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Happy Shemini Atzeret
Simchat Torah or Simhat Torah (Ashkenazi: Simchas Torah, Hebrew: שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה, lit., “Rejoicing of/[with the] Torah”) is a Jewish holiday that celebrates and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle.
Shemini Atzeret is mentioned in the Bible, but its exact function is unclear. In Second Temple times, it appears to have been a day devoted to the ritual cleansing of the altar in the Temple. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, this function of the day became obsolete. Although it marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel and, therefore includes the year’s first prayer for rain, its lack of clear definition may have provided the impetus to celebrate it in conjunction with Simchat Torah, a celebration of the conclusion of one and the beginning of another annual cycle of readings from the Torah. This latter holiday probably originated during the medieval period.Unlike many other holidays, the observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are centered in the synagogue and community.
While Shemini Atzeret’s significance is somewhat unclear, Simchat Torah conveys a clear message about the centrality of Torah in Jewish life. It is both a source of Jewish identity and a precious gift from God. Simchat Torah is the day on which the whole community gathers to come into direct contact with the Torah and to express our joy in having received it.
Unlike many other holidays, the observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are centered in the synagogue and community. On Shemini Atzeret, some still eat in the sukkah (the traditional hut associated with the festival of Sukkot), but in contrast to Sukkot no blessings are associated with that activity.
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