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A rare coincidence – Shavuot

Did you know that Shavuot is the only biblical festival that does not have a specific date prescribed in the Torah? Instead, the Torah merely instructs that Shavuot must fall on the fiftieth day “after Shabbat”.

But which Shabbat?

There are two different schools of thought. One holds that that this refers to the first Shabbat of Pesach, while another holds that it refers to the first day of Pesach itself (which is like a Shabbat, as it is a day of rest).

Those in the first group mark Shavuot on a different calendar date every year, but always on a Sunday, since a Sunday will always be the fiftieth day after a Shabbat. Those in the second group celebrate the festival on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, since this is always the fiftieth day after the first day of Pesach.

Whilst once an irresolvable calendrical dilemma that divided pilgrims’ celebrations, Jewish law now designates that Shavuot falls on the 6th of Sivan. Sivan is a spring month in the Hebrew lunar calendar, which tends to coincide with the Gregorian months of May or June.

This year, we find ourselves at a rare juncture. Since the first day of Pesach fell on a Shabbat, the 6th of Sivan also falls on a Sunday. Although it is not a major concern for Jews these days, this rare event might symbolise the uniting of different customs in the celebration of one of the most important Jewish festivals.