Halacha of the Week by Rabbi Avram Rothman Aish Thornhill Community Shul
￼The upcoming holiday of Shavuot, aside from its most common name, has several others: Chag HaKatzir (The Holiday of the Harvest), Atzeres (Assembly), Yom HaBikkurim (Day of the offering of the first fruits), and Zman Mattan Toraseinu (The Time of the Giving of the Torah).
Yet, for many of us it has an additional name: Chag HaGvinah - The Holiday of the Cheese!
Interestingly, having cheesecake on Shavuot is one custom with which many non-practicing Jews are stringent! Have you ever met someone who turned down a piece of cheesecake? But where does this time-honoured traditional custom of consuming cheesecake on Shavuot come from?
It seems that the earliest mention of such a custom is by the Rema, the authoritative decisor for all Ashkenazic Jewry, who cites the ‘prevailing custom’ of eating dairy items specifically on Shavuot.
Although there are many reasons raised through the ages to explain this custom, the Rema provides an enigmatic one, to be a commemoration of the special sacrifice, the Shtei HaLechem (Two Loaves) offered exclusively on Shavuot during the times of the Temple.
However, since the connection between dairy food and a bread offering seems tenuous, the Machatzis HaShekel offers a remarkable glimpse as to the Rema’s intent.
The halacha states that one may not use the same loaf of bread at both a dairy meal and a meat meal. The reason for this is that there may be some (possibly unnoticed) residue on the bread, and thus one might come to eat a forbidden mixture of milk and meat.
Therefore, in order to properly commemorate this unique sacrifice which had two loaves of bread, one should have a separate dairy meal aside from the traditional meat meal one has on the holiday. This way, he will be mandated to have separate breads for each of these meals, as the loaf meant for the dairy meal cannot be used for the meat meal and vice versa.
Therefore, by having an additional dairy meal, the outcome is a suitable commemoration for this sacrifice, as now on Shavuot, two separate distinct breads are being served. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein cites this explanation as the proper one for maintaining two separate types of meals on Shavuot, one milk and one meat.
So now we can appreciate that by eating cheesecake on Shavuot, we are actually commemorating a special sacrifice!