Man of the Year 5782: The Indefatigable MK Itamar Ben-GvirBy David Israel and Lost Tribe of Bnei Menashe Sample their First Gefilte Fish and Rabbi Schwartz terrible jokes and Simchat Torah 2021 in Israel will begin in the evening of Monday, 27 September and ends in the evening of Tuesday, 28 September
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Simchat Torah 2021 in Israel will begin in the evening of Monday, 27 September and ends in the evening of Tuesday, 28 September
The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TERRIBLE TAXI JOKES OF THE WEEK
Moishe the truck driver was traveling down the freeway. A sign came up that read, "Low bridge ahead." Before he knew it, the bridge was directly ahead of him and then he got stuck under it. Cars were backed up for miles.Finally, a police car arrived. The cop got out of his car and walked around to Moishe the truck driver, put his hands on his hips, and said, "Got stuck, huh?" Moishe replied, "No, I was delivering this bridge and ran out of gas."
Saul Epstein was taking an oral exam in his English as a Second Language class. He was asked to spell "cultivate," and he spelled it correctly. He was then Asked to use the word in a sentence, and, with a big smile, responded: "Last vinter on a very cold day, I vas vaiting for a Taxi, but it vas too cultivate, so I took the subvay home."
A Polish immigrant goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a driver's license and is told he has to take an eye test in order to get his Taxi license The examiner shows him a card with the letters: C Z J W I X N O S T A C Z "Can you read this?" the examiner asks. "Read it?" the Polish guy replies, "I know the guy!!"
My friend quit his job as a taxi driver. He got fed up with people telling him where to go.
I don't think I would like being a taxi driver. I was convinced people were talking behind my back.
3 drunk guys entered Berel's taxi. Berel, knowing that they were drunk figured he'd take advantage of them. So he started the engine and then turned it off again and said "We reached your destination" The first guy gave him money, the second guy said "thank you" then gave him money too, while the third guy slapped the Berel's across the head. Shocked and thinking the third guy had caught him in his trick and his game was up., Berel asked "What was that for?" the third guy replied "Control your speed next time, you've nearly killed us!"
I was in a taxi the other day and the driver turned to me and said, "I love my job. I am my own boss, nobody tells me what to do.". Then I told him to turn right at the next corner.
A man gets into a taxi at Ben Gurion airport and asks the driver to head to his hotel in Tel Aviv. The driver takes off at top speed, flying around cars. He approached a light just turning yellow and never lets off the gas. The passenger asks the driver, "Wow, you didn't even blink at that yellow. ""Yeah, I have a regular passenger named Avi who's also a taxi driver and he told me that the chance of getting into an accident at a yellow light is pretty much zero." A few minutes later, he gets to an intersection where the light is yellow, and just turning red as they blast through it. "Whoa, that was a bit close," says the passenger." Yeah, turns out that it doesn't matter how long the light is yellow, according to Avi. "Two intersections later, and the light is just turning red as they reach the intersection. He blasts through it again." Wow -- that one was totally red...""Yeah, Avi says that the first second of a red light is basically the same as the yellow -- nobody has had time to start moving, so you're fine." Two intersections later, and they get there just as the red light is turning green. The driver stomps on the break throwing the passenger into the glass separator." Why'd you do that? It was green! ""In case Avi is going the other way."
Lost Tribe of Bnei Menashe Sample their First Gefilte Fish
Photo Credit: Laura Ben David, courtesy of Shavei Israel.
Five hundred and twenty-five Bnei Menashe olim from India who claim they are the descendants of a lost tribe of Israel are gearing up for their first Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish state. The olim, some of whom reside in Shavei Israel's absorption center in Achziv, moved to Israel from Manipur, India, thanks to the efforts of Pnina Tamano Shata, Minister of Aliyah and Integration, the Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shavei Israel, and the Jewish Agency.
Part of the Bnei Menashe's preparations for the High Holidays included a Gefilte Fish tasting – a traditional dish associated with the Jewish New Year. Shavei Israel, which has lobbied for the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe community for the past 20 years, presented the dish to the community members for the first time. Some loved the dish, while others politely declared it to be "an acquired taste."
"After 2,700 years of exile, the descendants of the Bnei Menashe are finally returning to their ancestral homeland," says Michael Freund, Founder, and Chairman of Shavei Israel. "There is no better time for them to begin their new lives in the land of their ancestors than the beginning of the Jewish New Year. The history of this special community, which preserved its connection to the people of Israel and the Land of Israel down through the generations, is exciting and inspiring, and I would like to wish each of them a Shanah Tova U'metuka, a good and sweet New Year, for the first time in their ancestral homeland."
