Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the LORD... on the eighth day, there shall be a holy convocation for you. - Leviticus 23:34

Shmini Atzeret is celebrated the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, and in Israel is also the holiday of Simchat Torah.  The two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is not technically correct. Shmini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and literally means “the assembly of the eight (day).” When Sukkot is over, God commands His people to stay for an extra day, for a more intimate celebration.

Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” While this holiday is not specifically commanded in Scripture, long ago tradition gave it significance. This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue a few chapters are read publicly from the Torah, starting with Genesis Chapter 1 through Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, it is tradition to read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that we must never stop reading God’s Word and the importance of reading it every day.

This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls accompanied by high-spirited singing and dancing in the synagogue. As many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll in these processions. Children do not carry the scrolls as they are much too heavy, but they 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. Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are holidays on which work is not permitted.

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

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