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Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah in a Nutshell

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah in a Nutshell

The Holiday when we become the Torah's "Dancing Feet"


Immediately following the seven-day festival of Sukkot comes the two-day festival of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. (In the Land of Israel, the festival is "compacted" in a single day).

Shemini Atzeret means "the eighth [day] of retention"; the chassidic masters explain that the primary purpose of the festival is to retain and "conceive" the spiritual revelations and powers that we are granted during the festivals of the month of Tishrei, so that we could subsequently apply them to our lives throughout the year.

The "Four Kinds" are not taken on Shemini Atzeret. We still eat in the sukkah (according to the custom of most communities), but without making the special blessing on the sukkah. On the second day of Shemini Atzeret (i.e., the ninth day from the beginning of Sukkot)--and in the Land of Israel--we go back to eating in the home.

The second day of Shemini Atzeret is called Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing of the Torah"). On this day we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah reading cycle. The event is marked with great rejoicing, especially during the "hakafot" procession, in which we march, sing and dance with the Torah scrolls around the reading table in the synagogue. "On Simchat Torah," goes the chassidic saying, "we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah's dancing feet."

Other festival observances include the special prayer for rain included in the musaf prayer of Shemini Atzeret, and the custom that all are called up to the Torah on Simchat Torah.

Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Steve Arnold Perth Australia October 13, 2017

Thank you that was very nicely explained Reply

Anonymous Chicago, IL September 28, 2013

Miriam the Prophetess I am not fluent in Jewish Traditions, but didn't the prophetess Miriam, the sister of Moses lead the singing and dancing after their deliverance from the army of the Egyptians? Reply

Torah lover Los Angeles September 25, 2013

A gentile looking in and loving it. I'm reading "Simchat Torah in a nutshell" and learning a lot. The comments are insightful. Thank you Reply

Anonymous ILFORD ESSEX , UK September 28, 2011

FLAGS AND CANDLES In the UK lighted candles are no longer permitted as a fire risk and new health and safety regulations.
far fewer apples are now seen on the top of flags as the flag poles are weak plastic and have no extension above the now plastic flag top.
DANCING IS ENTHUSIASTIC,as always, men and women separately Reply

Anonymous Bar Harbor, Maine September 27, 2011

flag dancing I am 80 years old. I also live in Bar Harbor, Maine and would love to meet Anonymous from Bar Harbor. We seem to have some background in common and who knows what else. Sharon, please share my email address and ask this person to email me. Thank you. Reply

Jessica Glen Ridge, NJ September 24, 2011

Flags and Candles "It is customary for the children to carry flags with lit candles during the Hakafot." (Yalkut Minhagim) Reason: In accord with the verse, (Is 24:16): With lights give honor to Hashem."

-- Rite and Reason, 1050 Jewish Customs and Their Sources by Shmuel Pinchas Gelbard Reply

Anonymous Bar Harbor, Maine, USA September 25, 2010

Holiday Dancing I am 79 yrs old and I danced in New York City with an American flag with an apple on top. No candle. It was a joyous occasion remembered fondly. Yes, girls were allowed to dance even though the shul was orthodox. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY USA July 3, 2010

women Women are equal to Men. Traditions can put us in touch with our souls to experience the divine, but when the traditions are exclusionary they can be harmful, and lead us to feel divided in within our souls and isolated from the group - when this happens, and people blindly follow and ignore the truth informing their own voice and turn deaf ear towards the hurting voices of others - this is sad and tragic. Women should not be discouraged from dancing. This is wrong and it speaks for itself. Reply

Anonymous ILFORD, ESSEX United Kingdom October 13, 2009

simchat torah flags In the UK 1930 as a child i remember going round with the flag having an apple stuck on top and a lit small birthday candle stuck into the apple top !! health and safety now forbid the lighted candle
flag dancing comes from the chinese 1000s of years ago
old paintings of simchat torah festivities1850+ have children,no flags
when could one first buy them
so when did the custom of simchat torah flag dancing come about ? Reply

George October 12, 2009

RE: simchat torah flags The custom of dancing with flags is hundreds of years old and they do so much to enhance the festive atmosphere of the holiday dancing, as well as give the kids a real role to play. Reply

sharon ruth lubin david, panama October 9, 2009

dancing continued yes! David was an inspiration to all of us. and that is why we celebrate this glorious occasion and why we, too, dance at the bimah. but, the women are denied doing so, in my most humble insight, because it was the women who questioned Davids actions. He never went in to Michal, again. G-d was very angry with the women. I accept this. I look on with an unspeakable joy, instead,. Reply

Anonymous ILFORD, ESSEX United Kingdom October 9, 2009

simchat torah flags when did these flags appear and for what reasons ? Reply

a.t.a jerusalem, israel October 7, 2009

reply to "dancing" i think there may be a misunderstanding...
when David Hamelech danced with the Aron HaKodesh on the way to Jerusalem, he danced with all of his heart. his wife, Michal, was concerned that the way in which he danced in front of all the women on Israel was not modest. however, the sages teach us that David is praised for dancing the way he did. Reply

Jacob Dallas, Tx October 2, 2009

Women and Reading/Dancing with the Torah Why do women as well as men who are egalitarian in their worldview insist that others who are Orthodox in their views adhere to their perspectives? Their are movements who have changed or adopt different perspectives. I encourage those who are not Orthodox to stop trying to changing Orthodoxy. Reply

Yerachmiel NY, USA September 13, 2009

Please Include all the Simchat Torah Songs The Art Scroll Machzor for Simcha Torah includes all the songs (with English translations) for the Hakafots....could you please include all those songs on your wonderful web site. Reply

sharon ruth lubin September 13, 2009

dancing when king david was dancing before the torah, the women laughed at him and made fun of him. Reply

Ilana Jerusalem September 5, 2009

for Sharon Sharon, I am happy to be a woman and to be raising my children. It still makes me sad that in Orthodox shuls I don't get called to the Torah for an Aliyah and that in most the women don't dance on Simchat Torah.

Maybe you don't care about dancing on Simchat Torah. But for me it was an uplifting, joyful, wonderful, satisfying holiday -- because I loved the dancing. But this is not usual practice in Orthodox shuls. What a loss of a holiday! So many Orthodox women do feel "left out". Imagine going to a wedding and just watching. Women want to dance and celebrate too. Reply

sharon ruth dovaH lubin david, rep of panama September 4, 2009

women It makes me very sad to read so many are not in understanding of the role of women. throughout the torah women played life saving roles, especially as messengers or in the lessons of compassion. I would not change my role for anything in the world. who would do my essential work in the home or with the children or nourishing the creation with compassion, light, and mercy? to me the separation of the sexes is absolutely basic and the love between them as sacred as the tree of life. how can you love G-d and question Him so?? would you want the man to bear the children? have you not gone to the very gates of heaven to have yours? such a blessing to be a woman. thank you, G-d, for making me a woman. Reply

Ilana Jerusalem October 25, 2008

Kevin, that's what I thought ... I believed that almost my whole life. The Orthodox men don't make the rules for *everyone*. If they make unjust rules, then the rules are wrong. And I davened in a "shteibel"-like shul that is fully egalitarian. But these shuls and movements are not managing to sustain Judaism over generations. There are fewer Jews in every generation and they are less observant. So now I don't know what the rules should be. Reply

Kevin Gilad Benyamin Smith October 22, 2008

To Ilana in Jerusalem Ilana! So BE a JEW where Jewish women are treated properly! Find a shtibl where women and men worship together. Those orthodox men don't make all the rules, and where the rules contradict this, the "rules" are WRONG. Reply

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