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How is Simchat Torah celebrated?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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Simchat Torah is known as Yom Tov. It is observed as a period of rest much like Shabbat. Work that is prohibited on Shabbat is prohibited during this period as well; with a couple of exceptions. We spend the time in prayer and celebration. We light candles, eat a traditional holiday meal, complete with holiday Kiddush and two Challahs, at night and during the day.1

The focal point of Simchat Torah is the Hakafot.

The Hakafot procedure is done (first on the night of Shmini Atzeret and then repeated2) on the night and the morning of Simchat Torah3. We remove all the Torah Scrolls from the Ark, ceremoniously carry them around the Bimah4, and then we dance and rejoice with the Torahs. The children dance with flags, and the adults traditionally enjoy a l’chaim or two.

It is customary for everyone to receive an Aliyah on Simchat Torah day. For this purpose, the Torah reading is repeated as many times as necessary, until all adult men have received their aliyah5. The children, too, receive an aliyah on Simchat Torah; all the children are gathered together under a Tallit and, together with the adult who received this honor, recite the traditional aliyah blessings.

The two most special Aliyot of this day are “Chatan Torah” and “Chatan Bereishit.” Chatan Torah is the last aliyah of the Torah and Chatan Bereishit is the first aliyah of the new cycle of the reading, which also takes place on Simchat Torah.

See also "What is Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah?" and "When are Sukkot and Simchat Torah?"

Footnotes

  • 1. In Israel Simchat Torah is celebrated on Shmini Atzeret, the 8th day since the inception of Sukkot. Outside of Israel it is celebrarted on the day after Shmini Atzeret, the 9th day since the inception of Sukkot.
  • 2. Hakafot on the night of Shmini Atzeret is a custom in some communites, including Chabad.
  • 3. The above is true in the Diaspora where Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on two different days. In Israel there is just one day of celebration and the Hakafot are performed on that night and during that day.
  • 4. During the night time Hakafot we encircle the Bimah 7 times, and during the day time Hakafot 3 1/2 times.
  • 5. Alternatively, many people are called up together for each Aliyah.

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Simchat Torah

Posted by: Anonymous on Jan 11, 2006

Why do we circle around the synagogue seven times on Simchat Torah? What is the significance of the number seven in Judaism?

Editor's Comment

See "What is special about the number seven?" (http://www.askmoses.com/qa_detail.html?h=318&o=81250)
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Hakafot
Literally means "circling." On the holiday of Simchat Torah we take the Torah scrolls and encircle the synagogue's reading table seven times. This ceremony is done by night and repeated next day, and is customarily accompanied by dancing, singing and great joy.
Simchat Torah
An extremely joyous one-day autumn festival following the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel it is the eighth day of Sukkot, outside of Israel it is celebrated the next day, the day after Shmini Atzeret. Every Sabbath we read a portion of the Torah. On this holiday we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Aliyah
Literally means to rise up. Has two popular meanings: 1. Being called up to the Torah scroll and recite the blessings when the Torah is being read. 2. To emigrate to the Holy Land.
Shmini Atzeret
A joyous one-day autumn festival immediately following the holiday of Sukkot. Outside Israel this holiday is celebrated for two days, the second day is known as Simchat Torah.
Yom Tov
Jewish Holiday.
Tallit
A prayer shawl. A large four-cornered woolen garment with fringes attached to its corners in a specific manner. This garment is worn by males during the morning prayers, fulfilling the Biblical obligation of attaching fringes to four-cornered garments.
Bimah
Table at the center of the synagogue upon which the Torah is placed when it is being read.
Aliyot
Plural form of Aliyah. The honor of being called up to the Torah scroll when the Torah is read is called an aliyah. The Shabbat Torah reading has seven principle aliyot (plus the maftir aliyah).