The Origin & History of Simchat Torah

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Simchat Torah

On Friday, October 8 or Tishrei 23, we celebrate a Holy Day not mentioned in the Torah.

It is called Simchat Torah, meaning the Celebration of the Law. On that day we finish reading the Five Books of Moses and directly thereafter start again.

The last chapter of the Torah is called V’sauth Habracha or “This is the blessing”. It tells us about the blessing Moses bestowed on the Children of Israel before he died. We are told that Moses was 120 years old when he died, in full possession of all his faculties. Further, we are told that Joshua, the son of Nun, succeeded Moses. The chapter ends with the word “Yisroel” (Go ahead, read it in your Bible).

Next we read Beraysheet. That is the first book of the Bible, named after the first word in that book. It means “in the beginning” and tells the story of creation. This reminds me of the silly dispute between creationists, who are convinced that the whole universe was created literally in six days, and those who, in their secular superiority to all the idiots of this world, bother to argue about this.

The great Jewish philosopher Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632-1677) settled that argument in the 17th century. Why repeat the same disputes year in and year out? There is no quarrel between religion and science. If you still don’t believe this, read Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). If Kant is too long, too boring and too German, then use Man’s Ascent to Reason, which I wrote a few years ago. It is a summary of some of the main philosophical and scientific writings over many years and seeks to give the reader a brief overview of each writer's views.

Now back to Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah was not known until the Babylonian Jews, around the year 1000, developed the custom of the annual Torah reading cycle. This became universal among Jews, including in Israel.

Since the Torah is read on that day, the person who is called up (Aliya) to bless the last paragraphs of the Torah is called the Bridegroom of the Torah or Chassan Torah. The next aliyah is called the Bridegroom of the Beginning or Chassan Beraysheet.

During the synagogue service on Simchat Torah, all Torah scrolls are taken from the cabinet or ark and carried in procession (hakofoth) around the synagogue. Men and women carry the scrolls while the cantor leads all in singing the special melodies of the holiday. This is done seven times to commemorate the seven times the Children of Israel marched around Yericho before “the walls came tumbling down”. (If you have seen Yericho lately you can still see the walls or the remnants thereof lying all over the place. Evidently our Palestinian brethren are so busy with homicide bombings that they haven’t time to clean up).

Among the Torah-true or the orthodox (Greek for straight believers) it is customary to dance with the Torah and to parade the Torah scrolls outdoors on the sidewalk in front of the “shul”. This enhances the ceremony in that it becomes public.

It is unfortunate that so many of us know nothing about out joyous holidays and know only about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Lacking this knowledge, some of us imagine that there is no joy in Judaism, when in fact the opposite is the case. We don’t need to get drunk on the 31st of December, alone because we do not celebrate the circumcision of other people’s deity. Remember that January 1 is eight days after December 25. Therefore, our Christian friends celebrate The Feast of the Circumcision on January 1.

We don’t need to snort cocaine or “get high” on joints, reefers or Maryjane. We have great singing “in shul” every Shabbat and at home when we light the Sabbath candles and meet the family for our weekly dinner. We don’t need a raucous night life because we know it is more fun to read or write a good book than to engage in slam dancing in a “mosh pit”. (Ask your children. They know what a “mosh pit” is.)

The principal lesson to be learned from the celebration of Simchat Torah is that Judaism is a joyous religion. We are not pessimists. If we were, we would have disappeared long ago. We would have given up after the Holocaust. Instead, we achieved the impossible. We “regrouped” and founded Israel despite the loss of one third of our people.

Now, Israel exists with the blessings of America. Our country, we are proud to say, has been the main source of support for Israel. If our current president George W. Bush is reelected, and I am sure he will be, then Israel will continue to be supported.

The alternative is indeed gruesome. John Kerry and the whole Democratic party is opposed to the survival of Israel. As Kerry said to the Arab-American Institute: “Israel’s fence is provocative and a barrier to peace.” Murdering Jews is evidently neither provocative nor a barrier to peace.

Note that 70% of Arab-Americans intend to vote for Sen. Kerry. They shout “anybody but Bush” because Bush supports Israel and Kerry will not. In fact, neither Kerry nor any Democrat President of the U.S. can support Israel because all the American Jew baiters are members of the Democrat Party. There is Cynthia McKinney, congresswoman from Atlanta, Ga., who associates with Khalid Muhammad and his boss Farrakhan in distributing anti-Jewish hate propaganda. She also voted to reduce aid to Israel.

Then there is the Rev. Al Sharpton, who calls us “the blood sucking Jews.” Remember that Sharpton was a candidate for the nomination of his party for President. Then we have the great civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who calls New York City “Hymietown”. Added to this mélange of haters is Kerry adviser Jimmy Carter, who declared at a conference in Switzerland that if he had been re-elected he would have achieved “the final solution” of the Israel problem. Now, Carter was not re-elected thanks to Shem Yishborach,. Otherwise he would have followed in the footsteps of his Nazi friends and imposed a second “final solution”. Kerry says that if elected he’ll make Carter our envoy to Israel. That’s about the same thing as making the head “wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan ambassador to Liberia.

The Democrat Party is today the host of all the haters in America. That alone precludes that any Jew would vote for such policies.

We are of course the perpetual lemmings of this world. Yet, we don’t have to be. We don’t have to vote for our enemy. We don’t have to vote for a candidate who encourages the view that those Jews who stand up for Israel are un-American. Consider this: If a President makes an anti-Jewish policy and we American Jews oppose such a policy and demand that Israel be supported, then we will be accused of dual loyalty.

In short, Kerry is not only dangerous for Israel, he is dangerous for the U.S. Jewish community as well. Think about it and ask yourself if you really want to abandon our 5.5 million brethren in Israel to the killers.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Man's Ascent to Reason (2003) & the forthcoming Football & American Identity.

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