Shavuot: The Gifts of Torah + the Gifts of Terri’s Kitchen

June 10, 2024

Shavuot: The Gifts of Torah + the Gifts of Terri’s Kitchen

Shavuot is colloquially known as the “dairy holiday,” during which those celebrating commemorate the harvest and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai by feasting on dairy dishes.

There are varying ideas as to why dairy and sweets are so encouraged, but it comes down to a couple theories that our Community Chaplain Rabbi Judith Beiner will explain below. In JF&CS CEO Terri Bonoff’s house, Shavuot is celebrated by whipping up a batch of Aunt Rinah’s Bread Pudding, a sweet dish that helps savor the special holiday with every bite. Read on for more details about the holiday, plus Terri’s family recipe!


By Rabbi Judith Beiner, JF&CS Community Chaplain

The upcoming festival of Shavuot is one of the three Pilgrimage festivals noted in the Bible. As with Passover and Sukkot, on Shavuot the Israelites brought crops as offerings to the Temple. Shavuot commemorates the end of the late spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. In the first century, the rabbis augmented the celebration of Shavuot to include the seminal event of revelation, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. On Shavuot, we are encouraged to embrace the vast body of Jewish teachings (including the Torah) and to be inspired to study and live in accordance with the wisdom of our tradition.

The rituals and celebrations of the Shavuot give homage to both the biblical and rabbinic concepts of the holiday. We celebrate the anniversary of the giving of the Torah by studying all night, a practice known as a Tikkun Leil Shavuot. At these all-night (or late night) study sessions we learn from both ancient texts and modern teachings.

During one of the daytime worship services, we read the book of Ruth, in which the central character takes an oath of conversion, casting her fate together with that of the Israelites. Ruth’s acceptance of the Jewish faith mirrors that of the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah, then and now.

As with most Jewish holidays, there are signature foods. It is customary to eat dairy dishes, with blintzes, ice cream and cheesecake among the most popular. One explanation as to why we eat dairy foods is found in the biblical verses: “Honey and milk shall be under your tongue” (Song of Songs) and “A land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy). Milk is often seen as a metaphor for Torah, sustenance upon which life depends.

The word torah comes from the Hebrew word to direct or to teach. It refers specifically to the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Torah is also used to describe the body of Jewish texts and teachings in a more general sense. Lifelong study (aka learning Torah) is among the commitments we make as Jews. In our daily prayers, we read a text from Deuteronomy, “you shall teach them to your children.” Learning and teaching allows for continuity as our history, values and practices are passed on from one generation to the next.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gifts of Torah, and how it’s texts can infuse our lives with value and meaning.

(Shavuot is a two-day celebration, beginning at sundown on Tuesday June 11.)

Well-loved recipes come with coffee stains
Well-loved recipes come with coffee stains

The delectable family bread pudding, straight from the oven!

Aunt Rinah's Bread Pudding

courtesy of Terri Bonoff, JF&CS CEO

2 cups dry fresh bread crumbs- slightly stale and torn up

4 cups whole milk, scalded

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon butter

3/4 cup sugar

4 slightly beaten eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups raisins

1/2 teaspoon bourbon

Soak bread in the scalded milk for five minutes. Add butter, salt, sugar (make sure sugar is not granulated)

Pour slowly over eggs. Add vanilla and bourbon, mix well

Pour into a 9x13 greased baking dish, then add raisins

Put baking dish in pan of boiling water

Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes

Family pictures from the beloved family cookbook
Family pictures from the beloved family cookbook