The Starting Point
The debate over the correct starting
point for counting the Omer, and, as a result, the
proper day to celebrate Shavuot (Pentecost) has
been raging for over two millennia. Consider the following
opinions that were extant at the time Yeshua walked the earth.
The Saducean sect (composed primarily of Priests and Levites) believed that the Omer was to be waved on the day following the weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Thus, they would cut the barley grain at the end of the weekly Sabbath and offer the refined grain at the Temple on the morning of the first day of the week. With this method of counting Shavu'ot always fell on the first day of the week (Sunday).
The sect of the Pharisees (made up primarily of synagogue Rabbis) believed that the Omer should be cut at the end of the First Day of Unleavened Bread, and offered on the morning of 16 Aviv or Nisan. This always placed Shavuot on 6 Sivan, no matter on which day of the week it fell.
These were the two major points of view during the time of Yeshua, and they continue to be to this day. There are years when these two days coincide. This occurs whenever 16 Aviv falls on the first day of the week. Such is the case this very year.
However, there were other opinions, some of which tied Pentecost to the day on which it was believed the Torah was given. One opinion stated that the Israelites left Egypt on Friday, 15 Aviv, and the Torah was given on Sabbath, 6 Sivan. Another opinion stated that the Israelites left Egypt on Thursday, 15 Aviv, and that the Law was given on Sabbath, 7 Sivan.
The Falashas (Ethiopian Jews) observe Shavuot on 12 Sivan, which is the fiftieth day after the conclusion of the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. In other words, they count from the day after the last Holyday (22 Aviv). Meanwhile, the apocryphal book of Jubilees (called a protoEssene writing by some scholars) uses a 13 month calendar of 28 days each. In that calculation Shavuot always fell on a Sunday.
There is one last opinion that is of Christian origin, and was never used by any of the Jews. Like the Saducees, this method counts from the first day of the week during the Days of Unleavened Bread, but does not include that day as day number one. Therefore, Monday becomes the first day of Sifret HaOmer. This places Pentecost always on a Monday, one day after the Saducean Shavuot.
When one couples these possibilities with all of the various calendars that are being used, it is possible that there may be as many as 24-30 different dates on which people celebrate Shavuot. Of course, we forgot to mention that in mainstream Christianity, the Day of Pentecost is set in relationship to when Easter is celebrated, and Easter is set by the vernal equinox, plus a hard and fast rule that it must never occur on the same day as the Jewish Passover.
As Abraham Lincoln once said; "In this great conflict it is not possible that both sides can be correct, but it is possible that both may be wrong." Whatever day we as individuals decide upon, we all must understand that there is a chance we might be wrong. Anyone who does not understand this principle is in danger of setting themselves up as the authority on the matter, to whom all of the rest of us would then be expected to look.
~ A Scriptural Basis ~
Some say that we should always follow the rulings of the Pharisees because, as Yeshua said:
"The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say and do not do."
Does this mean that we are to follow the Pharisees even if it means contradicting the Scriptures? No, for after giving this instruction, Yeshua then launched into His famous condemnation of the Pharisees for the poor example some of them set in certain areas of their lives. Obviously, we are not to emulate this type of behavior, for it goes against Torah. In addition, Yeshua gave us some additional instruction, concerning this matter, which is recorded for us in yet another passage.
"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.
"But He answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying "Honor your father and your mother;" and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the Temple -- is released from honoring his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition."
In the first instance the Pharisees
took a command that was given to the Priests, to ritually wash
their hands, and applied it to the common people. This was a
position of the dominant Pharisaic school, the School of Shammai.
It was not the position of all of the Pharisees. In the second
example, Yeshua showed how some of the Pharisees used
the practice of dedicating an offering to the Temple as an excuse
not to support their elderly parents.
What does all of this have to do with Shavu'ot? Quite a bit, in the opinion of this writer. It is clear that Yeshua did not intend for us to follow the teachings of a Pharisaic school if what they taught puts us in violation of Scripture.
~ Shabbat vs. Shavuah ~
The entire argument concerning when
to offer the Omer Wave Offering centers around how one
reads the word Shabbat in Leviticus 23:11, 15 and 16.
The Saducees said that it could only mean the weekly Sabbath,
while the Pharisees said that in this one instance it meant the
first Holy day of Unleavened Bread. We believe the Saducees were
correct in their interpretation. Because of our conviction on
this point, following the Pharisaic tradition would require us to
break what we see as the clear instruction of the passage in
This is precisely what Yeshua warned against when He spoke to the Pharisees about how they taught people to handle their dedicated sacrifices to the Temple. Certainly dedicating a portion of ones earnings in order to purchase a Temple sacrifice was, in itself, a good deed. But, if doing so caused a person to forsake the clear command of Scripture to honor ones parents, then it was clearly wrong.
Let us examine the verses in question.
"He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath (Shabbat = Strongs #7676) the priest shall wave it.
