Immediately following Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) celebrates the start of a new year of scripture readings.
Is Simchat Torah a Public Holiday?
While Simchat Torah is not a public holiday in the United States, many Jewish-run organizations are closed on this date.
When Is Simchat Torah?
Simchat Torah is celebrated on the twenty-third day of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls between late September and early October in the Gregorian calendar.
Rejoicing with the Torah
Jewish study of the scriptures, or Torah, is structured as a yearly cycle. This holiday marks the end of the past year´s cycle of Torah readings and the start of a new one. In general, Simchat Torah is considered a part of the Shemini Atzeret holiday, which follows Sukkot in the Jewish calendar.
During Simchat Torah services, the ark containing the holy scriptures is opened and the Torah scrolls are taken out to be carried around the sanctuary seven times in circuits known as hakafot. The worshipers dance and sing in celebration as the scrolls are borne around the synagogue.
In more religious communities, this joyous communion with the Torah can continue for hours, and the celebration can spill out into the surrounding neighborhood.
Traditionally, the crowd of worshippers sing out with Torah poems, biblical chants, praises of God, and prayers to re-establish the Temple in Jerusalem. Children are often given sweets to eat and flags to wave as part of the festivities.
On the day of Simchat Torah, worshippers are invited to come to the altar (bimah) to read a segment from the Torah and recite a special prayer. This practice is called aliyah.
Children are often called up to a special Simchat Torah aliyah called Kol HaNe'arim. For this rite, a prayer shawl, or tallit, is often spread over the heads of the children, and Jacob’s blessing is read: “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”
Jewish Holidays Last Longer Outside of Israel
In the Jewish diaspora—Jewish communities outside of Israel—an extra day is usually added to religious observances, with the exception of Yom Kippur, which lasts only one day worldwide, and Rosh Hashana, which is celebrated over two days in both Israel and the diaspora.
The beginning of a new month was determined by the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel in Jerusalem. Once the date was published, messengers were dispatched to spread the news among Jews living abroad. Since this process took some time, it was decreed that Jews outside of ancient Israel were to observe every holiday for two days to make sure the rules and customs applicable to each holiday were observed on the proper date. This rule is still observed today.