Jewish Journal

Simchat Torah

Posted on Oct. 19, 2000 at 8:00 pm

When: Sundown on Sat., Oct. 21, to sundown Oct. 22.


Simchat Torah ends the days beginning with Sukkot (which began last Friday night) that are known as Z'man simchateinu (season of our joy). The day before Simchat Torah (beginning sundown Oct. 20) is called Shemini Atzeret, which, loosely translated, means "the eighth day of assembly." Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are often thought of as the eighth and ninth days of Sukkot, but they comprise a holiday separate from Sukkot, which lasts seven days, and in Israel, they're observed on the same day.

A post-biblical festival conceived in exile, Simchat Torah celebrates the presence of the Torah in the lives of Jews. Congregations read the very end of the Torah and begin again with the first verses of Genesis. The holiday is marked by singing and dancing, similar to that of a wedding. Just as a bride and groom dance with each other at a wedding, on Simchat Torah we hold the Torah in our arms and dance joyously.

What you're supposed to do:

Go to synagogue. More than even the High Holy Days, Simchat Torah is a shul-based holiday (after all, that's where the Torah scrolls are).

What happens:

Shemini Atzeret is marked by two special observances: a memorial service honoring the dead and the first recitation for the season of the prayer for rain.

In the Simchat Torah service, the congregation recites or sings "Atah horeita" ("You have been shown"), a series of verses in praise of God and Torah. Then the ark is opened, all the Torah scrolls are taken out, and there's a series of seven hakafot (processions) with the scrolls, interspersed with bursts of singing and dancing.

Everyone in the congregation is given an opportunity to carry or dance with a scroll (though women may not have a chance to do so in some Orthodox synagogues). The scene becomes a joyous pandemonium of adults and children alike marching, dancing, singing, shouting, and waving flags.

After the processions, a traditional congregation will read the end of the Torah up to the last few verses during the evening service, continuing with those final verses and the beginning of Genesis the next morning (after another round of processions). In a liberal synagogue, the reading of the end and the beginning of the Torah may be combined in a single service.

Some synagogues hold a ceremony called "consecration" at Simchat Torah, during which religious school students in kindergarten or first grade are welcomed into the study of Torah and given toy Torah scrolls.

What you eat:

While Simchat Torah is not closely associated with particular foods, cakes and other sweets symbolizing the sweetness and joy of Torah are common, especially sweets made with stretched dough such as strudel and baklava.

More details about Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret can be found online at sites such as Virtual Jerusalem ( www.vjholidays.com) and the Orthodox Union (www.ou.org) or in books such as "The Jewish Holidays" by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld and "Jewish Literacy" by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

What To Do With Your Kids

A selection of this week's Jewish events for children: Ongoing:

"Kids Kehilla" at the Westside JCC emphasizes performing arts and multimedia projects which focus on Jewish values. For children 6-13. Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-6 p.m. For more information on enrollment, call (323) 934-2925. Monday, Oct. 23 Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus: 6:30 p.m. Israeli teen pop comes to the Valley with a live performance by Tze'irei Tel Aviv, "The Young Tel Avivians." Their 30-minute performance will consist of contemporary and pop Israeli music, sung mostly in Hebrew. 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. For reservations or more information, call (323) 761-8161. Friday, Oct. 27 Sukkot Temple Beth Hillel: 7:15 p.m.-7:45 p.m. "Tot Shabbat" service with stories and songs selected for their appeal to toddlers and preschoolers. 12326 Riverside Dr., Valley Village. For more information, call (818) 761-6983. Also, many synagogues have Simchat Torah celebrations especially for children. Call your local synagogues for more information.

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