THE HOLIDAY OF SUKKOT IS FOLLOWED BY AN INDEPENDENT HOLIDAY CALLED SHEMINI ATZERET. IN ISRAEL, THIS IS A ONE-DAY HOLIDAY; IN THE DIASPORA IT IS A TWO-DAY HOLIDAY, AND THE SECOND DAY IS KNOWN AS SIMCHAT TORAH. THIS HOLIDAY IS CHARACTERIZED BY UTTERLY UNBRIDLED JOY, WHICH SURPASSES EVEN THE JOY OF SUKKOT. THE JOY REACHES ITS CLIMAX ON SIMCHAT TORAH, WHEN WE CELEBRATE THE CONCLUSION—AND RESTART—OF THE ANNUAL TORAH READING CYCLE.
By Rabbi I. Silverman
On the eighth (Shemini) day, a celebration (Atzeret) shall be held for you.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. That’s why, after seven great days, G-d gives us one more day in His Presence.
Shemini Atzeret is an extra day tacked on to the end of Sukkot, allowing us to soak up those spiritual feelings in our sukkahs and stock up for the year ahead of us. If that doesn’t get you high enough, dancing with the Torah will! Because after you’ve brought the loftiness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur down to earth with Sukkot, you embrace the guide that will steer you true in your life ahead: The Torah.
Shemini Atzeret is marked by holiday services and a festive meal at home. Our custom is to eat in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, but without the traditional blessing. It is also our custom to dance with the Torah on Shemini Atzeret just as we will do in Simchat Torah.
On Simchat Torah, the holiday of rejoicing with the Torah, we don’t study the Torah, we celebrate it. We hold it, hug it, dance and sing with it. After all, G-d’s manual for life is the greatest thing a Jew could possibly celebrate.
We read the last portion of the Torah. Since Torah study never ends, we also begin reading from the scroll’s very beginning. This is to show that the Torah is beloved to us, and we are eager for a new cycle to commence.
The celebration is marked on Simchat Torah night and the following day with exuberant, boisterous dancing in the synagogue while holding the Torah scrolls. The dancing circles the synagogue’s bimah, or Torah reading platform, seven times, while everyone sings spirited Jewish songs.
The highlight of the second day, Simchat Torah (The Joy of the Torah), is the hakafot, held on both the eve and the morning of Simchat Torah, in which we march and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. In many synagogues, hakafot are conducted also on the eve of Shemini Atzeret.
These two days constitute a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. In the Land of Israel, the celebration and customs of these two days are compressed into one fantastic day.
So no matter where you are, make the assembly or celebration of the eighth and the rejoicing with Torah an immense time of happiness and spirituality.
GUIDEBy Chani Rosenblum
Sunday, October 4th, 2015
Monday, October 5th, 2015
Light candles on the eve of Shemini Atzeret
- This day is reserved for joy and special prayers for rain. It is customary to have hakafot (circle the Torah reading platform).
- Go to the synagogue.
- Make a Yom Tov Kiddush and have a festive meal by night and day.
- Many still eat their meals in the Sukkah without the special blessing for the Sukkah.
Monday, October 5th, 2015
Tuesday, October 6th, 2015
- Light candles from a preexisting flame (on the eve of Simchat Torah).
- Make a Yom Tov Kiddush and have a festive meal by day and at night. The Torah scrolls are taken out from their ark, the men parade with them around the bimah seven times, and dance and sing with them.
- The next morning everyone gets called up to the Torah (including children) as the Torah reading is concluded.