We are fast getting to the end of the countdown, sefiras haOmer, which emphasises the passage of time, just seven weeks from start to finish, which flies by to bring us from Mitzraim to Har Sinai, to Shavuous.
Shavuous is a Yom Tov of unusual contrasts. On one hand we tend to think there is nothing special to do, no extra cleaning, building, selecting, and generalised excitement. On the other hand, Shavuous marks, albeit rather unobtrusively, one of the most defining and fundamental characteristics of Jewish life, the observation of the laws of kashrus.
When we received the Aseres Hadibros on Har Sinai, we accepted not only those ten fundamental mitzvos, but of course all other mitzvos in the Torah plus all the explanations and extensions found in the Torah shel b’al peh, the oral law contained in the Mishna. Every succeeding commentary has extended that knowledge and application, and has given us extremely detailed and thorough instructions on carrying out the observation of all mitzvos, including the laws of kashrus.
We are told that the B’nei Yisroel ate only dairy foods on Shavuous, the day the Torah was received on Har Sinai, because they discovered for the first time that their meaty dishes could not be used for a mixture of meat and milk.
Most of us do not go to that length, because we feel that meat meals are appropriate for the honour of the Yom Tov (and some people do not enjoy dairy meals for a variety of reasons), but there is a really strong tradition for dairy foods on Shavuous, whether it is a fancy milky kiddush, a gorgeous selection of cheesecakes at tea time, an evening meal of tender salmon or other fish accompanied by fresh (round!) challa and butter, followed by a cup of milky tea or coffee, or a treat of milky ice-cream or strawberries and cream.
There has never been more choice of kosher dairy items in the fridge. The shelves are laden with hundreds of cheeses of all types from all over the world, from ultra-soft fromage frais to ultra-hard and matured parmesan, sliced, whole pieces, grated packs, large and small tubs, and of course a great selection of baking cheeses, sour cream, crème fraiche, quark and yogurts ready for your own baking.
Salty, artisanal cheeses like feta and kashkeval lend themselves to adding to salads with any selection of raw salad vegetables, or even fruits, and there are so many ready prepared choices on the shelves to choose. Try slicing up some washed and checked romaine lettuce, with ready-shredded beetroot, pomegranate seeds and a sprinkle of washed and checked dill or mint leaves, with feta, olive oil and lemon juice for a salad which can make a meal in itself, an enticing hors d’oeuvre, or an inviting side salad with a quiche or milky lassagne.
There is no need to ignore dessert, so tempting, tailor-made for Shavuous, with a choice of several grades of cream, including the lush and thick organic Jersey cream. Pour, whip, spoon, spray, the choice is yours. Serve with fruit, cheesecake, in coffee, on ice-cream (ultimate decadence), or in a gateau or trifle. For two glorious days forget the calories and just enjoy!