The Bnei Menashe, or sons of Manasseh claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, which were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago. Their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the borders of Burma and Bangladesh. Throughout their sojourn in exile, the Bnei Menashe continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals, and following the laws of family purity. They continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their forefathers, the Land of Israel.
Thus far, Shavei Israel has made the dream of Aliyah, immigration to Israel, possible for over 4,500 Bnei Menashe and plans to help bring more members of the community to Israel. Another 6,000 Bnei Menashe are awaiting their return to the Jewish homeland.
Man of the Year 5782: The Indefatigable MK Itamar Ben-Gvir
Itamar Ben-Gvir is our Jewish man of the year because despite all the obstacles placed in his way (many of his own making), he has managed to overcome, bypass, sidestep, circumvent, out-maneuver, or go through them all with his relentless determination to defend Jewish people, their rights and liberty. He promotes his particular Jewish agenda for the people of Israel, and gets in the face of the mainstream media which respond by displaying his messages front and center.
Ben-Gvir has been a work in progress for the better part of three decades, and this year he reached as high as he expected. In 5781 you just couldn't ignore Itamar Ben-Gvir.
THERE'S RIGHT AND THEN THERE'S EVEN MORE RIGHT
Two right-wing politicians bombard my WhatsApp more than anyone else on the many lists to which I subscribe: Religious Zionism Chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich, and his faction partner, Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir. But while Smotrich's frequent messages string together consistent, ever-growing statements that are highly focused and calm to a fault, Ben-Gvir's are a celebration of catch-as-catch-can commentary, almost always very emotional, reflecting a great capacity for emotion and, as such, occasionally infuriating.
Even at his relatively tender age of 31, Bezalel Smotrich comes across as a thinker, one is even tempted to say, a statesman in the making. His agenda is clear, he doesn't lie and only rarely fudges. Indeed, his honesty has gotten him into gallons of hot water with the press.
To Ben-Gvir, the hot water is his natural environment. His political activity—and he is on 24/6—is usually two measures of street theater to one measure of political message. The vast majority of his videos includes at least a few frames where he is smiling with undeniable pleasure, a cat-that-ate-the-cream kind of self-satisfied smile. He is grandiose, even bombast, and you know he loves the attention.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, 45, was born in Jerusalem to parents who came to Israel from Iraq (his mother, a Kurdish Jew, was a member of the Irgun and was arrested by the British at age 14). Itamar did teshuva in the 11th grade and attended the Jewish Idea yeshiva that was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. The army rejected him over his membership in Kahane's Kach movement. He gained national fame for his political provocations, the most memorable of which was holding up to the cameras then-PM Yitzhak Rabin's car emblem (a Cadillac) which he said he had stolen, and warning: "Just like we got to this emblem, we could get to Rabin." In 2000 he plastered ads around Jerusalem condemning the state visit of Pope John Paul II. And he reportedly tried to register in the Guinness Book of World Records a synagogue in an outpost as the synagogue with the highest number of demolitions and rebuilding.
LAW SCHOOL AND BEYOND
Ben-Gvir graduated from the Ono Academic Campus's law school, but the Bar Association refused to let him start his internship, citing his criminal record. After several appeals, Ben-Gvir was ready for a new battle but the Bar committee was exhausted and finally let him take the bar exam in 2012, depending on the outcome of his pending criminal indictments. He was acquitted and began his legal career, representing mostly right-wing defendants who were targeted for their ideological beliefs.
In one case, Ben-Gvir channeled Clarence Darrow when he represented a boy accused of assaulting an Arab. Ben-Gvir had a different boy sit next to him during the trial, and after the main prosecution witness pointed to him with great confidence as the perpetrator, the judge was forced to let the real defendant go.
In late 2015, Ben-Gvir represented one of the suspects in the Duma village arson case and claimed Shin Bet interrogators forced a confession out of his client using torture. He set up public torture demonstrations outside the court sessions—vintage Ben-Gvir.
In 2016 he sued the Waqf agents for harassing him during his visit to the Temple Mount, accusing them of violating his rights under the Privacy Protection Act. The Magistrate's Court awarded him compensation in the amount of NIS 50,000 ($15,500), plus legal expenses.
Ben-Gvir also represented Rabbi Eliezer Berland in 2018 over a dispute between him and the synagogue where he prayed, over Berland's 2016 conviction on two counts of indecent acts and one assault.
