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Who Replaced My Cheese with Torah Study?

In honor of the Shavuot holiday, IsraelNN will not be updating the news site until Saturday night at 8:30.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/28/2009, 1:25 PM

Tens of thousands are expected to visit the Western Wall for Friday morning dawn prayers (see below), in honor of the holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. Many of them will have spent the night engrossed in Torah study.

The holiday of Shavuot has undergone a transition in Israel over recent decades. For a long while, it was widely commemorated by the secular public as an agricultural holiday of First Fruits, in accordance with the Biblical command to bring the first harvested produce to Jerusalem. In later years, the custom of eating dairy products on Shavuot was emphasized, with dairy recipes prominently featured on TV, radio and newspapers, as well as various statistics and features relating to cheese milk and other dairy products.
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In honor of Shavuot, Israel National News opens a new Torah blog: Short Torah Ideas for Short Attention Spans.
Shavuot-related Articles, Video, and Audio:
Video: Rennovating the Tombs of Yishai and Ruth
Video Special on Jewish Holiday of Shavuot (2008)
Shavuot - Sleepless Night
Shavuot: Rising Above the Senses
Shavuot: Ways of Remembering
Shavuot: A Bailout Package
Shavuot: Making a Choice
Shavuot: Is it Worth Losing Sleep Over?
Shavuot: Full Count: A Late Night Pitch
Shavuot: What's Shavuot?
A Jerusalem Shavuot
The Wilderness and Shavuot
Audio: Shavuot - It's More than Cheesecake
Audio: Shavuot and the Cheeseburger
Audio for Kids: Shavuot
Audio: Accepting the Torah, Accepting Yourself
Spanish: Fiesta de Shavuot y 11 Encuentro de Dirigentes en Cartagena

In the past two or three years, however, another feature of Shavuot – traditionally, the most important one – has begun to take center stage once again: Torah study, in honor of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Jewish People on this day 3,321 years ago.

As early as two years ago, an article by on the “Panim” Jewish Renaissance group – an umbrella organization for all Jewish organizations working to enhance Jewish identity in the spirit of pluralism – stated, “The traditional study of Torah throughout Shavuot night until dawn has become so popular that it looks like cheese will no longer be the only secular symbol of the holiday.”

All-night Torah study on Shavuot, a custom that has long been restricted to synagogues and yeshivas, has now spread to community centers and other public places in towns throughout Israel – and not only in the religious sector.

At the Cinematek in Sderot, for instance, rabbis will lead discussion groups on topics such as “The Book of Ruth: Our Relation to the Foreigner,” prayer for secular Jews, the Ten Commandments, and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

Shavuot study events will be held in the secular kibbutzim Ein Dor and Yifat; they will hold discussions on the Book of Ruth, which is read aloud as part of the Shavuot prayer service. A Shavuot event will be held in Kibbutz Nahalal as well, but it will focus on the poems of modern cultural icon Natan Alterman.

Study groups will also be held all night in the spirit of progressive Judaism in Beit Daniel and Mishkenot Ruth in Jaffa.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons, writing for the Aish.com Judaism site, explains the centrality of Torah study: “Our history proves that whenever Torah study is neglected, assimilation begins to creep into our midst. Every Jewish community, without exception, that did not place the study and teaching of Torah at the top of its priorities, was erased from the stage of history. And beyond the logical and rational reasons, Torah is that mysterious bridge connecting between the Jew and his G-d; via the Torah, the covenant between G-d and His Nation, in which G-d safeguards and protects us, is implemented.”

Click here to read Rabbi David Samson's explanation of the importance and value of studying Torah on Shavuot night.

Walking to the Wall
The custom of walking to the Western Wall on Shavuot morning apparently began 42 years ago, when exactly a week before the holiday, the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated during the Six Day War. Shavuot was the first day that the general public was allowed to visit the Western Wall, and thousands of people streamed joyously to the site for the occasion.

Shavuot-related Articles, Video, and Audio:
Video: Rennovating the Tombs of Yishai and Ruth
Video Special on Jewish Holiday of Shavuot (2008)
Shavuot - Sleepless Night
Shavuot: Rising Above the Senses
Shavuot: Ways of Remembering
Shavuot: A Bailout Package
Shavuot: Making a Choice
Shavuot: Is it Worth Losing Sleep Over?
Shavuot: Full Count: A Late Night Pitch
Shavuot: What's Shavuot?
A Jerusalem Shavuot
The Wilderness and Shavuot
Audio: Shavuot - It's More than Cheesecake
Audio: Shavuot and the Cheeseburger
Audio for Kids: Shavuot
Audio: Accepting the Torah, Accepting Yourself
Spanish: Fiesta de Shavuot y 11 Encuentro de Dirigentes en Cartagena