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Shmini Atzeret

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Shmini Atzeret

Not to be confused with Shemini (parsha).
Shemini Atzeret
Official name Hebrew: שְׁמִינִי עֲצֶֽרֶת
Also called Translation: "The eighth [day] of Assembly"
Observed by Judaism and Jews
Type Jewish
Celebrations Prayer for rain; includes the celebration of Simchat Torah
Date 22nd day of Tishrei
2013 date
2014 date
2015 date
2016 date
Related to Culmination of Sukkot (Tabernacles)

Shemini Atzeret (שְׁמִינִי עֲצֶֽרֶת – "Eighth [day of] Assembly"; Sefardic/Israeli pron. shəmini atzèret; Ashkenazic pron. shmini-atsères) is a Jewish holiday. It is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei in the land of Israel, and on the 22nd and 23rd outside the land, that usually coincides with late September and/or early October each year. The festival of Sukkot is celebrated for seven days and thus Shemini Atzeret is literally the eighth day, but it is a separate yet connected holy day devoted to the spiritual aspects of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which it directly follows. Part of its duality as a holy day is that it is simultaneously considered to be and celebrated as being both connected to Sukkot, yet also being a separate festival in its own right.[1]

Outside the land of Israel, this is further complicated by the additional day added to all Biblical holidays except Yom Kippur.[2] The first day of Shemini Atzeret therefore coincides with the eighth day of Sukkot outside of Israel, leading to sometimes involved analysis as to which practices of each holiday are to apply.

The celebration of Simchat Torah is the most distinctive feature of the holiday, but it is a later rabbinical innovation. In Israel, the celebrations of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined on a single day, and the names are used interchangeably. In the Diaspora, the celebration of Simchat Torah is deferred to the second day of the holiday. Commonly, only the first day is referred to as Shemini Atzeret, while the second is called Simchat Torah.[3]

Karaites and Samaritans also observe Shemini Atzeret, as they do all Biblical holidays. However, it may occur on a different day from the conventional Jewish celebration, due to differences in calendar calculations. Karaites and Samaritans do not include the rabbinical innovation of Simchat Torah in their observance of the day.

Biblical origins

According to the


Shemini: Relationship to Sukkot

When Shemini Atzeret is mentioned in the Leviticus 23:33-43. Shemini Atzeret is mentioned there only in verse 39.

The Hebrew word shemini means eighth. This refers to the date of Shemini Atzeret relative to Sukkot; it falls on the eighth day.[note 1] It is therefore often assumed that Shemini Atzeret is simply the eighth day of Sukkot. That characterization, however, is only partly accurate.

The celebration of Sukkot is characterized by the use of the sukkah (booth or tabernacle) and the Four Species (tree branches and fruit used in the celebration).[note 2] However, the Torah specifies use of those objects for seven days only, not eight.[6] The observance of Shemini Atzeret therefore differs in substantial ways from that of Sukkot. The Talmud[7] goes so far as to describe Shemini Atzeret with the words "a holiday in its own right" (regel bifnei atzmo).

The Talmud describes six ways in which Shemini Atzeret differs from Sukkot. Four of these relate principally to the Temple service. Two others remain relevant to modern celebration of the holiday. First, the blessing known as Shehecheyanu is recited on the night of Shemini Atzeret, just as it is on the first night of all other major Jewish holidays.[8](pp306-7 and 1186) Second, the holiday is referred to distinctively as "Shemini Atzeret" and not as "Sukkot" in the prayer service.[8](pp760-3)

Immediately below that discussion, however, the Talmud describes Shemini Atzeret as the "end holiday of the festival [of Sukkot]".[7] The context here is that the Sukkot obligations of joy and recitation of Hallel (Psalms 113-118) last eight days. This is also why one of Sukkot's liturgical aliases, "Time of Our Happiness" (zman simḥatenu), continues to be used to describe Shemini Atzeret (and by extension Simchat Torah) in prayers.[8](pp760–3)

Shemini Atzeret is therefore simultaneously "a holiday in its own right" and the "end holiday of [Sukkot]".[7]