Ben-Gvir is a member of the 24th Knesset, having run and failed for the 19th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Knessets. He started the more serious chapter of his political life as the attorney and communications adviser of MK Michael Ben-Ari and the spokesman for Ben-Ari's National Jewish Front movement.
Ben-Gvir boasts that he has been the subject of 53 indictments—out of which he was convicted of eight criminal offenses. He was cleared of 46 indictments and claims to have won a total of NIS 250,000 ($78,000) in counter lawsuits against the police.
STREET THEATER POLITICS
The first time Itamar Ben-Gvir caught my attention was back in 2011 when he and then MK Michael Ben-Ari assembled a group of illegal Sudanese migrant workers and brought them to the Gordon public pool near the Tel Aviv marina. They paid for their entry tickets and reaped the results they had hoped for: liberal Tel Avivians rushing out of the water lest they be soiled by the incoming half-naked Africans. As far as street theater goes, it was absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately, because it was intended to shame and humiliate, that was also the extent of this lesson on the Israeli reality of racial harmony. It didn't create a dialog.
In fact, with a long list of street theater episodes that followed, none as brilliant as the Gordon pool, but all of them magnets for media coverage, because Ben-Gvir, like Ben-Ari, learned their stuff from the master, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. With one major difference: in one Knesset term, Kahane managed to rise from a single seat to a projected eight seats—before a terrified Knesset, most notably the right-wing factions, ganged up on him and expelled for good the brilliant orator and gifted politician. Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir never succeeded in using their stunts to gain Kahane's kind of burgeoning support. Ben-Ari failed to win a second Knesset term and was later banned from running by the Supreme Court. Ben-Gvir never crossed the 3.25% threshold vote and only made it to the Knesset this time thanks to then PM Benjamin Netanyahu who acted as his personal campaign manager, diverting at least one Haredi vote to him – to the raging anguish of United Torah Judaism.
But even though Itamar Ben-Gvir desperately needs to boost his voter ranks, he doesn't appear to try any strategy other than the frontal, unabashed, aggressive punches which he delivers several times a day, every day. He mixes those with the occasional street theater scene that nowadays often end in violence, or getting evicted from the Knesset plenum.
The Otzma Yehudit chairman has been attacking the new Lapid-Bennett government every single day, several times each day. He is indefatigable following this strategy, like a heavyweight who knows he must land a barrage of blows for some of them to do serious damage. It started with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's first appearance before the Knesset plenum, where he faced incessant booing from Ben-Gvir and the entire cadre of right-wing, Haredi, and Arab politicians, and continues without pause. These are the press releases he has released between August 24 and August 30 (my apologies for the lack of context, we would be here all day):
MK Ben-Gvir in response to the terrorist's request from the High Court to open the soldier's grave: "In Israel, terrorists are given paradise and this is what makes them think they can make hell for the families of the murdered."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to the (Beitar Jerusalem) lawsuit against La Familia: "Instead of fighting their dear fans who are the heart and the symbol, and filing inflated and stupid intimidation lawsuits, start doing procurement (of talent), combining and connecting."
MK Ben-Gvir: "I did not celebrate the death of MK Al-Kharomi this morning, but I will not forget for a moment that he is an enemy of the State of Israel and IDF soldiers."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to the attempted snatching of a soldier's weapon: "The IDF should investigate how the terrorist managed to come out of the incident alive."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to MK Shehadeh's speech calling for the release of Lod detainees: "The nucleus of the Muslim Brotherhood is here in Israel and threatens to explode again within us."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to Dabour's return to the Israeli national soccer team: "Shame and disgrace to the team that a player who supported the terrorists returned to play for the team even without an apology, I despise him."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to the release of the suspect who harassed a young woman and posted it on TikTok: "The court harms the residents of the south and the deterrence."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to Prime Minister Bennett's statement on his opposition to the nuclear deal: "What's left for Iran is to continue preparations for pressing the red button on which Bennett's name is engraved."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to the High Court ruling to grant Israeli citizenship to the widow of a person entitled under the Law of Return: "The High Court has issued another precedent-setting ruling that's dangerous for the interpretation of the Law of Return and destroys the law. I will have to propose amendments and additions that will block the loopholes that High Court judges created."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to suspicions against Chairwoman of Ben & Jerry's Board of Directors for embezzling to support pro-Palestinian activity: "Dismiss her immediately. The ice creams may taste good to the palate, but it is repulsive to the soul."
