Original Article published on The Jerusalem Post
The only time my Bubbeh ever took a break from preparing heavy fleishig (meat) holiday food was on Shavuot. Admittedly, some Jews (mainly Sephardim) do eat meat that day, as they would on any other holiday, since dairy is not considered very festive. Others, to satisfy all opinions, eat a dairy dish, followed by a meat dish, as a reminder of the two sacrifices offered on Shavuot.
But my bubbeh and other Ashkenazi purists eat only dairy foods on Shavuot. Maybe it’s because this harvest holiday reminds us that Israel is a land flowing with milk and honey, or that the Song of Songs (4:11) implies that the words of the Torah shall be as sweet to the heart as milk and honey.
Some commentators point out (perhaps with a bit of a smile) that, with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the dietary laws were established. Thus, when the people came home from receiving revelation, preparation of meat dishes would have taken too long, and they certainly didn’t yet have fleishig dishes and silverware. Check out these and other comments on holiday customs at: http://www.mazornet.com or http://188.8.131.52
Maybe the custom of eating dairy is as simple as gematriah. The Hebrew word for milk, halav, has the numerical value of 40, the number of days Moses was on Mt. Sinai. You can click on http://www.inner.org and do the math yourself. The site provides a Hebrew letter chart that helps you find numerical values for het, lamed and bet.
I spent my childhood dreading Shavuot. I am a meat and potatoes guy who always hated anything white and creamy. In my older years, though, I have resolved to keep an open mind. And cheesecake has come a long way since my youth – especially since it has come into contact with flavors like margarita.
Those who wish to make cheesecake from scratch (or cook or bake anything, for that matter) should look at http://www.epicurious.com as a first step. For low-fat cheesecake recipes, try http://www.kashrut.com
Are your Shavuot guests real connoisseurs? You can find great recipes at http://www.thatsmyhome.com for, among others, chocolate espresso swirl, and (for those who yearn for Passovers past) coconut macaroon cheesecake.
Thinking of following the dairy/meat custom but worried you’ll never keep your dishes straight? Be on the safe side with a recipe for pareve cheesecake at http://www.jewish-food.org
Face it – many of us are nostalgic for the delicacies of our childhood, but are too busy to bake them. North Americans can order Junior’s Cheesecake, the Brooklyn classic, at http://www.juniorcheesecake.com. Or Chicago-style, at http://www.elicheesecake.com which promises international shipping.
I may just take the plunge and try cheesecake this year. If not, I will sneak into our synagogue’s Shavuot party for children and join them in making my own ice-cream sundaes. After all, Bubbeh taught me that it is important to eat dairy on Shavuot.