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.
(ב) וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מֵרֵאשִׁ֣ית ׀ כָּל־פְּרִ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר תָּבִ֧יא מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֛ אֲשֶׁ֨ר ה' אֱלֹקֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָ֖ךְ וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ בַטֶּ֑נֶא וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֙ אֶל־הַמָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר יִבְחַר֙ ה' אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ לְשַׁכֵּ֥ן שְׁמ֖וֹ שָֽׁם׃
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.
(ב) כֵּיצַד מַעֲלִין אֶת הַבִּכּוּרִים. כָּל הָעֲיָרוֹת שֶׁבַּמַּעֲמָד מִתְכַּנְּסוֹת לָעִיר שֶׁל מַעֲמָד, וְלָנִין בִּרְחוֹבָהּ שֶׁל עִיר, וְלֹא הָיוּ נִכְנָסִין לַבָּתִּים. וְלַמַּשְׁכִּים, הָיָה הַמְמֻנֶּה אוֹמֵר (ירמיה לא), קוּמוּ וְנַעֲלֶה צִיּוֹן אֶל בֵּית ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ:
(ג) הַקְּרוֹבִים מְבִיאִים הַתְּאֵנִים וְהָעֲנָבִים, וְהָרְחוֹקִים מְבִיאִים גְּרוֹגָרוֹת וְצִמּוּקִים. וְהַשּׁוֹר הוֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם, וְקַרְנָיו מְצֻפּוֹת זָהָב, וַעֲטֶרֶת שֶׁל זַיִת בְּרֹאשׁוֹ. הֶחָלִיל מַכֶּה לִפְנֵיהֶם, עַד שֶׁמַּגִּיעִים קָרוֹב לִירוּשָׁלָיִם. הִגִּיעוּ קָרוֹב לִירוּשָׁלַיִם, שָׁלְחוּ לִפְנֵיהֶם, וְעִטְּרוּ אֶת בִּכּוּרֵיהֶם. הַפַּחוֹת, הַסְּגָנִים וְהַגִּזְבָּרִים יוֹצְאִים לִקְרָאתָם. לְפִי כְבוֹד הַנִּכְנָסִים הָיוּ יוֹצְאִים. וְכָל בַּעֲלֵי אֻמָּנִיּוֹת שֶׁבִּירוּשָׁלַיִם עוֹמְדִים לִפְנֵיהֶם וְשׁוֹאֲלִין בִּשְׁלוֹמָם, אַחֵינוּ אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי, בָּאתֶם לְשָׁלוֹם:
(2) How were the bikkurim taken up [to Jerusalem]? All [the inhabitants of] the cities of the maamad would assemble in the city of the maamad, and they would spend the night in the open street and they would not entering any of the houses. Early in the morning the officer would say: “Let us arise and go up to Zion, into the house of the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 31:5).
(3) Those who lived near [Jerusalem] would bring fresh figs and grapes, while those who lived far away would bring dried figs and raisins. An ox would go in front of them, his horns bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head. The flute would play before them until they would draw close to Jerusalem. When they drew close to Jerusalem they would send messengers in advance, and they would adorn their bikkurim. The governors and chiefs and treasurers [of the Temple] would go out to greet them, and according to the rank of the entrants they would go forth. All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them saying, “Our brothers, men of such and such a place, we welcome you in peace.”
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?