After the festivities of Sukkot over the last week, it’s time for one last push for complete and utter Jewish holiday celebration before the winter kicks in – it’s Simchat Torah time!
Perhaps the most joyous of holidays for the religiously observant, Simchat Torah celebrates the completion, and subsequent restart, of the reading of the Torah. You might not know it, but throughout the year specific portions of the Torah are read every week: the Torah reading reaches its conclusion on Simchat Torah when the last verses of Deuteronomy are read.
The highlight of Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing in the Law” in Hebrew) is the hakafot, where the Torah scrolls are taken from their ark (the only time during the year) and passed to all members of the congregation, and everyone marches and dances with the Torah scrolls around the synagogue reading table. These hafakot are usually held on the eve of Simchat Torah, and the following morning, on Simchat Torah itself.
As part of the celebrations, each man and child in the congregation takes part in the celebrations by receiving an aliyah, a calling to join in the dancing celebrations or by reciting some of the Torah. After the final aliyah of the Torah, the beginning of Genesis is read (from a second Torah scroll), and the whole Torah cycle starts all over again.
Don’t be surprised to see some really happy Jews during Simchat Torah as it’s been known for the Rabbi to bring in a bottle or two of whiskey to help the celebrations along…
In Israel, Simchat Torah celebrations are usually confined to one day, the twenty-second day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, directly after Sukkot; outside Israel they usually last two days.