Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
22-23 Tishrei 5775
The holiday of Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת) immediately follows the conclusion of the holiday of Sukkot. The Hebrew word shemini means “eighth”, and refers to its position on “the eighth day” of Sukkot, actually a seven-day holiday. This name reflects the fact that while in many respects Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday in its own right, in certain respects its celebration is linked to that of Sukkot.
The main notable custom of this holiday is the celebration of Simchat Torah (שמחת תורה), meaning “rejoicing with the Torah”. This name originally referred to a special “ceremony”: the last weekly Torah portion is read from Deuteronomy, completing the annual cycle, and is followed immediately by the reading of the first chapter of Genesis, beginning the new annual cycle. Services are especially joyous, and all attendees, young and old, are involved.
This ceremony so dominates the holiday that in Israel, where the holiday is one day long, the whole holiday is often referred to as Simchat Torah. Outside Israel, the holiday is two days long; the name Shemini Atzeret is used for the first day, while the second is normally called Simchat Torah.