Shavuot (Feast of Weeks)
5 Articles on Shavuot
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
- The Significance of Shavuot
- Why Does Shavuot Always Fall on a Sunday?
- The Morrow After the Sabbath
- Shavuot: 9 Classical Karaite Proofs
- Facts about the Feast of Weeks
1- The Significance of Shavuot
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
The faith of Israel is not a religion in the accepted sense of the word. A religion is a certain ritual centered around a house of worship in which believers pray at regular intervals. Not so the People of Israel, for we are Israelites when we lie down and when we get up. Our Torah is a tree of life, which infuses itself into every part of our lives. We are not just Jews on one or two days of the week. Our whole lives and the length of our days, our history as well as our future, are all tied to our faith with eternal bonds.
Shavuoth is the Feast of Firstfruits1 on which our ancestors used to make the pilgrimage to appear before YHWH, to thank and to praise His great name for having blessed the first fruits of our land. And on this same day we observe a remembrance of the giving of our perfect and holy Torah,2 which is the source of both spiritual and material prosperity. This holiday comes to teach us that blessing and abundance are dependent on our keeping the Torah of YHWH. We must learn this lesson if we wish to see the good destiny stored up for those who do His will (blessed be He). Both agriculture and commerce, study and entertainment, work as well as rest, are all under his providence. Therefore, let it be the will of our God that we are privileged this year to keep His Torah, to enjoy His blessing, and to rejoice on his Feast together with his entire nation, Israel, Amen.
Note 1: Shavuot is called Yom HaBikurim (The Day of Firstfruits) in Num 28, 26. See also Ex 23,16 and Ex 34,22 [NG]. Back
Note 2: The connection between Shavuot and the giving of the Torah does not appear in the Tanach. This erroneous belief is based on Exodus 19,1.11 which indicates that the Revelation at Sinai took place towards the beginning of the Third Month, which is also the time when Shavuot falls out. Interestingly, the exact day of the month, on which the Revelation at Sinai took place, is not given nor is an exact date for Shavuot. Hacham Alfandari himself rejected the association of Shavuot and the Revelation at Sinai, as he explains in his article “The Feast of Shavuot: Facts” [NG]. Back
This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Karaite Journal Ha’Or, Year 1 Volume 3 (Sivan) [May-June 1956] p.2 under the title “Shavuot – Hag HaBikurim – Matan Torah” [“Weeks – Feast of Firstfruits – The Giving of the Torah”]. Translated from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon (May 2000).
2- Why Does the Feast of Shavuot [Weeks]
Always Fall Out on a Sunday?
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
Because the Torah commanded us to start the counting of the Omer “on the morrow after the Sabbath” and there is no “Sabbath” other than the Sabbath of Genesis [i.e. the 7th Day of the week]. Additionally, the Torah mentioned “Seven complete Sabbaths” and what Sabbath occurs seven times during seven weeks other than [the actual] Sabbath, the Seventh Day? The Rabbanites say that the morrow after the Sabbath is the morrow after the First Yom Tov [Holy Day on which work is forbidden] of Pessach, but they have no proof whatsoever from the Torah that a Yom Tov can be called “Sabbath”.1
Note 1: Indeed, it is permissible to cook and have fire on a Yom Tov, both of which are strictly forbidden on a Sabbath! [NG] Back
This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Karaite Journal Ha’Or, Year 1 Volume 5 (Av) [July-August 1956] p.2 as part of the article “Lamah?” [4 Common Questions About Karaism]. Translated from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon (May 2000).
3- The Morrow After the Sabbath and the Feast of Shavuot [Pentecost]
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
The Scripture says: “And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [Sheaf] of Waving; they will be seven complete Sabbaths. Until the morrow after the seventh Sabbath you will count fifty days and bring the offering of new grain to Hashem.” Leviticus 23,15-16
What is the meaning of the word “Sabbath” in these verses? The Sages of the Talmud [=Rabbanites] distinguished between the word “Sabbath” which appears at the beginning of the verse and between the “Seven Sabbaths” at the end of the very same verse. They argued that the first Sabbath mentioned is none other than the 15th of Nissan,1 the first Holy Day of Hag HaMatzot [Feast of Unleavened Bread], and that the word “Sabbath” means Holy Day [on which work is forbidden]. Indeed, in their view, the meaning of “Seven Sabbaths” is Seven Weeks and the word “Sabbath” in this context means Seven Days! According to this theory, “the morrow of the Seventh Sabbath” in the second verse means the morrow of the 7th week counted from the 16th of Nissan, and therefore Shavuot does not fall on a fixed day of the week.
