I love cheesecake, myself. I’m definitely making one for tomorrow, only it’s going to be a non-dairy cheesecake. Just wanted to clarify, before diving head first into the heavy stuff
What’s Shavu’ot Anyway?
Shavu’ot or Shavuot, or if you like, in the traditional Yiddish/American weird pronunciation, Shavuos, is a Jewish holiday. Literally meaning “weeks” in Hebrew it is also known as the Festival of Weeks. I think I covered all possible Google search terms here
This holiday is about two things -
1. It’s a traditional harvest festival. The focus is on wheat harvesting, but also about the first fruit and vegetables of summertime. Kibbutzim have, or used to have, huge processions for Shavuot showing off the fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as the young lambs, calves and babies born on that year.
2. It’s a celebration of being given the Torah by God, supposedly on this date some thousands of years ago. Religious Jews congregate in synagogues tonight in a prayer marathon, with the idea that heaven opens up at midnight. Or something along those lines – can’t say I’ve ever done that myself.
So, What Do We Eat on Shavu’ot?
I don’t know about gentiles, or even about Jews abroad, but here in Israel, we Jews have special foods for every occasion. Special pastries and sweets are usually the key markers of Jewish religious festivals.
Hannuka? Have a doughnut! Purim? Stuff yourself with poppyseed filled cookies (Ozen Haman)! Rosh HaShana? Just eat as much as you can on dinner and don’t forget to have some honey cake.
Ask any kid what do we have on Shavu’ot and they’ll tell you right away: cheesecake! Also, cheese and dairy puddings and if your Mom is really into it, then blintzes are on the menu as well.
Here’s the thing though – dairy products are a fairly recent addition to Shavu’ot. The holiday of harvest, remember? and of the first fruit and vegetable of the season. I checked on wikipedia and it says this on the practice of consuming dairy products on Shavuot -
One explanation for the consumption of dairy foods on this holiday is that the Israelites had not yet received the Torah, with its laws of shechita (ritual slaughtering of animals). As the food they had prepared beforehand was not in accordance with these laws, they opted to eat simple dairy meals to honor the holiday. Some say it harks back to King Solomon’s portrayal of the Torah as “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11).
Well, I am all for having a non-meat meal for a holiday. A welcome change in the menu, as far as I’m concerned. The only problem is that it does not explain the need to consume milk-based products.
I highly suspect that the ancient Israelites ever had cheesecake. Or blintzes for that matter. A meal without meat would have been based on grains, legume, nuts, vegetables and fruit.
Wanna know where the cheesecake came from? Same place shopping for gifts entered Christmas and heart-shaped chocolates became one with St. Valentine’s Day. It’s called marketing.
The milk manufacturers (love the term, as if they were the cows) lobby is huge here. Agri-industrialists that pride themselves on using a variety of methods, including but not limited to, genetic selection, to increase milk production in cows to extremely high levels. Extreme is the key word here. Inhumane is another word. Antibiotics for injured sick over sized udders is another. Ok, key phrase there, not word, so I’ll give you hormones as another single word. Overcrowded sheds – is that one word or a phrase? How about horn amputation with no anesthesia?
But hey, who cares, as long as we can have our cheesecake!
Well, not for me this year. This year, IsraeliDad and myself are celebrating the first year of going vegan. Tomorrow, we shall have a Shavuot feast that will be entirely vegan. Cheesecake will be made of tofu cream, and dishes will focus on grains and vegetables. Back to the roots, if you like.
Hopefully, the time will come when enough people will demand better treatment for farm animals and we shall see more humane standards introduced. I don’t really care about animal rights, myself, only about animal welfare. Cows should receive the same consideration of pain and stress as our cats and dogs. That’s all. When that happens, I’ll be glad to go back to a real cheesecake.
Happy Shavuot everyone!