The three main categories are:
Dairy (cheese and milk),
Twin hallahs (hallot), and
Eating dairy is a staple of Shavuot. In fact, I remember the complicated milk and honey cake that my friend Risa and I made one year – using almost every bowl in the kitchen. As I recall, it was remarkably unremarkable! This, no doubt, was the fault of the bakers and not the recipe 🙂
But why dairy? One explanation is simple exhaustion: the Jews waited so long in the hot Sinai desert to receive the Ten Commandments from God that they were too tired to cook. That makes sense.
An extension of this concept is that Jews did not want to prepare a meat meal, because that would involve slaughtering, kashering, and more work. Okay.
Harold Kushner (To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking) refers to a legend suggesting that the Israelites were “embarrassed by their non-kosher dishes,” so “discarded them all, and ate only simple foods for the rest of the holiday.”
Yet another explanation is that the Jews’ milk turned sour and turned to cheese. Oh dear.
Or, on a more positive note, there’s the hypothesis that Shavuot is the only season in the usually parched land of Israel when grass grows, supporting the production of milk from cows and goats.
My favorite explanation is that Torah should be compared to the sweetness of milk and honey. As it says in the Song of Songs 4:11:
“Honey and milk are under your tongue.”
The idea of the two hallahs represents both (a) the two tablets of the Torah and (b) the two loaves offered in the Temple days. If you’re a non-baker, and you want to serve a two-of-something for dinner, cheese blintzes (very traditional!) are available frozen in many supermarkets. Or you can easily find recipes online.
Three-sided kreplach represent many threes, an important number in Judaism. (If you know the song, “Al Sheloshah Devarim,” you’ll probably start humming it now: “the world stands on three things – on Torah, on prayer and on acts of loving kindness.”) Like the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And God, Israel and Torah. Plus the three parts of the Bible: Torah, Prophets and Writings. Or the three types of Jews (priests or Kohanim, Levites and Israelites.) In addition, the Torah was given to the Israelites in the third month, Sivan.
Want to be more adventuresome and try something different for Shavuot? Check your cookbooks for a recipe for cheese beiguele. I found one in Joan Nathan’s gorgeous book called “The Foods of Israel Today.”
She describes the beiguele as a “slightly sweet, slightly salty” food meaning “small bread” in Yiddish. In her history of the recipe, probably “first made as a cheese knish in Bessarabia or Lithuania,” Nathan quotes a descendent of the first settlers in Argentina (refugees from the 1800s) as saying that this specialty is now eaten only by people from a certain part of Argentina.
In our family, we like a super simple cheese pancake recipe. It’s not quite as delicious as the pot cheese pancakes that my Bubbe, z’l, made, but it still reminds me of sitting in her kitchen. And all generations seem to love it.
Plus, check out our Pinterest board for lots of yummy recipes.
Hag sameach (happy holiday!)
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