Shemini Atzeret & SimchatTorah
Coming at the conclusion of Sukkot are the two holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת) literally means "the assembly of the eighth (day)" and occurs on the 22nd day of Tishrei. Even though Shemini Atzeret immediately follows the festival of Sukkot, it is a totally separate holiday. Sukkot is a holiday intended for all of mankind, but when Sukkot is over, the Creator invites the Jewish people to stay for an extra day, for a more intimate celebration. Shemini Atzeret is an unusual holiday in that it has no distinctive observances of its own, apart from the re-introduction of Tefillat Geshem (the Prayer for Rain) into the 2nd blessing of the Amidah.
Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah." This holiday marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, then proceed immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends. This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration.
Prayers & Blessings
A Prayer for Rain
We say this prayer because in the Land of Israel at this time of year, they need rain to help their crops grow and their animals stay alive. Although Jews in other parts of the world may not need rain at this time, saying the Tefillat Geshem makes us feel closer to the land and the people of Israel.
The prayer includes the words “mashiv ha ruach u-morid hageshem,” which tells us that God is the one “who brings forth the winds and brings down the rain.”
Bless the Children
On Simchat Torah we say the prayer Kol HaNa’arim (“All the Young Ones”). The very last aliyah (call up to the Torah) is saved for all the boys under Bar Mitzvah age and the blessing Kol haNa'arim is said.
Starting the Torah from the Beginning
Simchat Torah (meaning, “Celebration of the Torah”) is a one-day holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of the Torah reading. The final portion of Deuteronomy is read and then a new Torah reading cycle is immediately started with the Book of Genesis.
Dancing in the Streets
Simchat Torah begins in the evening, and involves dancing, often mixed with lots of drinking, and singing with Torah scrolls. Children are carried around on their parents' shoulders, and wave flags. The idea here is to focus on how central the Torah is to Jewish life and the joy that the Torah can bring to the Jewish community.
Just like during the seven days of Sukkot and on Shemini Atzeret, on Simchat Torah people make hakafot (walk or dance in circles) around the bimah of the synagogue carrying the lulav and etrog.
On Simchat Torah the hakafot include special dancing with the Torahs held up in the air. Children often join in and ride on their fathers' shoulders during this.
In Israel and in some liberal communities outside Israel, Simchat Torah is celebrated together with Shemini Atzeret.