Simchat Tora

fot. Krzysztof Bielawski/Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

The name Simchat Torah, meaning Rejoicing of the Torah, derives from the Zohar. We find the first mention of celebrating the holiday in the Talmud. Simchat Torah marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle. In 2013, Simchat Torah begins in the evening of September 26 and ends the next evening.

The Rejoicing of the Torah is celebrated on different days in Israel and in the Diaspora. Depending on where it is celebrated, it has a different character and involves different rituals. In Israel, it takes places on the same day as Shemini Atzeret (22 Tishri). In the Diaspora, it is celebrated on the 23rd of Tishri and is the last holiday in the fall holiday cycle.

The main ritual of Simchat Torah are joyful processions (hakafot), during which celebrants dance and sing, carrying around Torah scrolls. At the end of seven lengthy dance processions the last fragment of the Torah is read, followed immediately by its first chapter. All the men are called up to read the Torah in the synagogue that day (in non-orthodox Judaism, also women), an honor known as an aliyah (Hebr. going up, ascent). It is a special honor to be called up to read the last fragment of the Pentateuch (aliyah Chatan Torah – Hebr. the Groom of the Torah) and the beginning of the Torah (aliyah Chatan Bereshit – Hebr. the Groom of the Beginning).