MK Ben-Gvir in response to Ganz's meeting with Mahmoud Abbas: "The government is spitting in our faces and advancing extreme left-wing agendas."
Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir: "It is time for revenge. The Israeli government must eliminate Ismail Haniyeh tonight."
Like I said, all of the above messages to the press were delivered in a span of six days. Being on the receiving end, like hundreds of other press folks who subscribe to his WhatsApp group, is often annoying, on occasion funny, but always useful. He stays in your face, he has something to say about everything, he sometimes offers a tidbit you were not aware of – and you end up inserting his quote and his brand into your story.
WHEN THE GAME GETS DANGEROUS
Last spring, MK Ben-Gvir was not a commentator on the news – he was the news.
In May, Ben-Gvir established his office at the heart of the hottest real estate dispute in eastern Jerusalem – the Shimon HaTzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) Neighborhood. It was the kind of street theater that grew into an outright provocation and could end up in serious harm. As it were, after the conclusion of the daily Ramadan fast, dozens of Arabs gathered in front of Ben-Gvir's new office to yell and hurl stones, plastic chairs, and garbage at him, at his office, and at the activists who had assembled around him.
Ben-Gvir has had an ongoing battle with Commissioner Shabtai, which reached its peak over the Arab riots in Israel's "mixed cities." On May 13, Ben-Gvir demanded Shabtai's sacking, a short while before the latter depicted him as one of the main culprits in the escalation of violence between Arabs and Jews.
Shabtai was livid when he told a large gathering of the press: "The person responsible for this intifada is Itamar Ben-Gvir. It started with the demonstration of Lehavah at the Damascus Gate, continued with the provocation in Sheikh Jarrah, and now he's hanging out with Lehavah activists in the mixed cities. Yesterday we managed to calm down Akko until he showed up with activists on the bus and caused unrest. The police do not have the tools to deal with him."
Ben-Gvir responded the next day with a meme which has since been shared by thousands on the social networks: "Kobi Shabtai / You abandoned the residents of Lod / Abandoned our security / And now you blame Ben-Gvir? / YOU FAILED. / GO HOME!"
A few weeks later, on June 10, Ben-Gvir filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding an injunction against the police commissioner's decision prohibiting him from going to Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Ben-Gvir announced that "the commissioner's decision was given without authority."
The day before, Commissioner Shabtai informed MKs Ben-Gvir and Mai Golan (Likud) that they were forbidden to march to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem with Israeli flags, for fear of provoking riots in the area.
Ben-Gvir stated: "Decisions on restricting movement for reasons of state security should be made by those in charge of state security, namely the prime minister and the minister of defense, and not by those responsible for maintaining the public order. The commissioner's decision is unprecedented, seeing as, for the first time, the commissioner decides to deny access to Knesset members in violation of the Immunity Law, and in the absence of the legal authority to do so."
Needless to say, MK Ben-Gvir showed up at Damascus Gate as planned, surrounded by a police security detail. And, as promised, a major riot ensued, which continued even after he had left. The police used stun grenades against Jewish demonstrators raising Israeli flags and Arab demonstrators with flags of Palestine. Three were arrested for disorderly conduct – which is a surprisingly low number, considering the enormous media and social media coverage.
On June 27, after Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai had issued a specific ban against Ben-Gvir's ascending to the Temple Mount, and after a threatening video in Arabic that circulated on the Internet and called for harming the MK, Ben-Gvir returned to the Temple Mount and toured the place, as he gleefully informed his press list. It was an unmistakable in-your-face to the commissioner, who loathes him. Ben-Gvir circumvented Shabtai by approaching the Knesset Officer and getting his consent, after which the police were forced to send a large force to accompany the MK as he entered the holy compound.
THE TRICKY POLITICS OF KAHANE'S HEIR APPARENT
MK Ben-Gvir is a thoroughly political creature, whose personal life is completely entangled with his political agenda. As such, however, he has on occasion shed his abrasive persona and projected a softer—albeit still completely political—attitude. On August 21, Ben-Gvir was hospitalized with serious coronavirus symptoms. He told Ynet TV that he had been to five weddings the week before, where he shook hundreds of hands. "I wore a mask but it wasn't enough," he said, and, without skipping a beat, delivered a political message: "I call on the public to go get tested and get vaccinated. I don't know what would have happened if I had not been vaccinated. Friends, this is a cursed disease, we must not bury our heads in the sand."
