Hebrew Bible

Everything You Need To Know About Simchat Torah 2023

Simchat Torah (literally “the Joys of the Torah,” in Hebrew) is a jovial fall Jewish holiday filled with lots of singing, dancing, and joy, making it a favorite among children and adults alike!

Simchat Torah 2023 begins at sundown on Friday, October 6, and will be celebrated throughout the next two days in the diaspora and one day in Israel. It is combined with Shemini Atzeret, a festive assembly dictated in the Torah following Sukkot.

One thing that sets Simchat Torah apart from other celebrations like Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover is that there are no references to it in either the Torah or the Talmud. Rather, Simchat Torah began as a communal celebration to mark the completion of one Torah reading cycle and the beginning of the next one, eventually evolving into a universally accepted festival replete with its own customs and liturgy. 

What is Simchat Torah, and why is it celebrated?

Throughout the year, Jews around the world read aloud small, specific portions of the Torah each week, beginning with the Book of Bereishit (Genesis) and working their way through each of the Five Books until finally, they reach the last portion from the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which concludes a year-long campaign of reading the entire Torah.

As reading the entire Torah from beginning to end is no small feat, Simchat Torah celebrates the momentous achievement of completing an entire year of the community’s Torah reading cycle. The holiday is also a celebration of the new cycle to come – when we roll the Torah back to the beginning and start the cycle all over again.

 

 

Is Simchat Torah a Yom Tov?

Yes! Simchat Torah is a Yom Tov, which means that traditionally, most forms of work (melachot) are not permissible just like on Shabbat, although cooking food using a pre-existing flame is allowed. Additionally, it’s customary to light holiday candles, go to synagogue for special prayers, eat festive meals, and recite the Kiddush sanctification prayer on Simchat Torah in order to bring extra joy and meaning to the day.

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What are the Origins of Simchat Torah?
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It is traditionally believed that Moses was the first to institute the practice of public Torah readings on Shabbat and festival mornings and that many centuries later, the famous Jewish priest Ezra established additional public Torah readings on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat afternoons. Historical documents cite that dancing became a tradition on Simchat Torah in the 1st century CE.

However, initially these public readings did not follow any particular order or schedule, so ultimately, it was up to each community’s rabbi to decide which Torah portion would be read on any particular day. Eventually, a fixed calendar for public Torah readings was developed and introduced in both the Land of Israel and Babylonia.

Those in Israel would complete a full reading cycle once every three years, while those in Babylonia would complete theirs annually. The Babylonian Jewish community organized their cycle so it would end and begin again on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, a Biblical festival that occurs the day before Simchat Torah. Eventually, Jewish communities in Israel and elsewhere embraced the Babylonian reading schedule as well, and then adopted the celebration of Simchat Torah.

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When is Simchat Torah celebrated?
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Traditionally, Simchat Torah is celebrated immediately after Sukkot ends. Although Sukkot itself is celebrated from the 15th of Tishrei until the 21st of Tishrei, on the 22nd of the month, we celebrate the holiday known as Shemini Atzeret.

Shemini Atzeret, or the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” is often regarded as the unofficial eighth day of Sukkot. In Israel, where Sukkot lasts for seven days instead of eight, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are both celebrated together on the 22nd of Tishrei. Outside of Israel, where Sukkot is observed for a full eight days, the last day of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret are celebrated together, leaving Simchat Torah to be celebrated on the following day, the 23rd of Tishrei.

This rapid transition from one holiday to the next can be disorienting for some, but if you ask us, the non-stop celebrations are just part of the fun!

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How do you celebrate Simchat Torah?

Simchat Torah is easily one of the most exciting and thrilling days to visit your local synagogue. Between the enthusiastic singing and dancing, the high-spirited marching with Torah scrolls, and the overall joy of the congregation, Simchat Torah is popular for good reason.

 

An illustration of Jews dancing in synagogue on Simchat Torah

 

Some of the other prominent customs associated with Simchat Torah include:

  • A special Torah reading, where the Book of Deuteronomy is completed and the Book of Genesis is started anew.
  • It is customary to “bid” over special honors in the synagogue known as the Hatan Torah and the Hatan Bereishit. The winners of these auctions get called to the Torah for the Aliyah accompanying the concluding portion of the Torah and the Aliyah for the beginning portion, respectively. This is considered to be a great honor, and includes reciting a special prayer over the Torah in front of the congregation. After the holiday, all proceeds from the auction are collected and given to charity.
  • Unique from all other festivals on the Jewish calendar, on Simchat Torah, it is customary to read the Torah both at night and during the day.
  • It is also customary for every man in the synagogue, and in many communities for women as well, to be given the opportunity to receive an Aliyah and be called up to the Torah.
  • In many synagogues, there is a tradition to take out all the Torah scrolls from within the Ark and dance with them around the synagogue while singing festive songs. This is a rare sight as generally, no more than one or two Torah scrolls are removed from a synagogue’s Ark at any given time.
  • Additionally, in many synagogues, it is traditional for young children to join the person called to the Torah, where they will huddle together underneath an outstretched Tallit for a special Aliyah known as Kol HaNearim (All the Children).

 

 

Happy Simchat Torah from all of us at Judaica Webstore!

Celebrate the Torah and the Jewish people's special relationship with it with your very own Hebrew Bible or Torah Scroll replica from Israel!

And if you need help choosing the right edition for you, check out our top 10 guide here.

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