Connections to the prior Jewish holy days

The day prior to Shemini Atzeret is always the last day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah, it is unique and different to the other days of Sukkot. While it is part of the intermediate Sukkot days known as Chol HaMoed, Hoshana Rabbah has extra prayers and rituals and is treated and practiced much more seriously and festively than the previous days of Chol HaMoed Sukkot. In particular during the morning prayer service of Hoshana Rabbah, there are seven hoshanot with their own seven hakafot the "seven processions."[9]

This sets the stage, in ritual, mood, tenor and a heightened sense of festivity, for the days that follow it, namely, of Shemini Atzeret (and in Israel also to Simchat Torah) when the same kind of seven hakafot are then celebrated by some congregations on the night (i.e. the beginning) of Shemini Atzeret, and then by all on both the night and during the day of Simchat Torah.

The Jewish Encyclopedia states that during the time of the Second Temple, the festival of Shavuot received the specific name of "'Aẓarta" as cited by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (iii. 10, § 6) and in the Talmud's tractate Pesahim (42b, 68b), signifying "the closing feast" of Passover.[10] and commenting on this fact, the Rabbis in tractate Pesahim say that:

The closing feast of Sukkot (i.e. Shemini Atzeret) ought rightly to have been, like that of Passover (i.e. Shavuot) on the fiftieth day; but, in order not to force the people to make another journey to Jerusalem in the rainy season, God fixed it as early as the eighth day.[11]

Thus the continuum of these days can be depicted as follows: Sukkot --> Chol HaMoed Sukkot --> Hoshana Rabbah --> Shemini Atzeret --> Simchat Torah, as practiced in classical Rabbinical Judaism.

This continuum of religious celebrations concludes the process that had begun on the days of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observed ten days after the start of Rosh Hashanah. Five days after the conclusion of Yom Kippur, Sukkot begins, regarded as the celebration of the anticipated Divine "good judgment" that was hopefully granted on the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah + the Ten Days of Repentance + Yom Kippur) and then Hoshana Rabbah + Shemini Atzeret + Simchat Torah culminate the process of open celebration and festivity with joyous prayers, festive meals, and hours of dancing holding the Torah scroll/s at the center of attention during the hakafot in synagogues.

Atzeret: A day for assembly—or pause

Spiritually, Shemini Atzeret can also be seen to "guard the seven days of Sukkot". [12] The Hebrew word atzeret is generally translated as "assembly", but shares a linguistic root with the word atzor, meaning "stop" or "tarry". Shemini Atzeret is characterized as a day when the Jewish people "tarries" to spend an additional day with God at the end of Sukkot.[13] Rashi cites the parable of a king who invites his sons to dine with him for a number of days, but when the time comes for them to leave, he asks them to stay for another day, since it is difficult for him to part from them.[14] According to this idea, Sukkot is a universal holiday, but Shemini Atzeret, is only for the Jewish people, and it is a modest holiday just to celebrate [God's] special relationship with His beloved nation.[15][16]

A different, but related, interpretation is offered by Yaakov Zevi Mecklenburg, who translates atzeret as "retain": "During the holiday season, we have experienced a heightened religious fervor and a most devout spirit. This last day is devoted to a recapitulation of the message of these days, with the hope that it will be retained the rest of the year".[17]

Evolution of observances and customs

The Torah explicitly mentions Shemini Atzeret three times, all in the context of Sukkot.[18] Only two observances are specified for Shemini Atzeret. One relates to the Temple service, and is not relevant to modern observance. The other is the avoidance of "servile labor" (melechet avodah), as on other major Jewish holidays.[19] (See also Jewish holidays — "Work" on Sabbath and biblical holidays.) No other specific rituals or ritual objects are specified, making Shemini Atzeret unique in that regard among the festivals mentioned in the Torah.

Two observances of Shemini Atzeret are mentioned in the Prophets and Writings portions of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The first occurred at the time of the dedication of the First Temple by Solomon.[20] The second came at the time of the Jews' return from the Babylonian exile.[21] In both cases, however, the mention is limited to the observation that an "assembly [atzeret] was held on the eighth day."

