Jews in the time of the temple’s destruction, we too have been kicked out from physical realms into a virtual void. Just like a temple-centric religion was capable of transforming itself into a Torah-centric culture, we too will make this Tikkun content-oriented and accessible to all our community, wherever in the world they may be.
Our sessions will emphasize the literal interpretation of “Tikkun”: repairing your soul in such confusing times.
We invite you to join us for a night of studying yourselves through arts, theater, texts and thoughtful discussions, and marking a genuinely universal Jewish experience.