Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Ending and Beginning a Year With Torah

Sefer Torah
Caricato da Olevy

After a week of commemorating the Feast of Tabernacles with eating, sleeping, and celebrating in temporary huts for Sukkot, Jews celebrate Shemini Atzeret. This holiday is celebrated with immense joy, culminating on Simchat Torah when Jews celebrate the conclusion and restart of the annual Torah-reading cycle.

Meaning of Shemini Atzeret

Shemini Atzeret literally means "the assembly of the eighth" day in Hebrew. Simchat Torah simply means "rejoicing in the Torah." 

Biblical Source

The source for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which fall on the 22nd and 23rd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, respectively, is Leviticus 23:34.

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, a seven-day period to the Lord.

Then, Leviticus 23:36 says,

[For] a seven day period, you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord. On the eighth day, it shall be a holy occasion for you, and you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord. It is a [day of] detention. You shall not perform any work of labor.

It is this eighth day that is known as Shemini Atzeret.

In the Diaspora, many holidays are observed for two days, and Shemini Atzeret is one of these days (Tishrei 22nd-23rd). As a result, Simchat Torah is observed on the second day. In Israel, where holidays are typically only one day, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are rolled into one day (Tishrei 22). 


Although many attach these holidays to Sukkot, they are actually completely independent. Although many communities still eat in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret without saying any blessings for sitting in the sukkah, Jews do not take up the lulav or etrog. On Simchat Torah, most communities do not eat in the sukkah. 

On Shemini Atzeret, the prayer for rain is recited, officially kicking off the rainy season for Israel. 

On Simchat Torah, Jews complete their annual, public reading of the weekly Torah portion and subsequently start back up with Genesis 1. The purpose of a quick ending and beginning is to express the importance of the cyclical aspect of the Jewish year and the importance of Torah study. 

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the day is the seven hakafot, which are held both during the evening and morning services. Hakafot are when the congregation parades around the synagogue with the Torah scroll while singing and dancing, and the act is specific to Simchat Torah. Also, children carry around banners and the Israeli flag and ride on the shoulders of the men of the congregation. There are differing and controversial opinions about whether women can dance with the Torah and practices vary from community to community. 

Likewise, it's customary on Simchat Torah for every man (and all of the children) in the congregation to receive an aliyah, which is to be called up to say a blessing over the Torah. 

In some congregations, the Torah scroll is opened around the periphery of the synagogue so that the entire scroll is unrolled and revealed before the congregation. 

In traditional Orthodox Judaism, several laws are followed when observing Shabbat and certain Jewish holidays. When it comes to the dos and don'ts of​ this Yom Tov, they're very similar to Shabbat restrictions with a few exceptions:

  1. Making food (ochel nefesh) is permitted.
  2. Lighting a fire is permitted, but the fire may not be lit from scratch. Fire may also be transferred or carried if there is a great need.  
  3. Putting out a fire for the purpose of making food is permitted. 

Otherwise, using electricity, driving, working, and the other forbidden activities of Shabbat are also forbidden on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. 

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2020, August 26). Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Retrieved from Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah." Learn Religions. (accessed March 28, 2023).