Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the Jewish holidays marking the end of the Torah reading cycle. They occur the day after and two days after the end of Sukkot. In Israel, only Shemini Atzeret is celebrated as a one day holiday, while the rest of the world celebrates both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, with Simchat Torah holding greater significance.
Students celebrating Simchat Torah for the first time at W&L Hillel. Ron Perets '18, Laura Wiseman '16, Rachel Reibach '18 and Rebecca Orsak '18 lead Kiddush after the Torah ceremony, which took place beofre our weekly Shabbat Shalom Dinner.
Simchat Torah is a major celebration known for its joyful feasting. It is a major holiday, meaning that observant Jews refrain from going to work or school, using electricity, and writing. During the celebration, the Torah scroll is removed from the ark and is accompanied by people marching and dancing, called a hakafot. The celebration of the Torah is not solely based on its content; the physical scroll has its own religious significance. It is the most religious book in Judaism and is treated with immense care.
Torah scrolls are written by hand using a quill and ink well, and their pages are made of bonded parchment. The scroll is normally wound on wood pegs and often adorned with silver and gold. It is also customary during Simchat Torah for men, and even boys, in Orthodox and Conservative congregations, to get an aliyah to the Torah. An aliyah means “a rising” and involves the physical act of rising up to the Torah and reading a prayer from it. After one reading cycle of the Torah is officially closed, a new one is immediately opened, and reading of the Torah starts all over again from the book of Genesis. The reasoning behind this is that the Torah is believed to have an infinite number of meanings and interpretations, and there is always more that can be uncovered by reading the Torah over and over again. Concluding Simchat Torah is a feast generally held in the Sukkah, which is left up for a few days after Sukkot.