Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah In the Community
The Simchat Torah festivities begin at the evening service when the doors of the Ark are opened and all of the community’s Torahs are brought out. The congregation then recites liturgical poems and joins in a procession around the synagogue, dancing and singing in honor of the Torah. As on Sukkot, each procession is called a hakkafah. Seven hakkafot are celebrated with flags waving and then a selection from the end of the Torah is chanted. Due to the raucous nature of the celebration, it has become customary to involve entire families in this celebration, especially children. Oftentimes the celebration and dancing moves from the sanctuary into the street, in a public show of devotion to the Torah and pride in being Jewish. Some communities use this opportunity to unroll a whole Torah scroll as the congregation stands in a circle holding it.
The following morning the festivities are repeated. The final Torah portion is read and repeated as often as needed in order to provide an opportunity for each and every person present to receive an aliyah to the Torah. Whether called up as individuals or as small groups, it has become customary for everyone to receive such an aliyah, including the children who are too young to be called to the Torah. The last person to receive an aliyah from the end of the Torah is given the ceremonial title of “bridegroom” or--for women receiving the aliyah in egalitarian congregations--“bride” of the Torah (hatan or kallat Torah). When the reading is completed, a second scroll is unrolled and the person to receive the first aliyah from the book of Genesis is given the ceremonial title of “bridegroom” or “bride” of Genesis (hatan or kallat bereshit).
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