Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mark the end of Sukkot, even though technically they are not part of the Sukkot festival; they are a separate holiday unto themselves. On Shemini Atzeret, we observe the beginning of the rainy season in the Land of Israel with prayers for rain. Reflecting a somber mood, sometimes with melodies reminiscent of the High Holy Days, Shemini Atzeret is a time for lighting Yahrzeit candles for those who have died and commemorating our lost loved ones with a Yizkor service.
Simchat Torah departs from the solemnity of Shemini Atzeret and exceeds the measured joyfulness of Sukkot. On Simchat Torah, the community reads together the ending and beginning passages of the Torah in the annual cycle, and celebrates by singing and dancing with the Torah scroll(s). Coming at the end of the many holidays in the month of Tishri, a month devoted to reflection and contemplation, Simchat Torah brings Jews together in large numbers one more time during the month with a kind of ritual of release.1
1. Adapted from A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 2—Shabbat and Holidays. The Guide may be ordered from the Reconstructionist Press.
This file contains a helpful glossary of terms for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. It begins with a letter to parents suggesting themes to think about during the holiday season.