Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah Summary
Date: The 22nd and 23rd of Tishri
Duration: Two days for Jews in the Galut and one day for Jews in Yisrael.
Source: "The eighth day shall be for you a holy assembly" (VaYikra 23:36)
General Theme: A new beginning in anticipation of an improved and better new year. These two days are attached to the end of the Festival of Sukkot. Since Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the people extended their festivities and lingered in Yerushalayim, thus the added 8th day of Shemini Atzeret.
On Simchat Torah (the 9th day), the reading from Sefer Devarim concludes the cycle of Torah readings, which is begun again immediately with the reading of the first verses of Bereishit.
Customs: Two candles are lit to usher in both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and the festival blessing is changed. A Yahrzeit candle to the memory of the departed is lit as well.
The festival blessing over the wine (the Kaddush) and the blessing over the bread (HaMotzi) are recited.
On Shemini Atzeret the Yizkor memorial prayers for the departed are recited. In addition, the solemn prayer for rain in Yisrael (called "Tefillat Geshem") is added to the additional Musaf service, for at this time of year the rainy season is due to begin in Yisrael, where crops depend heavily on the abundance of rainfall. In most synagogues the Cantor is attired in a white gown (Kittel) because of the imporatnce of the prayer for rain.
On Simchat Torah there is great merriment in the synagogue. People sing and dance while marching with all of the Torah scrolls. Children often carry banners and flags topped with apples.
During the service a very special honor is awarded to two members of the congregation. The one called on to read the concluding paragraph of the Torah is referred to as Chatan Torah (the Bridegroom of the Torah), and the one who reads the opening paragraphs of Bereishit is called Chatan Bereishit (the Bridegroom of Bereishit). There is also a custom to call up adults to the Torah for an aliyah. Often adults are called up collectively to say the Torah blessings, and they stand under a large tallit. Children, too, are also presented with an opportunity to recite the blessings over the Torah, standing under a tallit as well.
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