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Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are here

by michael October 04 2007
HolidaysFor the kidsThings to do
It's Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in Israel.

Shemini Atzeret, as was mentioned yesterday, is a mysterious holiday - meaning "The Eighth [Day] of Assembly," the Talmud stresses that it is indeed its own holiday, and not part of Sukkot, and further explains that it is distinguished as a holiday by six factors, upon which it does not elaborate.

Pretty mysterious, that Talmud.

Shemini Atzeret itself has no inherent customs or celebrations other than the resumption of the seasonal prayer for rain (which lasts until Passover) and the recitation of the Yizkor memorial prayer in Ashkenazic-rite synagogues.

But of course, in Israel, Shemini Atzeret occurs on the same day as another, much more enjoyable holiday: Simchat Torah.

Meaning "joy of the Torah" or "rejoicing in the Torah," Simchat Torah celebrates the completion, and beginning, of the yearly cycle of Torah readings. Families gather in the synagogue to hear the last chapter of Deuteronomy read, followed immediately by the first chapter of Genesis, and jubilant worshippers, often having been plied with at least a few drams of firewater, take the synagogue's Torah scrolls on their own street parade. This is especially fun if you're in Israel, when Torah-hoisting revelers pour out into nearly every street. Especially cute are children getting in on the fun by clutching stuffed Torahs, the kind of invention that could exist only in a Jewish state.

Simchat Torah may actually be one of the most enjoyable holidays to be in Jerusalem for - it's a boisterous and raucous communal celebration without any of the more anarchic aspects that often mar Purim and Yom Ha-Atzmaut public bashes. Bring the family, grab a Torah, and have a good time.

Happy holidays, for the last time until December, from Jerusalemite!
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