Simchat Torah: Some Customs and a Story by Sholem Aleichem
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” This holiday, which takes place right after Sukkot, marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. Each week in synagogue we publicly read a few chapters from the Torah, starting with Genesis Ch. 1 and ending with Deuteronomy 34. On Simchat Torah, we read the last Torah portion, and then the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us of the cyclical nature of the relationship between the Jewish people and the reading of the Torah.
As part of the celebration, the Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. This is accompanied by singing, dancing, and flag waving, all of which symbolize the collective joy of Torah study and a commitment to lifelong Jewish learning.
Waving flags on this holiday is especially popular among children, but the origin of making, decorating, and carrying them is unclear. Some scholars hold that marching with flags recaptures the history of the 12 ancient tribes of Israel, when each tribe had its own banner. Another custom is to put an apple on top of the flagstaff, or an apple with a hole carved out for a lighted candle, to evoke images of the Torah as light.
This story, “The Simchas Torah Flag“, by Sholem Aleichem, talks about this custom, and how important having a flag was to poor children growing up in Eastern Europe in the 19th century. This version is from Yiddish Stories for Young People, compiled and edited by Itche Goldberg and published by Kinderbuch Publishers in 1987.