Hoshana Raba, Simhat Torah: What you need to know about the holiday – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 28, 2021

The Sukkot holiday is about to end, but this festival comes with some quirks unique within Judaism.The last day of the week-long festival is marked by a day known as Hoshana Raba, that has more in common with the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The next day is a separate holiday altogether: Shmini Atzeret. Also known as Simhat Torah, this holiday does not require most of the unique Sukkot customs like a lulav, etrog or sitting in the sukkah, but instead focuses on the Torah, as a new cycle of reading the Five Books of the Torah begins.

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Here is a rundown on everything you need to know about Hoshana Raba and Simhat Torah.

Hoshana Raba is still part of Sukkot, so many of the holiday practices and meaning are the same. One still must use the lulav and sit in the sukkah. However, the day has a heavy focus on judgment and repentance.

As noted by Chabad, it is considered the final day of judgment in the cycle that began with Rosh Hashanah. If Rosh Hashanah is when God deliberates His verdict and Yom Kippur is when it is finalized, Hoshana Raba is when the verdict is delivered.

The theme of judgment includes another aspect: rain. Sukkot is believed to be the time when rainfall first begins, harkening back to the holiday's tradition as an agricultural holiday. The autumn rainfall allows crops to grow, continuing through the winter until Passover in the spring, and allowing the crops to be harvested in the early summer, around the time of Shavuot.

It is believed by some that Hoshana Raba is when God makes His judgment on the rainfall for this year. This makes sense, as it is supported by the fact that Jews begin praying for rainfall the following day.

Simhat Torah, by contrast, has a different focus altogether. Also known as Shemini Atzeret, the name refers to the number eight, as it is the eighth day following the seven days of Sukkot. The day is mentioned in the Bible and is considered part of the three pilgrimage festivals (shalosh regalim) like Sukkot, Shavuot, and Passover. However, it contains other rituals and practices specifically for Simhat Torah.

The holiday itself didn't use that name until later, and exactly when it began isn't clear. However, the custom of dancing with the Torah dates back at least to the Geonic period.

The day is one of celebration and happiness, with an importance placed on renewing the cycle of reading the Torah. The cycle begins immediately, with synagogues reading the first parsha in the Book of Genesis right after finishing the final parsha in the Book of Deuteronomy. As noted by Chabad, "this is because as soon as we conclude studying the Torah, Gods infinite wisdom, on one level, we immediately start again, this time to discover new and loftier interpretations."

Though Hoshana Raba is ostensibly considered a day of Hol HaMoed, the prayers that are said bear more similarities to Chag. In Ashkenazi synagogues, this extends to the nigguns (melodies), which may blend Hol HaMoed, Yom Tov and even High Holy Day tunes together.

Continuing the themes of the High Holy Days, some wear kittels during Shacharit prayers, and some Sephardim recite selichot.

The Torah is still read, and Mussaf is still recited as is the case with the rest of Sukkot.

However, where the day really stands out is its practices with the Four Species (arba minim). As is the case with Sukkot, the lulav is shaken during Hallel and the congregation marches around the synagogue for the Hoshanot. However, there are seven Hoshanot as opposed to the typical four.

After this, worshipers take five branches of aravot (willow) that are usually bound together and then ceremoniously smack them against the floor, wall, or other surfaces. This ritual exists as a symbolic way of eliminating sins and praying for rain. No blessing is said for this.

That night, however, leads into Simhat Torah.

As one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the prayers said on Sukkot are said again on Simhat Torah, though with some verses alternated. Hallel is still recited as well, though the lulav is not used.

However, the real heart of the service is the Torah.

During the Maariv service, the Torahs are paraded around the synagogue in what is known as Hakafot, with each one typically dedicated to certain people, the first one usually going to rabbis and kohanim. This dancing usually does not stay confined to the synagogue itself and can even spill out into the streets as the singing and dancing continue for hours.

This is also done during the Shacharit services the next morning, though they are followed by reading the Torah scrolls. During this time, every male in the congregation - including children - gets an aliyah. A special aliyah is also given in some congregations to all the children called Kol HaNe'arim (all the children), where a large tallit is spread above them as they get the aliyah.

The last aliyah given for the parsha Vezot Habracha, the final parsha in the Torah, is considered a great honor and the one who gets it is called the Hatan Torah (husband of the Torah). This is followed by parshat Beresheet, the first parsha in the Torah, being recited, with the one who receives this aliyah being given the honor of Hatan Beresheet (husband of Genesis).

But another important part of the Simhat Torah prayers is Tefilat Hageshem (prayer of the rain), when we begin praying for rainfall. The hazzan for this part dons a kittel like during the High Holy Days and following this until Passover, the sentence "Mashiv haruach umorid hageshem" is included in every Shmone Esrei.

It should be noted that in the Diaspora, Simhat Torah is spread over two days, with the first day being called Shmini Atzeret and featuring the Tefilat Hageshem prayer and the second day featuring the Torah celebrations.

Chag begins: 5:43 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:08 p.m.

Chag begins: 6:03 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:09 p.m.

Chag begins: 5:53 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:08 p.m.

Chag begins: 6:06 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:09 p.m.

Chag begins: 6:06 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:09 p.m.

Chag begins: 6:26 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:25 p.m.*

Chag begins: 6:24 p.m.

Chag ends: 7:23 p.m.*

*As explained above, there are two days of Yom Tov abroad, so the time it ends refers to the second day.

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Hoshana Raba, Simhat Torah: What you need to know about the holiday - The Jerusalem Post

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