This is an article that appeared on May 23, 1963 in the Chicago Jewish newspaper, The Chicago Sentinel. It was written by an Orthodox rabbi called Samuel J. Fox and was printed in the column, “Jewish Quiz Box.” The first question in the article asks about the custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot – studying Torah all night at Shavuot. Rabbi Fox gives several possible reasons for the custom: it is seen as a correction (tikkun) for the Israelites at Mount Sinai who, according to tradition, overslept on the morning that they were supposed to receive the Torah, and it is seen as a way of preparing (tikkun) to receive the Torah. The second question asks about the custom of visiting King David’s tomb on Shavuot. Rabbi Fox answers that, according to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. King David was a descendant of Ruth, and this, he explains, is also one of the reasons why it is traditional to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.
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Shavuot - Shavuot, also known as the Festival of Weeks – is celebrated on the sixth of Sivan. Shavuot, one of the three biblical pilgrim festivals, commemorates many different things: it marks the day that the Israelites received the Torah on Mount Sinai; it celebrates the wheat harvest in Israel; and it signifies the end of the Counting of the Omer. It is celebrated with many colourful and festive traditions such as holding bikkurim ceremonies, eating dairy food, decorating the synagogue with flowers and greenery, reading the Book of Ruth, and studying the Torah all through the night (Tikkun Leil Shavuot). In modern Israel, kibbutzim celebrate Shavuot and the bikkurim with processions displaying their produce of the previous year, including fruit and vegetables, farm animals, and even the new babies!
Tikkun Leil Shavuot – Tikkun Leil Shavuot is the custom of staying up all night and learning Torah, or other Jewish texts, on the night of Shavuot. This custom originates in the mystic writings of the Zohar from the thirteenth century. There are many reasons given for this custom. One reason is to commemorate the spiritual preparation of the Israelites the night before they received the Torah (the night before Shavuot). Another compares the receiving of the Torah to a wedding between God and the Jewish people, and just like a bride on the night before her wedding, the Jewish people stay awake all night in preparation. According to one Midrash, the Israelites overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah and were woken up by a blast of the shofar. Staying up all night to study is therefore seen as a correction (in Hebrew, tikkun) of that mistake and a way of showing one’s eagerness. In the past it was customary to study a set order of texts including sections from the Zohar, Bible, Mishnah, and other holy sources. These days the custom has become very popular, and study sessions and lectures on a large variety of Jewish topics are offered in synagogue and community centres catering for both religious and secular audiences.
The Book of Ruth – The book of Ruth is one of the Five Megilot that is including in the Writings (Ketuvim) section of the Bible. The story that is told is set in the area of Bethlehem at the time of the Judges. The book tells of Ruth's acceptance of the Jewish faith and her arrival in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi. Once a rich woman, Naomi has returned penniless to her hometown and Ruth helps her survive by collecting reminders of the barley and wheat harvest. It is then that Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi and the owner of the field, notices Ruth and understands the kindness that Ruth is doing for Naomi. The end of the book tells of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. They have a son who is the grandfather of King David. The Book of Ruth is traditionally read on the festival of Shavuot. One of the reasons for this is that the events of the book centre on the harvesting season and Shavuot is the grain harvest festival. Another reason is the focus of the book on the acceptance of the Torah by Ruth. Finally, a tradition that David, Ruth's great grandson died on Shavuot, might also be the reason why the book is read on this festival.
The Chicago Sentinel - The Chicago Sentinel, a weekly newspaper for the Chicago Jewish community, was one of the longest continuously published Jewish weeklies in the United States. The first issue of the Sentinel was published on February 4, 1911. The newspaper focused on cultural events and included many eye-catching illustrations and photographs. It also published short stories and reports about events in the various Jewish communities. The Sentinel differed from many other English-language, often highbrow, Jewish weeklies, because it reached out to the Zionist immigrants who preferred to read in English and not Yiddish. The Sentinel is a treasure trove for social, cultural, and religious historians who are interested in American Jewish life outside of New York during the twentieth century.