SUNSET THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20: Jews will literally dance in the streets tonight, as they “rejoice in the Torah” on Simchat Torah. Although Israeli and some liberal Jews marked this holiday yesterday—in combination with Shemini Atzeret—most Jews of the Diaspora begin celebrations tonight. (Check your knowledge with a quiz from My Jewish Learning.)
In most synagogues, joyous processions move around the aisles with flags waving and young children on the shoulders of their parents to mark the end of the annual Torah-reading cycle. The Torah scrolls are carried around the synagogue, as well, and sometimes even into the streets. Children often carry plush or paper scrolls. In most Orthodox congregations, this is the sole time of year when the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and read at night. (Get a Simchat Torah guide, recipes and more at Chabad.org.)
Here’s the background: Each year, Jews read a few chapters of the Torah every week, until they reach the final chapter: Deuteronomy 34. After rejoicing at the end of the Torah cycle and at the gift they have been given with the Torah, Jews begin the cycle again by immediately reading the first chapter of Genesis. (Wikipedia has details.) By proceeding from the final Torah chapter to the first, Jews remember that the Torah is a never-ending circle.
If you’re wondering just how important the Torah is to the Jewish people, check out this story at YNetNews.