Shemini Atzeret actually means the eighth day of assembly . This day is a Biblical holiday for Jewish that follows the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is celebrated on 22nd day of the Jewish month of Tishri or Tishri. The Jewish believe that on the eighth day they should hold a solemn gathering and should not go to work.
It is celebrated in the Diaspora for two days; the second day is separately called Simchat Torah. In Reform Judaism and Israel these holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are collectively celebrated on a single day and the names are used interchangeably.
Celebrating Simchat Torah
A rabbinical tradition gradually developed in the Middle Ages to celebrate the Torah on Shemini Atzeret. This celebration came to be known as Simchat Torah. This day is celebrated with joyful processions, dancing and singing. This occasion marks the ending of one cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of a new cycle.
The Genesis of Shemini Atzeret
In ancient times, on the eighth day after the start of Sukkot – the Jews were supposed to amass in Jerusalem for the final time in the Jewish calendar year. On this day, called Shemini Atzeret is seen as a day of judgment by God. The Jewish people were judged as to whether or not they were worthy of receiving the seasonal autumn rainfall, indispensable for their crops and vegetation growth in the coming year and hence, enable the survival of the Jewish community.
Praying For Rain On Shemini Atzeret
You would be interested in knowing how people pray on Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, the rainy season is marked by Shemini Atzeret and is followed by the harvest. It is customary to recite a special prayer for rain, in the autumn season, on Shemini Atzeret.
Since the Sukkah, pleasant weather is no longer required, Jews plead for rain during the Tefilat Geshem prayer. It is recited in a typical mournful melody during the cantor’s or liturgical singer, recitation of the Musaf Amidah. You would find that in most synagogue services on Shemini Atzeret, the cantor wears a white “kittel” or “robe”. Here, the color white symbolizes piety and expresses the hope for a positive judgment by God for rain.
Believers also solicit forgiveness for the sins committed by them against God (equivalent to sins committed against oneself), during the past year on Shemini Atzeret. A brief prayer for rain continues to be inserted in the Amidah until Passover.
The Rituals Of Shemini Atzeret
Tefilat Geshem is a unique ritual in Shemini Atzeret. In ancient times, offerings were placed in the Temple in Jerusalem on Shemini Atzeret. After the destruction of the Temple, the ritual has reduced to remain a liturgy, requesting rain for a plentiful year. The book of Ecclesiastes is still chanted on Shemini Atzeret.
Ashkenazi Jews also recite The Yizkor memorial service on this day. They also recite Yizkor, on Shemini Atzeret. On this day, service for departed loved ones is also recited in the synagogues.
The day of Shemini Atzeret is essentially a day, which highlights the unique relationship of water and life. This special Prayer For Rainfall is recited in synagogues throughout the world for the holy Land of Israel. Purpose of prayers on Shemini Atzeret is to help keep the Jewish people more conscious of the Land of Israel as well as helping to strengthen their spiritual bond with Israel.