Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the practice of staying up until dawn to study the Torah and other Jewish texts for the entire first night of the holiday, is an ancient and cherished tradition, according to Rabbi Amy Bardack, director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Shavuot commemorates the day God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, and Bardack said that Tikkun Leil Shavuot originated from the belief that some Israelites overslept on that auspicious day and missed the holy event at Mount Sinai. Others believe it to be our way of honoring the basis of Jewish tradition.
“One way of celebrating the receiving of the Torah is to take part in Torah study,” Bardack told the Chronicle.
So, that’s just what the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is planning, albeit a little early.
Shavuot begins Sunday evening, May 16, but the Federation is hosting a late-night virtual learning session, Tikkun Leil Online, on the night prior to the commencement of the holiday to ensure that those who do not use electronics on Shavuot are able to participate in the event. The same online format was offered last year in response to pandemic restrictions.
The online learning will take place on Saturday and Sunday, May 15 and 16, from 10 p.m. until 12:50 a.m. Sessions will be led and taught by local rabbis and other Jewish thinkers, and are open to all members of the community.
The Federation is sponsoring 22 sessions over three, one-hour time slots — everything from a deep dive into the Merkavah (mysticism) on whether Ezekiel was a visionary “or just crazy,” with Rabbi Seth Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom, to a timely think tank session titled “Where was God during the coronavirus pandemic?” with Rabbi Levi Langer of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center.
Bardack will be presenting a session on themes related to tikkun olam in the Talmud. That session runs in the first time slot, from 10 to 10:50 p.m. Tikkun olam, as a concept, she said, has evolved and developed since biblical times.
“It was first used in the Mishnah,” Bardack said. “In modern times, it was revised in the 1950s as universal values and social justice. Not to give a spoiler alert, but we’re going to look at the meaning of tikkun olam in the beginning.”
Federation leaders hope people will participate in big event before the holiday.
“The holiday itself demands a meal and all sorts of other activity,” said Rabbi Danny Schiff, the Federation’s foundation scholar, who is helping organize the program. “Doing it the night before finds some people more freely available.”
Federation’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot program has been a mainstay in Jewish Pittsburgh since its launch in 2009. Last year, the event drew hundreds more than could have been accommodated in person, according to Schiff, who said that one of the benefits of Zoom-style, online presentations was that people tuned in from distant locals like Canada and as far south as Florida.
The Federation is hoping last year’s recipe for strong attendance can be repeated. To that end, this year’s program includes more Pittsburgh-based rabbis and scholars, Schiff said, including more female speakers.
“We always strive to have a real diversity to represent our Jewish community,” he said. “This is one of those nights where you’re a kid in the candy store.”
Added Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Federation, “One important insight from the past year is that expanding events online can bring in audiences we don’t usually see at in-person events. Tikkun Leil online will gather an amazing, diverse audience that includes some people who prefer for a variety of reasons to connect to Jewish life virtually.”
Adam Hertzman, a Federation spokesperson, noted that the online format makes it difficult to estimate the number of people who will tune in.
“There’s such a wide variety of content,” Hertzman said. “Things we think are going to be super-successful and engaging are not always well-attended and things we don’t think will do well are packed.”
That said, “If we learned anything from the pandemic,” Hertzman said, “there’s a significant amount of people who want to engage in Jewish life from their home.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.