One of the names of Shavuot in the Torah is the festival of the first fruits. These first fruits are traditionally of the “seven species” that were special agricultural products of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deuteronomy 8:8). According to Jewish tradition, the first fruits, Bikkurim, were brought to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, as described in the verse below.
Additional information about how to bring the Bikkurim to Jerusalem is provided in the verse below.
The procedure is further described in the Mishnah in Tractate Bikkurim.
The text talks about the cities of the maamad. To facilitate a rotation of priests serving in the Temple, the country was divided into 24 districts (mishmarot or maamadot). The city of the maamad was the city where the head of the maamad lived. When bringing the bikkurim, the inhabitants of the entire district would gather in the city of the maamad and travel together to Jerusalem.
Discussing the texts
- What are Bikkurim ?
- Who brings Bikkurim?
- Where are Bikkurim brought to? Who are they given to?
- What are the Bikkurim put in?
- Describe the trip to Jerusalem. If you were there, what would you see and hear?
- What questions do you have about the Bikkurim ceremony?
Bikkurim in art
The illustration below appeared in a Biblical dictionary published by the French monk Antoine Augustin Calmet at the beginning of the eighteenth century and can be found in the collection of the National Library of Israel.
Study the illustration and answer the questions below.
- Which parts of the description of the Bikkurim procession are depicted in the illustration?
- How do you think it felt to bring Bikkurim to the Temple in Jerusalem in a procession similar to the one depicted in the illustration and described in the texts?
Bikkurim Celebrations in Modern Israel
The early settlements in modern Israel transformed the traditional Bikkurim ceremony into a secular agricultural celebration – first fruit ceremonies to rejoice the end of the harvest festival (another term for Shavuot). The first fruits in the kibbutzim, in contrast to the time of the Temple, are not only the seven species but all kinds of fruits, vegetables, livestock, and even the babies born in the past year. The ceremonies feature colourful performances of songs and dances and processions of decorated agricultural tools and machinery, farm produce, and young children.
- What aspects of the Bikkurim ceremony as described in the Torah and the Mishnah can be seen in the ceremony on Kibbutz Ginegar?
- What is different about the Kibbutz Ginegar ceremony?
- Kibbutz Ginegar is a secular kibbutz. Why do you think they wanted to continue the biblical tradition?
The photograph below, titled "Celebrating the Shavuot Holiday on Kibbutz Shfayim", is from the Dan Hadani photograph archive at the National Library of Israel.
Study the photograph. What additional information do you learn about how Shavuot was celebrated on the kibbutz?
- What is similar between the way that Shavuot is being celebrated in the kibbutz photographs and the Tel Aviv photograph?
- What can you learn about Israelis' connection to the land from the photographs and the way that Shavuot is celebrated?
- What questions do you have after looking at all three photographs?
- How is Shavuot celebrated outside of Israel? Is there an emphasis on Bikkurim as there is in Israel?
- The three pilgrimage festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) contain an agricultural element and an historical commemoration.
- What is the agricultural aspect and the historical event celebrated at each festival?
- How do you think that different segments of Israeli society might celebrate each festival? Which aspect of the festival might they emphasise?
- How do the agricultural aspects manifest themselves in your celebration of the festivals?