Shavuot (Pentecost, Feast of Weeks), as well as Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Tabernacles), are the three pilgrimage festivals on which Jews are bidden to visit Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of people are in fact expected to arrive at the Western Wall throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, though the Biblical commandment to visit Jerusalem on these days applies fully only when the Holy Temple is built.
The current custom of gathering at the Wall for the holiday began spontaneously on the Shavuot holiday of 1967 (5727), which followed the Six Day War and the liberation of Jerusalem by only a few days. Realizing that masses of people would descend upon the Wall and its narrow walkway, the authorities razed the old buildings within 100 meters from the Wall in order to make room. It was the first holiday in 1,900 years in which throngs of Jews congregated at the Western Wall.
The holiday of Shavuot marks the Jewish People's receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai 3,323 years ago. It also marks the day after the 49-day Sefirat HaOmer counting period, which begins on the Passover holiday. The counting denotes the fact that the ultimate purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was for the Jewish People to receive the Torah and begin its national/spiritual existence as the People of the Book.
Features of the joyous Shavuot holiday include:
* remaining awake all night to study Torah; known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot.
* the bringing of the Bikurim (First Fruits) to the Holy Temple (temporarily suspended, until the Temple is rebuilt); greenery is placed arund the home and synagogue to recall this.
* the time of the wheat harvest;
* the public reading of the Book of Ruth for several reasons, among them: Ruth accepted Judaism as the Jews did on the holiday, the story takes place during the Shavuot season, and King David, her descendant, died on Shavuot.
* a wide-spread custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, as the Torah is compared to "milk and honey under the tongue". (for more reasons, see our )
In Israel, Shavuot is a legal holiday. There is no public transportation; schools, offices and most stores are closed; newspapers are not published.