The very next day, after the week long Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles concludes, begins the observance of Simchat Torah, meaning “Rejoicing in the Torah.” It marks the completion of the yearly cycle of reading portions of the Torah, from Genesis Chapter 1 thru Deuteronomy 34, every week in the synagogue. It’s a reminder that the Torah is a never ending lesson cycle from the Lord.
The origin of this observance goes all the way back when the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile (586 – 536 B.C.)1 The Torah was divided up into 54 portions. One individual portion would be read every Sabbath, all in sequence during the year. Occasionally allowances had to be made for leap years.
It is a time of great celebration. Individuals are given the honor of reciting a blessing over the Torah reading and carrying the scrolls in processions around the synagogue. Everyone kisses the Torah scrolls as they pass by. There is high-spirited singing and dancing, and in some congregations the drinking of adult beverages is allowed during this time.
Many congregations will divide into smaller prayer groups, each of which will use one of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls. Dividing the service up this way gives every person in attendance the opportunity to bless the Torah. In some traditional communities only the men or pre-bar mitzvah boys accompanied by adults bless the Torah (post bar mitzvah boys are counted among the men). In other communities women and girls are also allowed to take part.
In some traditional communities only the men or pre-bar mitzvah boys accompanied by adults bless the Torah (post bar mitzvah boys are counted among the men). In other communities women and girls are also allowed to take part.2
Some synagogues mark the occasion with more somber occasions such as confirmation ceremonies or ceremonies marking the beginning of a child’s Jewish education. “Traditionally observant Jews do not work, attend school, answer the telephone, drive, or even use the computer on Simchat Torah.”3
Overall the holiday must be a unique and joyful experience.
- See 2 Kings 25 & Ezra 1-6.
- Ariela Pelais, What is Simchat Torah?, About.com
- Institute for Curriculum Services, icsresources.org