According to the Apocryphal Second Book of Maccabees, the first celebration of Hanukkah mimicked that of Sukkot, which the Maccabees and their followers had been unable to celebrate earlier that year. However, the only allusion to Shemini Atzeret in that narrative is that the Hanukkah celebration was fixed for eight days—in remembrance of both the seven days of Sukkot and the additional day of Shemini Atzeret.[22]

Simchat Torah

Main article: Simchat Torah

The practice of reading the last of the weekly Torah portions on Shemini Atzeret is documented in the Talmud.[23] That Talmudic source does not refer to the occasion as "Simchat Torah", but simply as [the second day of] Shemini Atzeret.

The Simchat Torah celebration of today is of later rabbinic and customary origin. The day (but not the name) is mentioned in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (9th century CE); the assignment of the first chapter of Joshua as the haftarah of the day is mentioned there. The reading of the first section of Genesis immediately upon the conclusion of the last section of Deuteronomy—as well as the name "Simchat Torah"—can be found in the 14th century halachic work Arba'ah Turim.[24] By the 16th century CE, most of the features of the modern celebration of Simchat Torah were in place in some form.[25] The Simchat Torah celebration is now the most distinctive feature of this festival—so much so that in Israel, where Shemini Atzeret lasts only one day, it is more common to refer to the day as "Simchat Torah" than as "Shemini Atzeret."[26]

In the 20th century, Simchat Torah came to symbolize the public assertion of Jewish identity.[27] The Jews of the Soviet Union, in particular, would celebrate the festival en masse in the streets of Moscow. On October 14, 1973, more than 100,000 Jews took part in a post Simchat Torah rally in New York city on behalf of refuseniks and Soviet Jewry.[28] Dancing in the street with the Torah has become part of the holiday's ritual in various Jewish congregations in the United States as well. In Israel, many communities conduct Hakafot shniyot, or "Second hakafot", on the day after Shemini Atzeret. In part, this shows solidarity with Jewish communities outside Israel, which are still celebrating Simchat Torah (on the second day of the festival). At the same time, it allows for a Simchat Torah celebration unconstrained by festival work restrictions, since the festival is over in Israel according to Jewish law.[29]

Outside Israel, where Shemini Atzeret is observed for two days,[30] Simchat Torah is deferred to the second day, when all agree there is no obligation of sukkah. In common parlance, Jews outside of Israel normally use the name Shemini Atzeret to refer to the first day of the holiday only, while calling the second day Simchat Torah.

Carryover of Sukkot observances

Main article: Sukkot

In Israel—and for different reasons in Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism—none of the unique observances of Sukkot (sukkah, lulav and etrog) carry over to Shemini Atzeret. Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right, without sukkah, lulav and etrog. At the same time, outside Israel, by rabbinic decree, one day is added to all holidays.[2] Thus, just as Passover is described in the Torah as a seven-day holiday but is observed for eight outside of Israel, so Sukkot is described in the Torah as a seven-day holiday but is observed for eight outside of Israel. Accordingly, this issue does not apply to Simchat Torah, the ninth day outside Israel. Therefore, the "eighth day of Sukkot" outside of Israel coincides with the separate holiday of Shemini Atzeret.

Psalm 27, which is recited twice daily starting at the beginning of Elul, continues to be recited on Shemini Atzeret outside of Israel.[8] Ecclesiastes[note 3] is read in Ashkenazi synagogues on the Shabbat of Sukkot. When Shemini Atzeret falls on Shabbat, Kohelet is read on that day outside of Israel. In Israel, it would have been read on the first day of Sukkot, which would also have been on Shabbat. Torah and Haftarah Readings (Torah being Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17) is the same reading as on the Final Day of Passover and Second Day of Shavuot. The full length of the reading is included even on non-Sabbath days because the reading refers to separation of agricultural gifts (like tithes and terumah), which are due at this time of the year. The Haftarah describes the people's blessing of King Solomon at the end of the dedication of the First Temple.[31]


