The Final Days of Sukkot: Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah
Sukkot, the nine-day Festival of Booths, concludes with a special two-day holiday. The first of these days is known as Shemini Atzeret, meaning “the eighth day of assembly”, and the final day is SimchatTorah, meaning “the joy of Torah”. This joyful time has a number of special traditions associated with it, including:
Sukkot marks the conclusion of the harvest in Israel, and Shemini Atzeret welcomes in the beginning of the rainy season. In synagogue, a special prayer for rain, known as Tefilat Geshem, is recited.
In synagogue, Jews consecutively read aloud a portion of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) every week, reading the entire holy book each year. On Simchat Torah, the final passage of the Torah is read, immediately followed by the first passage, creating an unbroken cycle of Torah. To celebrate this auspicious and joyful occasion, worshippers participate in processions known as Hakafot. During these hakafot, people joyfully dance and sing while carrying the Torah scrolls.
An aliyah is a special honor in which members of the synagogue are called up to bless the Torah before it is reading. Typically there are seven aliyot during the reading of the Torah portion; on Simchat Torah, however, synagogues will repeat the readings over and over again, giving as many people as possible the opportunity to be honored by reciting these blessings.
Sitting in the Sukkah
Throughout the week, Jews traditionally eat their meals in the sukkah. Some even sleep there! During the final days of Sukkot, one is not obligated to eat in the sukkah. If one does eat in the sukkah on Shemenei Atzeret, he or she is not required to say the traditional blessing over sitting the sukkah.
Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah in Israel
In the Diaspora, Jews celebrate two separate, but attached days at the end of the Sukkot holiday: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. In Israel, however, there is only a one-day holiday at the end of Sukkot, and the traditions of both Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are combined into this day.