In contrast, the Sages of Truth [=Karaites] argued that it is impossible to take a given word which appears twice in a single verse and interpret it in two different opposing manners without the Torah indicating this itself in a clear incontrovertible way. They further said that there is no “Sabbath” except the Sabbathitself, the Seventh Day of the week. The Torah never called any other day by the name “Sabbath”.2 The Holy Day, on which it is permissible to cook and kindle a fire, is certainly not a Sabbath, and since when is a week called a Sabbath!? Therefore the Sages of the Scripture [=Karaites] maintained that “the morrow after the Sabbath” is unquestionably on a Sunday! “Seven Sabbaths” is seven weekends,3 actual Sabbaths, seventh-days, which Hashem blessed and sanctified. Thus, the morrow after the Seventh Sabbath is also a Sunday, the seventh from the beginning of the counting [of the Omer].
Of course, the question arises on the morrow of which Sabbath did the Kohen [Priest] wave the Omer [Sheaf] of Waving before Hashem? When do we begin counting the Seven Sabbaths? The answer appears in verse 10 of the same chapter [Lev 23]! The Torah says: “When you come into the Land which I give you” etc. The Sabbath, on the morrow of which the countdown [to Shavuot] begins, is the Sabbath adjacent to the entrance of the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel! A perusal of Joshua chapter 4, verse 19 reveals that the Children of Israel entered the Land on the 10th of Nissan. A further perusal of chapter 5, verse 11 reveals that on the 15th of Nissan, on the morrow after the Passover Sacrifice (which is brought on the 14th at twilight) they waved the Omer and ate of the produce of the Land. The night of the [Passover] sacrifice, therefore, was Saturday night and on Sunday, which in that year coincided with the first day of Hag HaMatzot (and not the following day, as the theory of the Sages of the Talmud requires) they began to count [the Omer].
The conclusion is: “Sabbath” means an actual Sabbath. The Sabbath, on the morrow of which we begin to count [50 days to Shavuot] is the Sabbath closest to the day of the Children of Israel’s entry into the Land in days of Joshua. In the time of Joshua this Sabbath was on the 14th of Nissan. Therefore, if the first day of Hag HaMatzot falls out on a Sunday, we begin to count on the very same day which is the morrow of the “Sabbath of the entry of Israel into the Land”. Otherwise, we must take the Sabbath closest to the day of Israel’s entry into the Land, which is always during the days of Hag HaMatzot, (unless it falls out on the 14th of Nissan), and begin to count on the morrow. Therefore, Shavuot must always fall out on the morrow of the seventh Sabbath from Israel’s entry into the Land in the time of Joshua and, of course, the “morrow after the Sabbath” is a Sunday. And know how to answers those who err!
Note 1: This tract has only survived in 1 original copy. In the photocopy in my possession, the words which I have rendered “the 15th of Nissan” were crossed out by a previous owner of the tract, possibly Hacham Alfandari himself. From a close examination of the crossed out text, it seems that the words read “the 16th of Nissan” [Shisha Asar beNissan]. However, from the context this must be a misprint and the text should read “the 15th of Nissan” [Hamisha Asar beNissan] and apparently because of this misprint the words were crossed out. My thanks to Dr. Avraham Qanaï who provided me with a photocopy of the last remaining original of this and many other tracts which were missing from Hacham Alfandari’s (z”tzl) personal archive at the time of his passing [NG]. Back
Note 2: But see Lev 23,32 which calls Yom Kippur a “Shabbat Shabbaton” and Lev 23,24 which calls Yom Teruah a “Shabbaton” [NG]. Back
Note 3: It should be remembered that this article was written in Israel where people work 6 days a week (including Sunday) and only have off on Saturday. Thus in modern Israel a “weekend” is synonymous with the Seventh Day of the week, the Biblical Sabbath [NG]. Back
This article was originally published in Hebrew as an independent tract in the late 1950s/ early 1960s under the title “Inyan Moharat HaShabbat VeHag HaShavuot”. Translated from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon (May 2000).
