Simchat Torah 101
I’m tapping my toes under my desk, dancing down the hallways, and dreaming about party time, which can only mean one thing—Simchat Torah is right around the corner! On Wednesday, October 19th, and Thursday, October 20th, Jews all over the world will dance in jubilation, read Torah with a sense of liveliness and purpose, and raise the synagogue roof all night long.
As the festival of Sukkot comes to a close, our anticipation escalates over the exciting changes that will take place in this new year. Simchat Torah is a time for us to let off steam, to release all the energy that’s been building up from a month of intense introspection, long High Holiday services, and constant family time. As we celebrate Simchat Torah, we mark the conclusion of the annual Torah-reading cycle. We’re signifying a unique turning point in our Jewish journeys, as we read together the final parashah in the book of Deuteronomy, and then start back at square one—with the first parashah of Genesis. In between, we sing, dance, eat, drink, reminisce, and psych ourselves up for the coming year.
Simchat Torah doesn’t stand alone, though. For most Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Jews living outside of Israel, it constitutes one part of a two-day festival that begins the previous day with Shemini Atzeret. For most Reform Jews and Israelis, Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are the same day. Think of Simchat Torah as the energetic, free-spirited, and somewhat reckless doppelganger to Shemini Atzeret. Signifying the end of the eight day festival of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret is marked by prayers for rain (which we then include in the Amidah until Passover), as well as a Yizkor service (a memorial prayer for the departed).
The energy at a Simchat Torah celebration is positively infectious—think lots of circle dances, lots of touching and kissing the Torah, lots of bouncing up and down, and lots of shouting (I’m known to have no voice the next day!). But the best way to understand the spirit, jubilation, and unbridled sense of community is to experience it for yourself. There are celebrations right around the corner!
If you want an idea of what happens in Israel on Simchat Torah, check out the video below, and be prepared for some ridiculously awesome dancing: