It’s Shavuot—please pass the cheesecake!

illustration of crowd of people looking at mountain
The people of Israel waiting for Moses to bring down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Original source: TheBibleRevival.com

Shavuot, the festival of weeks, is celebrated exactly seven weeks after Passover. It is the conclusion of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which ends at the highest point of biblical Jewish history: Matan Torah, receiving and accepting the Torah and all its commandments.

In commemoration of Matan Torah, the first night of Shavuot is often dedicated to learning, with many staying up late into the night, and even until dawn, immersed in Torah study. This year, the special night of learning will be different. We will not be gathering in synagogue as usual to study together due to quarantine restrictions for the novel coronavirus. The learning, however, will be no less powerful.

biblical illustration
Bringing Bikkurim (first-fruit offerings) to Jerusalem for Shavuot, 1730, illustration from a biblical dictionary. Image hosted by the National Library of Israel.

In the days of the Temple, it was customary to bring Bikkkurim, first-fruit offerings, to the Temple in Jerusalem for this holiday, as seen in the illustration above. For more information on the rituals—or lack thereof—of the holiday of Shavuot, please see Dr. Simcha Fishbane’s essay “In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot” from his book The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays, available as an ebook from the Touro College Libraries.

Personally, Shavuot is one of my favorite holidays. While all Jewish holidays (and Shabbat!) require us to eat festive meat meals together, Shavuot is the one holiday of the year that at least one meal is customarily dairy instead of meat. According to The Book of our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov (v.3, p.73), this is due to the reception of the Torah and the laws of keeping kosher. Before accepting these laws, the Jews had been permitted to eat non-kosher foods; after, their utensils and dishes became prohibited under these new laws. They could, therefore, only eat dairy foods at that time. We continue that tradition today.

I find it very exciting to have dairy options. There are only so many ways to make a brisket—not to mention the utter delight of selecting a variety of cheesecakes for your holiday table!

cheesecakes in a bakery display
Cheesecakes on display in a retail bakery—so many choices! Image by Trilok Rangan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

No matter how many cheesecakes I have tasted, however, my mother’s homemade recipe remains my favorite (naturally!). I am very pleased to share her recipe below. Chag Shavuot Sameach! Have a happy and healthy Shavuot!

Shavuot begins at sundown on Thursday, May 28, 2020 and concludes at sunset on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Mommy’s cheesecake recipe

(My sincere apologies to the lactose intolerant!)

Use a 9 or 10 inch spring-form pan or make half the recipe to use smaller tins or pans. Best when round. If using a spring-form pan, place aluminum foil on the outside around the bottom and sides to prevent leakage.

Ingredients:

  • Prepared graham cracker crust (optional; if using, pre-bake 40-45 mins at 350°)
  • 16oz container whipped cream cheese
  • 16oz container cottage cheese (small curd is preferable for fewer lumps)
  • 8oz container sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 6 eggs (beat with fork before adding)
  • 1 cup milk (the more fat, the better the taste, but we prefer 1%)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl using a whisk, wooden spoon, or even your hands (be sure to wash them first!). Prepare another bowl.
  3. Use a food processor or blender and process the mixture in batches until smooth, pouring the smooth batter into the second bowl as you go. You may also beat the mixture with an electric beater until smooth if you do not have a food processor or blender.
  4. Pour batter into spring-form pan or smaller pans or tins with the prepared graham cracker crust.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 350°
  6. Turn oven off. Leave in oven for another hour to solidify.
  7. Remove from oven and leave on counter to fully cool.
  8. Store in refrigerator. Do not release spring-form until after cheesecake has spent time in the fridge.
  9. Release and top with whatever you wish—we often use fresh berries or a variety of pie fillings. One memorable year I made caramel sauce!
  10. Enjoy!

References and Resources Used

Bikkurim: First Fruits by Menachem Posner

Shavuot by Louis Jacobs, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed.

In the Absence of Ritual: Customs of the Holiday of Shavuot by Simcha Fishbane, in In The Impact of Culture and Cultures Upon Jewish Customs and Rituals : Collected Essays

Staying up all Night and Greenery (lecture) by Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein

Jewish Holidays and Food by The Jewish Food Experience

The Book of our Heritage, volume 3 by Eliyahu Kitov

Recipe dictated to me by my mother!

 

This post was contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian.

 

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks

800px-PikiWiki_Israel_8879_Gan-Shmuel_-_Shavuot_holiday_1965
Young women celebrating Shavuot in Israel, 1965 (CC image via Wikimedia)

Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks marks 7 weeks since the conclusion of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, when the Torah and the Ten Commandments were received at Mount Sinai. There are a number of customs associated with the celebration of Shavuot, which can be enumerated using the mneumonic of the Hebrew word acharit (אחרית‎, “last”). These include the reading of a liturgical poem and from the Book of Ruth, the consumption of dairy foods (like cheesecake, blitzes, and kreplach), the decoration of homes with flowers or greenery, and all-night Torah study. Read more about the meaning of Shavuot and its traditions.

This year, Shavuot begins the evening of Tuesday May 30th and end the evening of Thursday June 1st. Most library locations will close at 2 p.m. Tuesday 5/30 and reopen Friday 6/2.

Chag Shavuot Sameach! Happy Shavuot!