By: Lola Stanten, Southwest Community Manager
and Alex Rosenbaum, West Coast Regional Jewish Educator
Coming at the tail-end of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the final hurrah of the Jewish holiday season! In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the same day, but outside of Israel (where the philosophy re Jewish holidays is “the more the merrier”) they are generally celebrated as two separate, but consecutive holidays.
Falling eight days after the start of Sukkot, “Shemini Atzeret” literally means “the eighth day of assembly.” While it is a holiday in its own right, Shemini Atzeret’s purpose is a bit obscure! There aren’t any particular customs or rituals to it, but its etymological roots may clue us in to the essence of the day! The word “atzeret” also contains the Hebrew root for the word “stop,” and after the barrage of Jewish holidays that demand self-evaluation, transformation, and intimacy with the Divine, this is an opportunity to stop, or pause before returning to the mundane.
“Simchat Torah” means “rejoicing in Torah,” because we are finishing the yearly cycle of reading through the whole Torah, and then we begin it anew! If you like to shake a leg, this is the holiday for you, as the custom is to dance with and around the Torah.
Hot take: Simchat Torah seriously rivals Purim as the party holiday!
Shemini Atzeret begins this year on the evening of September 27th, immediately followed by Simchat Torah the evening of September 28th, all concluding after nightfall on September 29th.