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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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Discussion (32)
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?
Chicago, IL
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
Torah lover
Los Angeles
September 28, 2011
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
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.
Bar Harbor, Maine
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
Glen Ridge, NJ
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.
Bar Harbor, Maine, USA
July 3, 2010
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.
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 ?
ILFORD, ESSEX United Kingdom
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.
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,.
sharon ruth lubin
david, panama
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