The prevalent practice is that one eats in the sukkah on the eighth day, but without reciting the blessing (berakhah).[32] However, one does not sleep in the sukkah on the eighth day, nor does one use the lulav and etrog on the eighth day. If someone sees a neighbor on the street with a lulav and etrog on the eighth day, the rabbis reason, s/he might mistakenly assume that it is still the seventh day (ḥol hamoed), when the lulav and etrog are still needed. S/he might then violate prohibitions of the yom tov of the eighth day. For that reason, the rabbis ruled that one should not use a lulav and etrog on the eighth day, even outside of Israel. They are therefore muktzah; that is, one may not even move them on a holiday where they are not needed.[33] Sleeping in the sukkah brings a similar discussion. Additionally, most people would prefer to sleep indoors at this point in the year due to the weather, so sleeping in the sukkah may impinge on one's own joy during the festival. This is why the rabbis ruled that one does not sleep in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, even outside of Israel.[33]


Eating in the sukkah does not cause a parallel problem because many people simply enjoy eating in a sukkah. Seeing someone eating in a sukkah does not per se lead one to assume it is still ḥol hamoed in the same way. Likewise, eating in the sukkah does not per se impinge on one's own celebration of Shemini Atzeret. Therefore, the prevalent practice is to eat in the sukkah on Shemini Azeret outside of Israel. However, one does not say the berakhah for sitting in a sukkah, as reciting it does "impinge" on the unique status of Shemini Atzeret.[33]

Concerning eating in the sukkah, there are variations sometimes seen. The minhag (custom) of some is to make Kiddush (refreshments such as cake etc) in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, but to eat the main meal inside. Others eat the evening meal of Shemini Atzeret indoors but the day meal outdoors. Each of these approaches addresses aspects of the dual nature of Shemini Atzeret.[33] Finally, there are some (mostly Chassidic or otherwise heavily influenced by Kabbalah) who eat indoors entirely on Shemini Atzeret, notwithstanding the Gemara's final ruling to the contrary.

Other customs

Israel's agriculture depends heavily on rains that come only seasonally, so Jewish prayers for rain, such as Tefillat Geshem or Tikun Geshem (Rain Prayer) are prominent during Israel's rainy (winter) half of the year.[34] The rainy season starts just after the fall Jewish holidays. Because of that, and because the sukkah (and, by extension, pleasant weather) is no longer required on Shemini Atzeret, Jews begin to ask for rain starting with the Musaf Amidah prayer of Shemini Atzeret.[35] This prayer is recited in a traditional, distinctive, plaintive melody during the cantor's repetition of the Amidah. In Ashkenazi synagogues, the cantor is clad in a white kittel, a symbol of piety, owing to the vitality of a positive judgment for rain. A brief mention of rain continues to be inserted in the Amidah until Passover. The Yizkor memorial service is also recited in Ashkenazi synagogues on this day.[36] Recital of the Yizkor prayer is said to bring the person "closer to the cold and brittle part of mourning", and is necessary to promote the healing of a broken heart.[37]

Observance in non-rabbinical Jewish traditions

As a biblically-mentioned holiday, Shemini Atzeret is also observed by Karaites and Samaritans:

In Karaite Judaism

For Karaites, followers of a branch of Judaism that accepts the Written Law, but not the Oral Law, Shemini Atzeret is observed as a single day of rest, not associated with the practices of Simchat Torah, which are a rabbinic innovation.[38] Nevertheless, the Karaite cycle of weekly Torah reading, like the Rabbinic cycle, reaches its conclusion on Shemini Atzeret.[39] Accordingly, in at least some Karaite circles, this day is referred to by the name of Simchat Torah.[40] Additionally, calculation of the Karaite calendar is not based on astronomical calculations, but only on direct observation of the New Moon and the ripening of Barley. Because of that, the 22nd day of the 7th month is not necessarily celebrated on the same date as 22 Tishrei in the (conventional, Rabbinic) Jewish calendar.[41] In 2013, Shemini Atzeret fell on September 29 for Karaites, three days later than in the conventional Jewish calendar.[41] The date for 2014 will not be known with certainty until the new moon of the 7th month has been observed.[note 4]

In the Samaritan tradition

Samaritans, followers of an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism that recognizes only the first five (or six) books of the Bible as canonical, celebrate only one day of Shemini Atzeret.

Shortly after midnight, prayers are made in the synagogue for more than ten hours. No work is permitted on this day. At the end of the holiday, the succahs are dismantled. Their poles and nets will be stored until the next Harvest Festival. The fruits will be squeezed into sweetened juice and some will be eaten by the children.[42]

See also




Further reading


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