Simchat Torah, “The Joy of the Torah,” is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Simchat Torah is observed on the 22nd to 23rd of Tishrei, which is the first month of the Jewish year. Simchat Torah encompasses the centrality of the Torah in Jewish life. It is seen as a source of Jewish identity and a gift from G-d.
Simchat Torah is the day in which the whole community gathers together to express delight in having received the Torah. This is a major holiday, during which most forms of work are prohibited. Those that observe Simchat Torah don’t go to work, drive, write, or turn electric devices on or off. Unlike many other holidays, the observance of Simchat Torah is centered in the synagogue and community.
On Simchat Torah, the last Torah portion is read, then proceeded immediately by the first chapter of Genesis. This is a reminder that the Torah is a circle, and never ends. The completion of the readings is a time of celebration. During Simchat Torah celebrations and services, the Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried by adherents around the synagogue seven times. These seven circuits are called hakafot, and are very important during this holiday. Those not carrying a Torah will sometimes wave brightly colored flags, sing Hebrew songs and dance. The celebratory dances and songs that occur during the hakafot represent the gratification of Torah study and a dedication to deep-rooted Jewish learning.
Many people are given the honor of an aliyah; reciting a blessing over the Torah reading.
Even children are called for an aliyah blessing on Simchat Torah. People are also given the privilege of carrying a Torah scroll during the celebration. Children often follow the procession around the synagogue, sometimes carrying small toy Torahs.
Although there are not many established Simchat Torah foods, one popular ingredient for the meals is cabbage. The reason for the is due to its cylindrical shape, which represents the shape of the Torah scroll. Stuffed cabbage is an example of a traditional Ashkenazi Simchat Torah dish. Another cylindrical shaped food that can be made is blintzes. Blintzes is a crepe like pancake that contains various fillings. Some people like to make Torah shaped cookies for the holidays. It is also customary to drink alcohol on the holiday as part of the celebratory experience. Children are given candy and fruit because it is stated that the commandments of G-d are sweet like honey. A food that is commonly eaten by Ashkenazic Jews during Simchat Torah is kreplach. Kreplach is a Jewish dumpling which is stuffed with meat filling. This food can be served in soup or as a side dish.
Although the Simchat Torah is a celebration commemorating the reading of the Torah, it also serves as a day to honor loved ones that have passed. During this specified time, special prayers, the lighting of candles, and moments of meditation serve as the time to pay tribute to deceased family members. Many individuals find it important to make contributions to charities, hospitals, synagogues or other organizations to impart purposeful memorials for loved ones that have perished.