Simchat Torah 5774 – Chag sameach!

Simchat Torah dancing

The last and most joyous festival of the Jewish holiday season is almost upon us – Sukkot finishes tonight and Simchat Torah begins.

Today, the last day of Sukkot, is known as Hoshana Raba. Here’s a short Hebrew article on Arutz Sheva which has an accompanying video (which I can’t embed here) of the tefilot (prayers) for Hoshana Raba  at the Kotel which took place at dawn this morning.

Below are a couple of pictures from last year too:

Hoshana Raba at the kotel

Performing Hoshanot

As I wrote in previous years’ Simchat Torah posts, (which I have updated for this year):

(Note: Several Hebrew terms have dotted underlines: mouse over them for an explanation.)

After 3 weeks of chagim (festivals), starting off with the solemn Rosh Hashana, continuing on through the fast day of Yom Kippur, followed closely by Sukkot, we are now hurtling straight into the last day of the festive season: Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). It is a day that is combined with Shemini Atzeret (lit: 8th day of Assembly) in Israel, whereas outside Israel it is celebrated over 2 days, with Shemini Atzeret first, and Simchat Torah on the next day, for reasons to be found here.

The festival is almost schizophrenic in character because its two parts are so completely different.  Shemini Atzeret is festive yet serious, with the Yizkor (memorial for the dead) prayer and Tefilat Geshem (more on that here).

Dancing on Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah on the other hand is pure joy, and in Israel, with the festival being celebrated all on one day, it always feels very strange to me to make the sudden switch from all the happiness and jollity of Simchat Torah to the serious prayers of Shemini Atzeret during the Musaf prayers.

But such is the reality of Jewish life I suppose, with seriousness and joy and celebration all rolled together.

Simchat Torah celebrations

So tonight we will all be gathering in shul to start the celebrations,  and the excitement of the day is something I still remember from my own childhood. All the Torah scrolls will be removed from the Aron Hakodesh  and distributed to congregants. Then the singing and dancing commences, with the Torah scrolls being danced round the shul in 7 hakafot; between each hakafah the Torahs are handed to other members. During the dancing sweets are handed out to the children who dance with their fathers holding flags (and bags to hold the sweets!).

Tomorrow morning, after morning services, the dancing with the Torah scrolls will be repeated, followed by the reading of the last chapters of the Torah: Zot Habracha (“This is the Blessing”), the blessing given by Moshe to the Children of Israel just before his death. The portion is read over and over (and over!) until every single member of the shul has been given an aliya. At that stage all the children are called up under a Chuppah, and they recite the Hamalach Hagoel prayer together with Shema Yisrael. It is an extremely exciting yet moving experience and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

There are several other customs on Simchat Torah: one person is nominated to be Chatan Torah, another to be Chatan Bereishit.  This year my brother has been honoured to be named Chatan Bereishit. We’ll all be there to cheer him on!

At the end of all the Torah readings, the Chatan Bereishit starts the Torah reading right from the beginning by reading the first chapters of Bereishit, to show how happy we are to begin the cycle again.

Mashiv HaRuach uMorid HaGeshem
May He cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall

Once all these festivities are over, the atmosphere takes a sudden turn to the serious, and we say Yizkor, followed by Tefilat Geshem.  This year the first rains have fallen early and several sukkot were washed out or the lights fused by the sudden rain. However you will never hear anyone complaining about the rain in Israel. At the first droplets you hear children shouting in joy “Geshem!” (Rain!). It’s such an exciting experience after 6 or more dry months.  In the Bible the rainfall in Israel is so closely connected to our behaviour and keeping the mitzvot that it is a positive relief, even to the secular amongst us, to see the rain arrive in the right time.

On a final note: all the main prayers in our shul on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah were led by my very talented husband and my equally talented brother. Yasher koach to both of you on your hard work and beautiful singing.  On Rosh Hashanah the Shofar was blown smoothly and professionally (and loudly!) by my brother in law, and he too gets a loud yasher koach!

Chag Sameach everyone!

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11 Responses to Simchat Torah 5774 – Chag sameach!

  1. Reality says:

    Chag Sameach. You forgot to mention that all the kids dance with flags with pictures of Sifrei Torah on them & everyone hands out sweets to them.Then tomorrow there will be a running kiddush in shul.This is whilst the men get called up to make a blessing on the torah (which takes a very long time!) everyone else gets to eat & socialize until the children get called up as you said. A kiddush is by definition a blessing to sanctify the wine this special day. Would that other eastern religions celebrate like this instead of rioting or shooting. The world would be a better place.

    • anneinpt says:

      Hey! I DID mention the kids and flags and sweets! You just didn’t read the article properly! I quote:

      During the dancing sweets are handed out to the children who dance with their fathers holding flags (and bags to hold the sweets!).

      Yeah, I didn’t mention the kiddush. I don’t think we had one in England. I can’t remember any more. All good fun and an opportunity to schmooze and fress (gossip and eat). 🙂

  2. Reality says:

    Yasher loach=Well done to your wonderful hubby for singing so beautifully over all these special days(they ate called awesome as in awe)and to our brother too ,who gets a mazal tov for the honour of Chatan Bereshit &to my hubby for having enough puff to blow the shofar! May we all be inscribed in the book of life. May our prayers tommorrow which your hubby will lead be answered & we should have plenty of rain.A guten winter to everyone.

  3. SenatorMark4 says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the beauty of the faith that has brightened the world for so long. In America we don’t learn these things but in studying the Bible we have a glimmer of what sparks the emotions in your day.

    The one thing that I have looked for more than once…. what is year 1 in the Hebrew calendar?

    A slight tangent: my wife and a couple of friends are planning on visiting Israel in the coming year but we don’t really want to do the tourist thing. Ideers?

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your kind comment and welcome to my blog.

      To answer your question: Traditionally the number of years we count are the years from creation, or at least the years from the creation of Man. Therefore year 1 in the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar is the year of creation. This was calculated using the number of years between generations and the lifespans of the protagonists written in the Bible, particularly in Genesis (Bereishit) and in Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim).

      As for visiting Israel, I wouldn’t know where to start! There are so many places to visit and see, both on and off the tourist track. You could contact your nearest Israeli consulate or local Jewish organizations and ask if they have any ideas. I hope you enjoy your visit!

  4. Colin Stephenson says:

    Do the women dance with Torah Scrolls were you are Anne?

    My wife & her friends certainly did in the evening & in the morning 2 prominent women where declared along with the Grooms of Torah & Genesis. My wife was even called up to the Torah in the afternoon & I was there to watch her – I was was very happy for her & proud when in the blessing after mention was made of all the wonderful things she organises – quite a number of which involve considerable efforts on my behalf!

    • anneinpt says:

      Hi Colin, in my shul the women dance separately but not with a Torah scroll. There are some orthodox shuls in our area which did have such dancing though.

      It sounds like you had a wonderful chag! May we all continue to enjoy our chagim for many years to come.

    • cba says:

      It was Simchat Torah that finally made me agree to my husband’s request to try the Masorti synagogue… I was so fed up being in the women’s section, where we were trying to dance along with the songs the men were singing but were totally out of things.

      Now I go to an egalitarian synagogue, and thoroughly enjoy being able to dance (with or without a scroll, but always with everyone else). And being able to have an aliyah, read from the Torah, etc.

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