The festival of Shavuot is one of the three Hag Hakatzir, or Harvest Holidays, mentioned in the Bible. Shavuot began as a strictly agricultural festival to celebrate the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest, a new agricultural season. Two loaves of bread made from the first wheat crops were traditionally presented by priests at the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering of thanksgiving. Shavuot is also known as Yom Habikkurim, the Day of First Fruits, because the first fruits of the seven Biblical species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) were brought to the Temple.
Since the third century, the spiritual significance of Shavuot has been celebrated as the day on which God was revealed at Sinai. The Torah reading for Shavuot is the description of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as well as the Ten Commandments. The Book of Ruth is also traditionally read at Shavuot services. In many Reform congregations, the Confirmation ceremony, which signifies the end of formal Jewish education and the passage into adult Jewish life, is also held on Shavuot.
The 19th-century central European pewter plate featured here was made to commemorate the festival of Shavuot. It is elaborately decorated with the names and symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel around the outer edge and an etching of the Ten Commandments in the center. The plate was a generous gift of Dr. Louis Grossman.