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Six Things to Know About Simchat Torah and Sh'mini Atzeret

Six Things to Know About Simchat Torah and Sh'mini Atzeret

Just as Sukkot ends, Reform Jews enjoy the two-in-one-day holiday of Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Here are six things to know about this day of celebration.

  1. In Reform communities and in Israel, which generally observe one day of holidays rather than two, Sh’mini Atzeret is celebrated concurrently with Simchat Torah.
  1. In Hebrew, Sh’mini Atzeret means “eighth-day convocation.” The holiday derives its name from Leviticus 23:36, which proclaims: “On the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation.” In biblical times, Sh’mini Atzeret was a day for Jews to reflect on the just-ended holiday of Sukkot before returning to their regular routine.
  1. As such, Sh’mini Atzeret over time also became a day on which Jews recited a special prayer for rain in the coming year – quite appropriate in light of the agricultural theme of Sukkot. Indeed, Sh’mini Atzeret is the day on which we begin to pray in our own liturgy for wind and rain.
  1. Known as the festival of “Rejoicing in the Torah,” Simchat Torah marks the completion of the annual Torah-reading cycle. Just as we finish reading the last sentence in Deuteronomy (D’varim), we immediately begin again with the story of creation in Genesis (B'reishit). This practice represents the cyclical nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the reading of the Torah.
  1. Simchat Torah is characterized by joyful parades of people carrying Torah scrolls throughout the congregation, making seven circuits through the room, singing and dancing all the while.
  1. In some Jewish communities, an entire Torah scroll is unrolled for all to see, and in many Reform congregations, Simchat Torah also is the time for consecration, the blessing of children just entering religious school.

What are some of the Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah customs observed in your community?

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She is a graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman
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