"And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath (Shabbat), from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths (Shabbatot = plural form) shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath (Shabbat); then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD."
(Lev. 23:11, 15-16)
The Pharisees claimed that the word
Shabbat (Strongs #7676), as it is used
in verse 11 and its first usage in verse 15, identify the First
Day of Unleavened Bread (15 Aviv). Then they turn around
and claim the second usage of the word Shabbat
in verse 15, and its use in verse 16 mean weeks and
week respectively. In order to follow the Pharisaic
teaching we would have to retranslate it into English as follows:
"He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. ...
"And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven weeks shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh week then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD."
In the opinion of this writer, that is a real stretch, especially since there is another perfectly good word for week in Hebrew. That word is shavuah (shaw-vooah, Strongs #7620). The root of shavuah (week or weeks) is #7650, shavah (shah-vah), and it means; "to be complete," or "to swear." However, the word Shabbat comes from the root word shavat (#7673) which means; "to repose or desist from exertion." The two root words are related, however, they are two completely different root words, with two quite different meanings, as any Hebrew lexicon will tell you.
As you can see, all four cases, in Leviticus 23, where the English word Sabbath is used, it is derived from the Hebrew word Shabbat. Strongs defines this word very simply as? "the Sabbath."
Some may argue that a passage in Deut. 16 modifies this passage in Leviticus and teaches that we are to count seven weeks instead of seven Sabbaths.
"You shall count seven weeks (shavuot #7620, plural form) for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks (shavuot) from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks (shavuot) to the LORD your God ..."
By starting on the first day of the week, and counting seven Sabbaths, one is automatically counting seven full weeks. So starting from the day after the weekly Sabbath, as did the Saducees, does not require us to change the meaning of any Hebrew words. However (as shown earlier), starting from 16 Aviv does require that we change the meaning of Shabbat to that of Shavuot. Yes, Shavuot is the Feast of Weeks, that is the meaning of the word. But no matter how one twists it, the word Shabbat just does not mean weeks.
~ Shabbaton ~
Another word, Shabbaton is
also used in a few Scriptures. It is Strongs #7677 and is
defined as: "a sabbatism or special holiday:--rest,
sabbath," in other words, a high day, or
The Hebrew word Shabbat is only used in Scripture to identify the weekly Sabbath, with two exceptions (found in Lev. 23:32 and Lev. 16:31), both of which refer to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In both of these cases, when Shabbat is used in this context, it is qualified by the addition of the word Shabbaton.
Also, following are three cases, where our English Bibles use the word Sabbath denoting a Holyday; but the Hebrew word, from which it is mistranslated, is in every case, Shabbaton.
"Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest (Shabbaton), a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation."
"Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest (Shabbaton), and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest (Shabbaton)."
(Note: The New King James Version
quoted here, adds the word rest to indicate
that the Hebrew word from which they derived Sabbath is really
In addition, Shabbaton is used seven times in conjunction with the word Shabbat, where it is usually translated as "sabbath of rest." In one instance Shabbat Shabbaton refers to the seventh year land rest (Lev. 25:4), while in four places it refers specifically to the weekly Sabbath. In the other two cases it refers to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement):
"It shall be to you a sabbath (Shabbat) of solemn rest (Shabbaton), and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath (Shabbat)."
"It is a sabbath (Shabbat) of solemn rest (Shabbaton) for you, and you shall afflict your souls. it is a statute forever."
The reason the phrase Shabbat Shabbaton (Sabbath of rest) is used in relationship only to the weekly Sabbath and Yom Kippur, has to do with the fact that both are to be days of complete rest. Since Yom Kippur is a fast day no food was to be prepared on that day even though it was specifically allowed on the other Holydays. This separates it from all of the other six Holydays. Giving instruction concerning the two Holy-days during the Days of Unleavened Bread, Moshe wrote:
"On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat -- that only may be prepared by you.."
There is one other stand-alone use
of the word Shabbaton in Scripture. That is found in
Leviticus 25:5 where it refers to the land rest.
All of the other references to the annual Holydays are indicated by other Hebrew words: chag (khag = festival), chagag (khah-gahg = to dance), moed (mow-ed = appointed time) and Kodesh Mikrah (Koh-dehsh Meek-rah = Holy Convocation).
To summarize this point: the Hebrew word Shabbat always refers to the weekly Sabbath and never to an annual Holyday. The only exception is when it is combined to make the phrase Shabbat Shabbaton, which literally means a "Sabbath of rest." When Shabbaton is used by itself, it always refers to an annual Holyday.
~ Historical Confirmation ~
In addition to the Scriptures just
mentioned, there is also good historical evidence to believe that
in Yeshua's day Shavuot was celebrated according to the
manner of the Priests and Levites, and not the synagogue Rabbis.
