DID YOU KNOW . . . Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah ( in Hebrew, literally “Rejoicing with/of the Torah,”) is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Simchat Torah follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot in the month of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar, this year it begins in the this evening, Monday, October 8, 2012, and ends in the evening of Tuesday, October 9, 2012.

The main celebration of Simchat Torah takes place in the synagogue during evening and morning services. In many Orthodox and Conservative congregations, this is the only time of year on which the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and read at night.

The Simchat Torah festivities begin with the evening service. All the synagogue’s Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and are carried around the sanctuary in a series of seven hakafot (plural – singular hakafa – Hebrew for “circuits”). Although each hakafa need only encompass one circuit around the synagogue, the dancing and singing with the Torah often continues much longer, and may overflow from the synagogue onto the streets.

In Jewish synagogues, each circuit is announced by a few melodious invocations imploring God to Hoshiah Na (“Save us”) and ending with the refrain, Aneinu B’yom Koreinu (“Answer us on the day we call”).The hakafot are usually accompanied by traditional chants, including biblical and liturgical verses and songs about the Torah, the goodness of God, Messianic yearnings, and prayers for the restoration of the House of David and the Temple in Jerusalem. Congregations may also sing other, popular songs during the dancing. Children are often given flags, candies and treats. The vigor of the dancing and degree of festive merriment varies with congregational temperament. In some congregations, the Torah scrolls are carried out into the streets and the dancing may continue far into the evening.

The morning service is also uniquely characterized by the calling up of each male member (in some Orthodox and the majority of non-Orthodox congregations, male and female members) of the congregation for an aliyah (in Hebrew, “ascent” or “going up” wherein the designated reader recites a blessing over the Torah, between each verse) as well as a special aliyah for all the children in attendance.

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