Shavuot is a festival that typically marks when the Jews received the Torah and Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Apart from this and the custom of eating cheesecake, that was about the extent to the knowledge I had of this chag.
As a cultural Jew, at first glance, a festival in which one of the main customs is to stay up the whole night before studying the Torah wouldn’t seem the most exciting or relatable to me. Although I have many issues with the Torah, pertaining to its misogynistic and homophobic content, it occurred to me that without it we wouldn’t have the traditions or culture that I have grown up with and enjoy so much. In this way, I want to look at Shavuot as a time to remember the importance of continuing to embrace our customs in order to keep Judaism relevant and alive.
For example, our Friday Night Dinner traditions and family values all originate from the Torah. Gathering as a family on a Friday night, making kiddush, lighting the candles, sharing our stories from the past week and eating great food is one of the highlights of my week. The thing I love about cultural Judaism is that we have license to practice however we please in whatever way is comfortable and meaningful to us; but it remains important to acknowledge and respect the origins behind our practices – The Torah. Each family has their own unique quirks and traditions which makes every Friday Night Dinner in each household slightly different, but they all can be boiled down to the original guidelines from the Torah.
This was something that truly dawned on me during the cultural Friday Night service when I was leading Habo camp in South Africa in December during Shnat. The songs were all familiar, although many had interesting alternative tunes and other refreshing twists. Nevertheless, it showed me how all over the world Jews have been putting their own mark on traditions first born thousands of years before.
It is empowering to know that we can shape how our religion looks, which is why, on Shavuot, I think it is a better time than any to reflect on what direction we want to take our Judaism, which all stems from the Torah. After 2 gruelling months of lockdown, and no doubt a fair share of family arguments, sitting down together and spending time enjoying our traditions may seem far off the top of our wish lists, but it is so important to remember that the Jewish way of life will remain long after we are gone, so we should all try to take the opportunity to make our own authentic mark on our tradition and culture, because whilst it is true that most of Judaism does originate from the Torah, there is so much more to our way of life than just that.
– Adam Tuck, Shnattie