The reason being that the Priests and Levites (Saducees) had control of the Temple service. While modern Rabbinic Judaism claims that the Priests took their directions from the Pharisees, historians (including Jewish ones) do not agree. Here is what Rabbi Stephen M. Wylen has to say on this matter in his book entitled; The Jews in the Time of Jesus.
"The Pharisees were renowned among the Jews for their knowledge of the law, and it seems that people accepted Pharisaic authority in the legal interpretation of scripture. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah. They held to priestly traditions that, in their own eyes, hewed more closely to the literal meaning of the Torah. (p. 58, emphasis added).
To summarize the opposing views on the Oral Torah of the Pharisees: the claim of traditional Jewish piety is that the Pharisees preserved the true traditions of Jewish law, while the Sadducees veered off to establish a new path. The more accepted historical view is that the Sadducees attempted to preserve the more ancient teachings of the traditional priesthood, while the Pharisees were innovative." (p. 59).
According to Rabbinic Judaism (based on the teachings of the Talmud) the Pharisees gained control over the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) during the time of the Hasmonean reign. This would have occurred in the first century before Yeshuas time, 100 to 1 BCE (Before the Common Era). Thus, according to their view, by the time Yeshua came on the scene the Temple was being run according to what the Pharisees taught, even though the Saducees maintained control of the Levitical Priesthood. Wylen takes a decidedly different point of view:
"Historians doubt the veracity of the Talmuds reconstruction of the ancient Sanhedrin. It is more likely that the high priest retained his authority in Jewish affairs as long as the Temple stood, until the year 70. ... In Judean society, as in all ancient societies, power lay in the hands of a small group of hereditary aristocrats. The notion of a high council of scholars, appointed for their wisdom despite humble origins, is appealing but unrealistic." (p. 71).
"The Sanhedrin posited by the Talmud did not exist in the time of Jesus, but something like it did exist in later times. After the destruction of the Temple the Jews reconstituted their self-government in the village of Yavneh, near the Mediterranean coast. The Sanhedrin of seventy-one members that met in Yavneh did contain a majority of Pharisees. ... The Talmuds reconstruction anachronistically reads this later rabbinic Sanhedrin back into Temple times, the time of Jesus." (p. 71).
In other words, since the Pharisees were the ones who ended up writing the history, they slanted it in favor of their own sect. Is that not precisely what is done by all historians? The history books of Germany and Japan tell a somewhat different story about World War II than do the history books of the United States and Britain.
~ Why Count? ~
Finally, if HaShem wanted
us to celebrate Shavuot on 6 Sivan, why
did He not identify that as the date, the way He did the other
six festivals? A possible answer is that this is the only
festival which has a fixed day of the week instead of a fixed day
of the month. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to count the
required fifty days in order to know when to celebrate it.
There is an interesting scripture in the Book of Acts, where it speaks of the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) was given.
"Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place."
Under the Saducean method of
derivation, Pentecost can occur as early as 6 Sivan and
as late as 12 Sivan.
Thus, the Saducean calculation can never occur before the Pharisaic one, but it often times occurs later. Is it possible the phrase "... fully come ..." might allude to the fact that in this particular year the Pharisaic Pentecost did not coincide with the Saducean one, and that the Holy Spirit was given on the later one? Just a thought.
~ Summary ~
The main reason we here at Hebrew
Roots celebrate Shavuot on the day
prescribed by the Saducees, is because we are convinced that is
what the Scriptures tell us to do. In our view, to accept a 6 Sivan
date requires a stretching of the Scriptures that we are just not
willing to do. In addition, there is the historical fact that the
Saducees did control the Temple service until its destruction in
70 CE (Common Era). It seems unlikely they would have given in to
the Pharisees on such an important point. However, once the
Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees did in fact gain total
control for setting Jewish Halacha (Hah-lah-cah = the
way one walks), and it was at that time they permanently changed
the celebration of Shavuot to 6 Sivan.
The Pharisees are the founders of modern Rabbinic Judaism, and so
today the vast majority of Jews follow the Pharisaic traditions
concerning the counting of the Omer and the keeping of Shavuot.
Please understand, we do recognize that 6 Sivan is an accepted date in the minds of many thousands of people, primarily those who practice Rabbinic Judaism. If you are absolutely convinced that 6 Sivan is the proper day to keep this festival, then it behooves you to follow your faith in this matter, for it is written:
"Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin."
May you all have a most wonderful and blessed Shavuot, whatever day you observe it.
~ ~ ~
~ Sources ~
Bloch, Abraham P., The
Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and
Ceremonies, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1960.
The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1978.
Green, Jay P., Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hendrickson Pub., Peabody, MA, 1966.
The Open Bible, The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985.
Strong, James, S.T.D., LL.D.., Strongs New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, 1966.
Wigram, George V., The Englishmans Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1980.
Wylen, Stephen M., The Jews in the Time of Jesus, Paulist Press, New York, 1996.
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