Shavuot: A celebration of cheesecake

by | May 30, 2024 | Holidays, Other News

Who doesn’t love a good cheesecake?!?  For a group of people who are between 75 and 90% lactose intolerant, we must have a lot of chutzpah because we clearly won’t be denied our love of all things dairy.  

 When I moved to Israel, I was actually shocked to see families barbecuing on Shavuot.  I had thought Shavuot was a dairy holiday and had somehow inferred from that tradition that eating meat on this holiday was forbidden.

 There’s a certain mystery to Shavuot.  In fact, Shavuot was not even its original name.  In the Book of Exodus, it is called Chag HaKatzir (Festival of the Harvest), and in the Book of Numbers, it is called Chag HaBikkurim (Festival of the First Fruits).  

 No one knows for sure how eating dairy on the holiday became customary among Ashkenazim.  The first mention of the custom in Jewish literature is only dated to the late 14th century in the Sefer HaMinhagim (Book of Customs).

 The religious explanations for the custom range from the Torah being compared to milk in the Song of Solomon to the belief that the Jewish people weren’t ready to eat meat when they got the kosher laws. 

 The theory I personally find the most interesting is the one that involves Shavuot being the day when children were inducted into heder (Jewish school) in Eastern Europe. It was tradition to celebrate the occasion with dairy since it was the most economical choice.

 Whatever the case may be, I think likening Torah and learning with milk is a beautiful and accurate analogy that we should indulge in with a little cheesecake.  I have made a number of cheesecakes in the past – a Bailey’s cheesecake and an Oreo cheesecake, which has been my favorite so far, but I am super excited to try my hand at a baklava cheesecake with pistachios, cardamom, rose water, and honey in a phyllo dough crust.  

 I am about to try it and put it on the menu soon. I can’t wait!

Eitan Altchuler can be reached at the Humusiya at the Sandler Family Campus or at