One of the most popular customs on Shavuot is to eat dairy foods such as cheesecake, cheese, blintzes and ice cream. If you have ever wondered where this tradition comes from, here are a few possible explanations:
- Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. Included in the Torah are the laws of kashrut (kosher dietary laws), which tell Jews what can and cannot be eaten and in which combination. For instance, dairy and meat cannot be mixed in the same meal and animals must be killed in a certain way in order to be considered kosher. Before the Torah was given the concept of kashrut did not exist. Hence, one explanation for the eating of dairy on Shavuot is that when the Jews received the Torah they did not have the tools they would need to prepare kosher meat. As a result their first meal after receiving the Torah was a dairy meal. (Mishnah Berurah 494:12; Talmud - Bechorot 6b.)
- Another possible explanation has to do with Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs). Verse 4:11 says "milk and honey are under your tongue" and some have said that the Torah is like the milk in this verse. Like milk, the Torah sustains us. Hence, a dairy meal on Shavuot celebrates the nourishing quality of the Torah.
- The Revelation at Sinai (when the Torah was given to the Jews) occurs directly after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. This journey is described as one "from the misery of Egypt to a country flowing with milk and honey..." (Exodus 3:8-17). Thus, eating dairy on Shavuot commemorates the sweetness of freedom and the new life that lay before the Jewish people.