Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

jewish_synagogue_pulpitAlthough Shemini Atzeret arrives right after Sukkot, it is actually a separate holiday. However, Sukkot customs and ideas linger and are evident in the observance and celebration of Shemini Atzeret. For example, it is appropriate to dwell in the sukkah, but the brachot/blessings that accompany sukkah dwelling during Sukkot are not said on Shemini Atzeret.

Shemini Atzeret is a Torah holiday and is translated as the eighth day of assembly.

As we read:

On the eighth day you should hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupation.Bamidbar/Numbers 29:35

The holiday marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. The necessity for water in a region in which water is scarce is reflected in one of the major rituals of Shemini Atzeret; the recitation of the prayer for rain, Tefillat Geshem. This is one of many examples we see in Jewish observance and ritual that highlights our connection to the Land of Israel. We are also reminded not only of the necessity of water but of the tremendous impact and danger of the extreme water conditions of both drought and flood.

Simchat Torah celebrates the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle; and as soon as the last words of D’varim/Deuteronomy are recited the cycle begins over again with the opening words of Bereshit/Genesis. It appears that this observance became associated with Shemini Atzeret in the early medieval period and a separate day, Simchat Torah became identified as the day on which the Torah reading cycle ends and begins.

Simchat Torah is a joyous celebration that includes processions with the Torah accompanied by singing and dancing. This is a holiday that accentuates the centrality of Torah in Jewish tradition and the life of the Jewish people.

In Reform and Re-constructionist synagogues and in Israel today, the observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah takes place on one day only.

Chag Sameach!

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Want to chat about Jewish hoidays or Jewish life? Debbie Goodman would love to answer your questions either via email or by phone at 303.316.6317.
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