Among Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike, one traditional type of food is associated with Shavuot—dairy products. And therein lies a host of interesting interpretations.
Song of Songs Chapter 4 reads: “honey and milk are under thy tongue,” a reference to the fact that the Torah is as nourishing as milk and as sweet as honey. Thus, on the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah, it became traditional to eat foods with milk and honey.
Interpreters of the Tanach liked to use gematria, the traditional Jewish system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or bear some relation to the number itself. For example,
the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the word chalav equals 40. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, so we eat foods with milk.
Another reason for eating dairy stems from a legend that says until Moses descended with the Torah, kashrut was unknown, so rather than go through the preparation of meat that now required special rules, and since their dishes were unacceptable, the people ate dairy.
From a practical point of view, Shavuot is usually a summer festival. The climate of ancient Israel was hot, so it was logical to eat light, dairy foods. Also the sheep gave birth prior to this time, so milk and, ultimately, cheese would be plentiful.
The practice of eating dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot actually comes from the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative code of Jewish law containing traditional rules of Jewish conduct, based on Talmudic and rabbinical sources. Rabbi Moses Isserles added the commentary of Ashkenazic customs, and it is there where we find the issue of dairy food. Rabbi Isserles wrote: “It is a universal custom to eat dairy food on the first day of Shavuot.”
Here are some of my favorites.
- 1 cup cream cheese
- 1 ½ cups creamed cottage cheese
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray vegetable shortening in a 9-inch round cake pan.
- 2. Mix together cream cheese, creamed cottage cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Pour into cake pan.
- 3. Bake oven 35 to 40 minutes or until center is firm.
- 4. Remove from oven and spread with sour cream while cake is hot. Cool then refrigerate.
- 15 graham crackers
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup melted margarine or 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- ½ cup hot water or milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cream cheese
- 1 heaping cup crushed ice
- 1 cup sour cream
1. Break five crackers into quarters, place in blender and blend to crumbs. Empty into bowl.
2. Repeat two times. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Add melted margarine or oil and mix
until crumbs are moist. Grease a springform pan. Press against sides and chill.
3. In a blender, blend gelatin, lemon juice, lemon peel, hot water or milk 40 seconds.
4. Add sugar, egg yolks and cream cheese and blend 10 seconds. Add ice and sour cream
and blend 15 seconds.
5. Pour into crumb crust and chill.
By Sybil Kaplan