What is Simchat Torah?
Simchat Torah is the last day of the festival of Sukkot. In Israel it is celebrated on the seventh day of the festival. In the Diaspora the festival of Sukkot has an extra eighth day and that day is Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is a holiday in its own right and some of the practices of Sukkot are not practiced on this day, such as the Four Species and blessing over the dwelling in the Sukkah.
Simchat Torah literally means "Rejoicing of/with the Torah". It is the celebration of the completion and renewal of the annual Torah-reading cycle. Each Shabbat a portion of the Torah is read and on Simchat Torah, the final one is read, followed immediately by the first.
What are the customs and practices of Simchat Torah?
- Women light holiday candles on the eve of Simchat Torah and recite a special blessing.
- Processions and dancing around the synagogue carrying the Torah scrolls occurs both on the eve and day of Simchat Torah. Children cannot carry the Torah scrolls because they are too heavy but often wave special Simchat Torah flags and hold toy Torah scrolls.
- It is customary for every single male member of the congregation to read from the Torah.
- There is also a custom for all the children in the synagogue to get called up to recite the last portion of the last book of the Torah. A prayer shawl is held as a canopy over all of the children's heads by four adults after the recital of the portion and they are blessed.
- As with other major festivals, work is not permitted.
- In some communities there is a custom to hold an auction in which privileges of certain synagogue role are sold.
- Children are often given sweet treats reflecting the sweetness of the Torah.