Sunday, 19 October 2008

Why do we celebrate Simchat Torah on Shemini Atzeret?

The day we refer to as Simchat Torah in the Diaspora is actually the second day of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret so the question can be asked, both in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael where the celebration of Simchat Torah is on the (only) day of Shemini Atzeret, why do we celebrate this occassion on a day that is already a holiday? In other words, why do we make the siyum of finishing the yearly reading of the Torah on this day? When one considers the idea that we are not to create another occasion of simcha (joy) on a holiday which has its own reason for joy, this question is even more potent. While we can technically argue that the making of a siyum does not technically violate the principle of mixing joys, the underlying thought is still most significant. Why not mark another day with the joy of the siyum of finishing the weekly readings of the Torah? Why specifically make this siyum on Shemini Atzeret?

There are many sides to this question. It may be something you want to ponder that may give you a greater appreciation of the nature of the day.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


micha said...

One may not get married on Yom Tov because of this principle. One may get married erev Yom Tov afternoon and make the celebratory meal in the evening, after the holiday began.

I would therefore conclude that this "not mixing joys" is a more complicated topic than it appears. Not that I think I have a handle on it.

But I think the question of siyum is part of this bigger question.


Anonymous said...

One suggestion:
While Sukkot has an aspect of universalism, including the other nations in the celebration, Shemini Atzeret expresses a joy specifically focused on the Jewish people. The Torah is what makes us unique and sets us apart. Therefore it seems very fitting that Simchas Torah should be part and parcel of that joy.

Where can we read your thoughts on this question?

Nishma said...

I did write an article on this topic but it is not available yet on our website. The basic idea is that the concept of mixing joys only applies if the two joys are inherently distinct (and both significant -- which often explains why the concept is specifically applicable to weddings). Given this concept that the joys have to be distinct, if the two joys actually have a similar essence there is actually thus no problem. In this regard, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch developed an idea similar to yours, although not quite the same, that the essential simcha, joy, of Jewish holidays is the uniqueness of the Jewish nation and thus a celebration of the study of the Torah, which also reflects this uniqueness, is simply a further extension of this one basic joy. I, though, developed a different response based upon the idea that Shemini Atzeret, which has similarity to Shavuot, is also specifically a celebration of the Torah and thus a further celebration of the Torah through Simchat Torah is clear not a challenge to the essence of the day. A further question, though, in this regard is: why not make Simchat Torah on Shavuot? The answer to that, I believe, can be found in the distinction in the very celebration of Torah between the two days.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Anonymous said...

Thank you--and please let us know when the article becomes available online!