We have just finished the counting of the Omer – 49 days between the bringing of the barley harvest starting on the day after the first day of Passover, and the holiday of the bringing of the wheat – Shavuot. This counting and the final Day 50 holiday are discussed in some detail in Leviticus 23:15-22. The masoritic text continues in verse 23 with the description of the holiday of Rosh HaShana, but the Dead Sea Scrolls insert another 2 holidays between Shavuot and Rosh HaShana in the Temple Scroll.
The Temple Scroll was discovered in 1956 in the 11th Dead Sea Scroll cave above Qumran. It is one of the longest scrolls discovered at over 8 meters in length and was written on a very thin piece of parchment – only 0.1 mm thick – making it the thinnest piece of parchment scroll found to date in the caves of Qumran. The subject matter of the scroll was a prophetic work of an idealized Temple which was never built. In keeping with the ideology of the Qumran sect that Judaism had been corrupt, also the Temple construction and running would have been viewed as corrupt. The Temple Scroll offers an alternative – an idealized Temple and Temple worship and holiday cycle, of course, with the Qumranites at the center. It is in this context that we learn about 2 additional holidays of bringing of first fruits, those associated with wine and oil.
“And you shall count off for yourselves, from the day on which you brought to God the new wheat offering, the first fruits of the bread, [Shavuot] seven weeks; there will be seven full weeks until the day after the seventh Shabbat. Count 50 days and bring an offering of the new wine for libation.” Temple Scroll 19:11-14
The fruit of the grape is certainly one of the most important products of the Land of Israel and a principle component of celebrating all Jewish holidays, Shabbat, and life cycle events. Weddings cannot be performed without wine, entering into the covenant of circumcision for boys involves blessings over wine, and 4 cups of wine are drunk as part of the Passover Seder meal.
Wine making in modern Israel started almost from the onset of arrival of the first modern Zionists. In the area around Zichron Yaacov, grape growers trained by Baron Rothschild’s overseers, began growing grapes for wine at the end of the 19th century. Today, Israel boasts over 400 wineries.
So, shall we bring back the Wine Festival mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Interestingly enough, even the Qumran sect did not alter the text of Leviticus and does not include this holiday between verses 22 and 23 but sticks to the standard text that we have today. The disappearance of the sect during the Great Revolt against the Romans and the destruction of the settlement at Qumran meant that their ideas never came to light but were buried in the caves for almost 2000 years.
Perhaps another reason for the disappearance of this holiday is because of its date. Fifty days after Shavuot puts the date of the First Wine holiday at the 3rd of Av. After the destruction of the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, the period between the 1st of Av and the 9th of Av became the period of the Nine Days, a time of mourning in the Jewish calendar when drinking wine is forbidden. Even if the holiday of New Wine was celebrated informally before the destruction of the Temple, the unfortunate timing probably led to its disuse after the destruction.
A holiday dedicated to drinking among all segments of society from the priests to the Levites to the princes and among the people from the youngest to the oldest, did not fit with the mourning over the loss of the Temple. May we be redeemed speedily and in our days (and raise a cup on the Wine Festival celebrating the fruits of the land)! LeChaim!