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What is Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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After the seven day holiday of Sukkot, we celebrate another independent biblical holiday1. There are two distinct themes to this Holiday, as expressed by its two names: "Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah."2   


In Israel this is a one day holiday, and the two themes mentioned above (and explained below) are celebrated on the same day. Outside of Israel this holiday is a two day holiday, the first day known as "Shmini Atzeret", the second day known as "Simchat Torah".


See "When are Sukkot and Simchat Torah?"


Shmini Atzeret:


Its origins: The Torah says "…On the eighth day [following the onset of Sukkot], it shall be a holy occasion for you, and you shall bring a fire offering to the L-rd. It is a [day of] detention. You shall not perform any work of labor."3


Its meaning: "[G-d says:] ‘I have detained you [to remain] with Me.’ This is analogous to a king who invited his sons to feast with him for a certain number of days, and when the time came for them to leave, he said: ‘My sons! Please, stay with me just one more day, [for] it is difficult for me to part with you!’ [Similarly, after the seven days of Sukkot, G-d "detains" Israel for one extra holiday.]"4


See "How is Shmini Atzeret celebrated?"


Simchat Torah:


Its origins: The obligatory observance of the day following Shemini Atzeret is the same as any two day Holiday out side of Israel, However, the unique name and special practices associated with Simchat Torah are not mentioned in the Torah nor the Talmud. Nevertheless, this is one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar.


Its meaning: It is the day we celebrate the annual cycle of the Torah readings. G-d gave us the Torah, and we gave him this aspect of the holiday.


Every Shabbat of the year we read one Torah Portion, and on Simchat Torah we read the last portion, V’zot Haberacha, then immediately begin the first portion, Breishit. This accomplishment produces tremendous joy which is highlighted through Hakafot, special dances in honor of this occasion.


See "How is Simchat Torah celebrated?"

Footnotes

  • 1. Although this holiday follows Sukkot, it is not actually part of Sukkot. We are not obligated to sit in the Sukkah or shake the Four Kinds on this holiday. Nonetheless, some communities outside of Israel do have a custom to sit in the Sukkah on Shmini Atzeret. See http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=103&o=21341 for more info. (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/103,2155533/What-is-Shmini-Atzeret-Simchat-Torah.html)
  • 2. Of the two themes, only one is biblical in nature. See below in this article for further elucidation.
  • 3. Leviticus 23:36
  • 4. Rashi’s commentary on the above verse

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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.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
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.
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.
Torah Portion
The Five Books of Moses are divided into 54 portions. Every Sabbath morning we read one portion. Several weeks during the year a double portion is read, in order to accommodate the Torah's completion on the Simchat Torah holiday.
Shemini 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.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.