Shmini Atzeret, the Eighth-Day Assembly, is observed after the final day of Sukkot. In addition, Simchat Torah, “Joy of the Torah,” is usually celebrated in Israel on Sh’mini Atzeret; in the Diaspora it is observed on the following day. It is a celebration of giving and receiving the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) which is the foundation of Jewish belief and faith. Torah also means instruction.

Closeup image of the Torah

In the synagogue, the Torah is divided into portions and read each week in the worship service. During Simchat Torah, the congregation celebrates the completion of the reading cycle by carrying Torah scrolls around the sanctuary in a procession, while singing, dancing and praising G-D. When the Torah reaches the bema, it is rolled back to the first Torah portion, B’resheet (Genesis), which means “in the beginning”, and the reading cycle begins again.

“All the people gathered with one accord in the open space in front of the Water Gate and asked ‘Ezra the Torah-teacher to bring the scroll of the Torah of Moshe, which Adonai had commanded Isra’el. ‘Ezra the cohen brought the Torah before the assembly, which consisted of men, women and all children old enough to understand. It was the first day of the seventh month….Nechemyah the Tirshata, ‘Ezra the cohen and Torah-teacher and the L’vi’im who taught the people said to all the people, ‘Today is consecrated to Adonai your G-D; don’t be mournful, don’t weep.’ For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the Torah. Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat rich food, drink sweet drinks, and send portions to those who can’t provide for themselves; for today is consecrated to our L-RD. Don’t be sad, because the joy of Adonai is your strength.’” Nechemyah/Nehemiah 8:1-2, 9-10.