Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Significance: A follow-up to Sukkot; the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings
Length: 2 days (Some: 1 day)
Customs: Limited "dwelling" in the sukkah; dancing and rejoicing with Torah scrolls
...On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the
Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD... on the eighth day, there shall
be a holy convocation for you. -Leviticus 23:34
Tishri 22, the day after the seventh day of
Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret. In
Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of
Simchat Torah. Outside of Israel, where extra days of
holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah:
Shemini Atzeret is Tishri 22 and 23, while Simchat Torah is Tishri 23.
These two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is
technically incorrect; Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and does
not involve some of the special observances of Sukkot. We do not take up the
lulav and etrog on these days, and our dwelling in the sukkah is more limited,
and performed without reciting a blessing.
Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)."
Rabbinic literature explains the holiday this way:
our Creator is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but
when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He
asks us to stay another day. Another related explanation: Sukkot is a holiday
intended for all of mankind, but when Sukkot is over, the Creator invites the
Jewish people to stay for an extra day, for a more intimate celebration.
Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah." This
holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of
weekly Torah readings. Each week in
synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from
the Torah, starting with Genesis Ch. 1 and working our way around to
Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, then proceed
immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a
circle, and never ends.
This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are
processions around the synagogue carrying Torah
scrolls and plenty of high-spirited singing and
dancing in the synagogue with the Torahs. Drinking is also common during this
time; in fact, a traditional source recommends performing the priestly blessing
earlier than usual in the service, to make sure the
kohanim are not drunk when the time comes! As
many people as possible are given the honor of an
aliyah (reciting a blessing over the Torah
reading); in fact, even children are called for an aliyah blessing on Simchat
Torah. In addition, as many people as possible are given the honor of carrying
a Torah scroll in these processions. Children do not carry the scrolls (they
are much too heavy!), but often follow the procession around the synagogue,
sometimes carrying small toy Torahs (stuffed plush toys or paper scrolls).
In some synagogues, confirmation ceremonies or ceremonies marking the beginning
of a child's Jewish education are held at this time.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are holidays on which
work is not permitted.
List of Dates
Shemini Atzeret will occur on the following days of the secular calendar:
- Jewish Year 5773: sunset October 7, 2012 - nightfall October 8, 2012
- Jewish Year 5774: sunset September 25, 2013 - nightfall September 26, 2013
- Jewish Year 5775: sunset October 15, 2014 - nightfall October 16, 2014
- Jewish Year 5776: sunset October 4, 2015 - nightfall October 5, 2015
- Jewish Year 5777: sunset October 23, 2016 - nightfall October 24, 2016
In Israel, Simchat Torah falls on the same day as Shemini Atzeret. Outside
Israel, Simchat Torah will occur on the following days of the secular calendar:
- Jewish Year 5773: sunset October 8, 2012 - nightfall October 9, 2012
- Jewish Year 5774: sunset September 26, 2013 - nightfall September 27, 2013
- Jewish Year 5775: sunset October 16, 2014 - nightfall October 17, 2014
- Jewish Year 5776: sunset October 5, 2015 - nightfall October 6, 2015
- Jewish Year 5777: sunset October 24, 2016 - nightfall October 25, 2016
For additional holiday dates, see Links to Jewish
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