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    A Simchat Torah alphabet

    B’RESHIT (“In the beginning”) – the entire Torah is read in sections, week by week, concluding on Simchat Torah and immediately recommencing from B’reshit (see TRIENNIAL CYCLE). Some communities in Babylon used to read the B’reshit section on Yom Kippur afternoon.

    BRIDEGROOMS – see CHATAN B’RESHIT, CHATAN TORAH. Cecil Roth thought Simchat Torah was modelled on a wedding. By a play on words the Torah is both morashah, a legacy, and me’orasah, betrothed. Instead of chatan (“bridegroom”), the correct term is probably chotem, “the one who concludes (the reading)”.

    CANDLES AND CANDIES – children often join onto the Torah processions with tapers (the source is Proverbs 6:23), flags (Numbers 2:3) or miniature Torahs. The Chatanim give them lollies.

    CHASSIDISM – the festival jollification was influenced by Chassidic joy but originated prior to this in medieval communities which treated the day like a carnival with parades of torch-bearers.

    CHATAN B’RESHIT – “Bridegroom of B’reshit”, who reads or is called to the first section of the Torah. The Chatan B’reshit is sometimes a young person whose career is just beginning.

    CHATAN TORAH – “Bridegroom of the Torah”, who reads or is called to the conclusion of the Torah. The rabbi is often the Chatan Torah.


    DANCING – dancing with the scrolls reflects the Festival of the Water-Drawing (Mishnah Sukkah, Ch. 5). Sometimes the festivities go to extremes. In 1663 Samuel Pepys visited a London synagogue and saw “the disorder, laughing, sporting and no attention”.

    HAKKAFOT – circuits of scroll-bearers echoing the lulav processions on Sukkot. The 7 circuits recall Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, whose traditions live in our midst. The circuits echo Joshua’s march around Jericho.

    ISRU CHAG – the day after the festival retains the festive mood. The term derives from Psalm 118:27, “hold on to the festival offering”.

    JOY – the quiet, stately services in some places sometimes evoke the solemnity of Tishah B’Av. These days Simchat Torah is a people’s day (Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness”), though the jollity can go too far.

    KOL HANE’ARIM (“all the lads”) – the children’s call-up to the Torah. As on Seder night, children are ubiquitous and audible participants in the festival.

    NIGHT READING – some congregations read the Torah at night, though strictly speaking the Torah should only be read in daytime. Moses Isserles says in his glosses to the Code of Jewish Law, “Each place follows its own custom”.

    SEVEN – many Simchat Torah practices come in sevens, representing seven spheres of holiness. Torah is the path by which a Jew can elevate him- or herself and reach upwards to Heaven.

    SHAVU’OT – since the Torah was given on Shavu’ot, that might have been considered the day to rejoice. The Dubner Maggid explained waiting until Simchat Torah to show that the “marriage” of Israel and the Torah is firm.

    SH’MINI ATZERET – 8th-day Festival of Conclusion (literally “Eighth Day Festival of Assembly”) at the end of Sukkot. Simchat Torah is its 2nd day; in Israel the two days are combined. Features of Sh’mini Atzeret are the prayers for rain and the Yizkor memorial service.

    SIMCHAT TORAH – probably unknown before the 11th cent. It marks our love of the Torah and the Torah‘s love of us. The festival was possibly originally Yom HaSefer, the Day of the Book; Yom HaSiyyum, the Day of Conclusion; or Yom HaB’rachah, the Day of Blessing, since the final section of the Torah is V’Zot HaB’rachah – “This is the blessing with which Moses blessed Israel”.

    SINGING – celebrates love for the Torah. There was a time when Sephardim adapted Spanish melodies, e.g. “Ah, Mea Senora” which became “Amen, Shem Nora!” (“Amen! Awesome Name!”)

    SUKKOT – One of the three pilgrimage festivals, Sukkot (Z’man Simchatenu, “our Festival of Joy”) celebrates God’s Providential care of Israel and lasts seven days with a Festival of Conclusion (see SH’MINI ATZERET).

    TORAH READING – study of the Torah with commentaries is the earliest form of adult education (Exodus 24:12). The Israelites travelled 3 days in the wilderness and found no water (Exodus 15:22); since water is a metaphor for Torah (Isaiah 55:1) the sages say that there should never be 3 days without a Torah reading.

    TRIENNIAL CYCLE – an ancient cycle of Torah readings in Eretz Yisra’el, as against an annual cycle in Babylon. By the Middle Ages the annual cycle prevailed, making an annual Simchat Torah possible.

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