Picture: At the western wall a few days ago
Today is a special holiday in Israel called Shavuot. The holiday began last evening and continues today. Friday is also the main day of prayer for Muslims. Consequently the old city has been packed with people and cars are parked wherever people can find a space. People are parking in alleys and on the sides of the hill wherever they can find a spot. There are also Jewish and Muslim pilgrims coming and going every which way. We went down to the Western Wall for a while last night to watch what was going on. We were a little bit late, so some of the crowd had already gone home. But I was able to go up to the front of the western wall and then turn north for a couple of hundred yards where the wall extends underneath the old city. The area under the old city is a combination library/community congregational meeting center. I am assuming that most of the books were copies of the Talmud, the historical rabbinic commentary on the Old Testament. One congregation was having a meeting in this underground area, so we tried not to disturb them. The men were singing a song together. Others were praying in their characteristic bob up and down kind of praying that many of them do. One person told me that they pray like that to keep their focus, so that their minds don't wander. That makes sense, but I haven't talked to a Jewish person about it yet. Some of my friends went down at 4 am this morning for a special worship time that the Jews hold at the western wall. My friends said that the whole area was packed with people and they had to stand way far at the back, about 200 yards away from the front area where the wall is located. Another friend said that he heard several rabbis from the United States at the ceremony. And that makes sense as Shavuot is one of the great gathering festivals of the Jews. You and I know this festival as The Feast of Pentecost. It was on this day nearly two thousand years ago that Peter preached a message of repentance and salvation (Acts 2), possibly on the steps just south of the temple mount (where I was standing the other day). Over 3000 new believers in Jesus the Messiah were added to the church that day, an influx from multiple nations of peoples who were in attendance at Shavuot. So, this is a very important holy day for us as Christians as well. The following press release comes from the government of Israel:
"Shavuot [Pentecost], one of Judaism's three pilgrimage festivals (along with Passover and Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles), will take place this year between sunset on Thursday, May 28, and sunset on Friday, May 29. The Government Press Office (GPO) would like to offer the following as a brief summary: Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; Judaism's most basic Scripture) at Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Indeed, Shavuot literally means "weeks" and is celebrated exactly seven weeks after the first day of Passover, which marks the exodus itself. The celebration of Shavuot is specified in Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10. On Thursday night, May 28, after festive evening prayers and a festive meal, many people will follow the custom of staying awake all night and studying religious texts, and then saying morning prayers at the earliest permitted time-thus expressing the enthusiasm of the Jewish people to receive the Torah. Most synagogues and yeshivot [religious schools] will organize special classes and lectures throughout the night of Shavuot. In Jerusalem, there is a widespread custom of going to the Western Wall-which will be exceptionally crowded-for Shavuot morning (Friday) prayers, often accompanied by dancing and singing.
The Shavuot morning prayers are marked by special hymns and scriptural readings, including the Book of Ruth. Special memorial prayers for the departed are also said. Some communities maintain the custom of decorating their synagogues with green plants and flowers. This is in keeping with two traditions: that Mt. Sinai was a green mountain and that Shavuot is a day of judgment for fruit trees. On Shavuot, it is also customary to eat dairy dishes; there are many explanations for this custom.
In ancient times, Shavuot marked the end of the barley harvest, and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Jewish farmers brought their first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), where special offerings were brought (Numbers 28:26-31). In honor of Shavuot's status as the "Day of First Fruits" and the "Harvest Festival" (as it is referred to in Numbers 28:26 and Exodus 23:16, respectively), many kibbutzim and moshavim [collective settlements] also organize special celebrations revolving around these themes, including ceremonies in which new produce from the kibbutz or moshav is highlighted. (The Government Press Office, May 26, 2009)
And here is a modern version of the holiday (remember that there is a large segment of Israel that is more secular in orientation).....