4- The Morrow After the Sabbath:
The Beginning of the Counting of the Omer
[9 Classical Karaite Arguments]
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
The debate between our Sages, the Sages of Truth (peace be unto them), and the Sages of the Rabbanites is well known in the matter of the Counting of the Omer and the meaning of the expression in the Torah “Morrow After the Sabbath” which is the day of the waving of the Omer (wavesheaf). The Rabbanites argued that “the Sabbath” mentioned in the Scripture in this instance is the first Holy Day of Hag HaMatzot [on which work is forbidden] and therefore they begin the Counting of the Omer on the second Day of Hag HaMatzot. However, we know from the meaning of the Biblical passages that the Torah is referring to “the Sabbath of Genesis”, that is, the Seventh Day of the week. As a result the day of the Omer Waving, as well as Shavuot, must always be on Sunday. Our sages proved the truth of this matter and it is worth mentioning their arguments against the Rabbanites so that we know how to respond to those who inquire:
First Argument: The name “Sabbath” is a special name which the Torah uses to describe the Seventh Day of the week and this name can not be transferred from one object to another, that is to say, it can not be used to refer to any other day.
Second Argument: The Scripture says “the Morrow after THE Sabbath” with the definite article, proving that the Scripture means the Sabbath of Genesis as it is written [only a few verses earlier] “it [the 7th Day] is a Sabbath to Hashem in all your habitations” [Lev 23,3]. If the Scripture intended another day other than that generally known as the Sabbath, it should have mentioned it specifically.
Third Argument: If Shavuot is supposed to fall on a fixed calendar date [as the Rabbanites maintain] like all the other Holidays, [the Torah] should have mentioned this date, as it indeed does for all the other holidays. However, if Shavuot is meant to always fall on a Sunday, as we maintain, the calendar date would change every year and this explains why the Torah did not mention a date for this holiday.
Fourth Argument: It is written in the Book of Joshua “And they ate of the produce of the Land on the morrow after the Passover [Sacrifice]” (Joshua 5,11). The Passover sacrifice is on the fourteenth of Nissan. Thus they ate after the Waving of the Omer, which was carried out on the First Day of Hag HaMatzot (the 15th of Nissan) and not on the following day, the 2nd day of Hag HaMatzot (which is when the Rabbis believe the Omer must be brought). Apparently in that year the 14th of Nissan was on a Saturday and the morrow was the 15th. If the “morrow after the Sabbath” is always the 2nd day of Hag HaMatzot, as the Rabbanites claim, then this verse in the Book of Joshua is an outright contradiction to the words of the Torah, something which is not possible.
Fifth Argument: If we interpret “Sabbath” as a Yom Tov, that is, as a Holy Day [on which work is forbidden], how do we interpret the verse “Seven complete Sabbaths”. If the meaning here is a week which contains in it a Sabbath, as the Rabbanites claim,1 we find that in one instance the meaning of “Sabbath” is Holiday and in another instance its meaning is a week which contains in it a Sabbath. This is untenable for the Torah mentioned “Sabbath” twice in the same breath and it can not have two different meanings unless the Scripture explicitly indicates it does.
Sixth Argument: If we interpret the word “Sabbath” as a Holy Day [on which work is forbidden], it makes more sense to interpret it as the last Holy Day of Passover [=7th Day of Hag HaMatzot], the Seventh Day of Assembly, and not the morrow of the first Holy Day [=1st Day of Hag HaMatzot].
Seventh Argument: The Jubilee year is analogous to the Feast of Shavuot. Just as Shavuot has a period of seven times seven followed by a 50th day which is holy and which comes after a Sabbath day, so too the 50th Jubilee year follows a seventh year which is called a Sabbath [year].
Eighth Argument: The Rabbanite sages claimed that the meaning of “Seven Weeks” [Dt 16,9] is seven periods of seven days and that the Torah did not mean a week beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday. This is in contradiction to the language of the Bible. When the Scripture wants to refer to a seven day period it says “a week of days” [Shavuot Yamim (Ez 45,6)], meaning a span of any seven days. This term is in contrast to the term “week” [Shavua] which is a fixed week, beginning on Sunday and ending on the Sabbath Day. The Feast of Shavuot always falls out on the morrow of the seventh week and therefore is on the First Day [Sunday] of the following week.
Ninth Argument: Our sage Hacham Aharon author of the Torah commentary “Mivhar” (may he find rest in Eden), in his commentary on Parashat Ki Tisa [Mivhar on Exodus p.69b] said: “The fact that the section on the Sabbath is between the [sections] on Passover and Shavuot [in Exodus 34] is a support that Shavuot is always after a day of Sabbath.”2
Note 1: I am uncertain which Rabbanite source claims this. [NG] Back
Note 2: This argument uses the faulty Rabbanite method of reading meaning into the juxtaposition of Biblical passages. This sort of argument does not claim to be interpreting according to the context, but instead is purely formalistic in nature. [NG] Back
This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Karaite Journal Ha’Or, Year 2 Volume 2 (Iyyar) [May 1957] p.2 under the title “Inyan Moharat HaShabbat – Hathalat Sfirat Ha’Omer” [“The Morrow After the Sabbath – The Beginning of the Counting of the Omer”]. Translated from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon (May 2000).
5- Facts About Hag Ha-Shavuot
[Feast of Weeks]
by Hacham Mordecai Alfandari
1) The day is called Hag HaShavuot [Feast of Weeks] in the Torah because its date is dependent on weeks and a fixed number of days and not on a date of the month like all the other holidays in the Torah.
2) Its date is dependent on the date of the Sabbath Day, for the Torah says that it falls on the morrow of the seventh Sabbath reckoned from the [morrow after the] Sabbath during the days of Hag HaMatzot. Just as the date of the Sabbath changes every week so too does the date of this holiday change within its month, but its weekday is fixed by the Torah to always be on a Sunday. This is its special character, and because of the above its name is “Feast of Weeks”.
3) The Torah also calls this day “Hag HaBikurum” [The Day of Firstfruits] and it is an agricultural Feast like Passover (which is the Feast of the Abib1) and Sukkot (which is the “Feast of Ingathering”). According to the Rabbanites the Torah was given on this day, but the Karaite sages have proven that this view is erroneous although they observed it as a day of remembrance of the giving of the Torah since the date of the giving of the Torah is not known.2
4) The Samaritans, who learned the foundations of their religion from the mouths of the priestly teachers sent from Jerusalem before the period of the Second Temple, hold the same opinion that Shavuot always falls on a Sunday. There is no reason to doubt this tradition since there was no external factor which affected this decision, which is not the case regarding their denial of the holiness of Jerusalem and the Books of the Prophets after Moses, the reason for which is explained in the Book of Nehemiah.3
5) There is an opinion in the Talmud which holds the same tradition as we have, that Shavuot always falls on a Sunday. However, this tradition was suppressed by the “majority-rule” in order to “remove it from the hearts of the Sadducees”, in the manner of Rabbanite politics of that period, since their competitors the Sadducees also held this view.4
Note 1: Although the name “Feast of the Abib” never appears in the Tanach. The term Month of the Abib appears in Dt 16,1 [NG]. Back
Note 2: May YHWH have mercy on those who add to His Torah. [NG] Back
Note 3: An argument based on Samaritan practice is at best a [weak] secondary support that lags behind the real consideration, which is of course the Biblical evidence. We would point out that in general traditions are suspect by their very nature. Furthermore, the notion that the Samaritans preserved “purer” traditions because they were “untouched” by the centuries is not supported by history. We know of a great deal of internal evolution within Samaritan thought and they by no means remain unchanged for the last 2700 years! Indeed such internal evolution is inevitable within any group. [NG] Back
Note 4: The same is true here as with the last argument. The fact that there is a Rabbanite tradition which always places Shavuot on a Sunday is interesting but it does not prove the correctness of our own reading. It does show that two groups with vastly differing approaches to the Scripture can read the Torah and both arrive at the same conclusion. Regarding Shavuot it can be said with a fair degree of confidence that the Karaite approach is backed up by an unbroken chain of Jewish practice going back to Biblical times and nevertheless it is important to emphasize that what is decisive is not tradition but the Biblical evidence. [NG] Back
This article was originally published in Hebrew in the Karaite Journal Ha’Or, Year 3 Volume 1 (Nissan–Iyyar) [March-May 1958] p.2 under the title “Hag HaShavuot – Uvdot” [“The Morrow After the Sabbath – The Beginning of the Counting of the Omer”]. Translated from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon (May 2000).