But wait, there was more: Ben-Gvir wished a speedy recovery to MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), who was also hospitalized with Corona, and added an ecumenical message: "Despite our disagreements from here to next Tuesday, in this disease, there is no right or left, religious or secular."
Except Kariv is not secular, he is a Reform Jew…
Later, upon his release from Hadassah, Ben-Gvir issued a press release thanking the medical staff and adding: "I have seen how they treat each patient in the most professional way and with great dedication. I thank everyone who inquired about my health and I call on you, go get vaccinated for your sake, for your environment, and for the strength of our health system."
In February 2019, when the Habayit Hayehudi party was still intact, there were discussions of adding two political leaders who could bring in a few thousand votes and were both not expected to cross the threshold vote on their own: former Shas chairman Eli Yishai, and Itamar Ben-Gvir. At some point, Rabbi Yaaqov Medan, the co-Rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion, vetoed the Ben-Gvir pick, saying it was impossible to run on a joint list with him as long as there's a picture of Dr. Baruch Goldstein hanging in his house (Goldstein carried out the massacre of 29 Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarchs on February 25, 1994).
Ben-Gvir responded in an interview with Reshet Bet radio: "I will not take down the picture of Baruch Goldstein from my living room. He is a doctor who saved the lives of Jews and that is why his picture hangs there."
This, I believe, is the essence of Ben-Gvir's political path, and the reason why his appeal will likely not extend outside his current circle of followers. He has all the talent and energy of a successful political animal, he is tireless, he is persistent, he is extremely clever, and sensitive. But he has no idea how (or perhaps, no desire) to appeal to an audience of the uninitiated. He preaches only to the choir.
Since 2019, the Baruch Goldstein portrait has come up numerous times in interviews, and Ben-Gvir has given a number of other tortured explanations, including, in 2020, a declaration that he decided to take the picture down to prevent the establishment of a left-wing government.
I believe he honestly doesn't understand why the vast majority of Israelis, including many on the right, are horrified by the notion of hanging Goldstein's portrait in his living room, where guests debate the issues of the day with a cup of tea and biscuits. In my opinion, this is what differentiates Ben-Gvir from Smotrich. Ben-Gvir, despite his mercurial qualities, is frozen in the rebel's stance he inherited from Rabbi Kahane and he does not have the desire to grow beyond that.
Ben-Gvir will continue to influence right-wing politics in Israel for many years to come, even if he fails to make it to the 25th Knesset. But his ability to rise to a position of leadership outside his limited, sectoral sphere is doubtful. And he may not care, he's a street fighter for the Jewish people, and that's where he is most effective.
Smotrich, on the other hand, has what it takes to expand his ranks and gain the trust and affection of new voters. Smotrich is here to stay in establishment politics, Ben-Gvir is a circus train – extremely noticeable until the show is over and the train heads out to the next town. But not to worry, he'll keep coming back on the next tour with the same tried and true act.
Simchat Torah or Simhat Torah (Hebrew: שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה, lit., "Rejoicing with/of the Torah", Ashkenazi: Simchas Torah) is a Jewish holiday that celebrates and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Simchat Torah is a component of the BiblicalJewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret ("Eighth Day of Assembly"), which follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot in the month of Tishrei (occurring in mid-September to early October on the Gregorian calendar).
The main celebrations of Simchat Torah take place in the synagogue during evening and morning services. In Orthodox as well as many Conservative congregations, this is the only time of year on which the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and read at night. In the morning, the last parashah of Deuteronomy and the first parashah of Genesis are read in the synagogue. On each occasion, when the ark is opened, the worshippers leave their seats to dance and sing with the Torah scrolls in a joyous celebration that can last for several hours.
The morning service is also uniquely characterized by the calling up of each member of the congregation for an aliyah. There is also a special aliyah for all the children.
On the Hebrew calendar, the seven-day holiday of Sukkot in the autumn (late mid-September to late mid-October) is immediately followed by the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. In Orthodox and Conservative communities outside Israel, Shemini Atzeret is a two-day holiday and the Simchat Torah festivities are observed on the second day. The first day is referred to as "Shemini Atzeret" and the second day as "Simchat Torah", although both days are officially Shemini Atzeret according to Halakha, and this is reflected in the liturgy. Many Hasidic communities have Hakafot on the eve of the first day of Shemini Atzeret as well.
In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the same day. Reform congregations, even outside Israel, may do likewise. Many communities in Israel have Hakafot Shniyot ("Second Hakafot") on the evening following the holiday, which is the same day as Simchat Torah evening in the diaspora. The custom was started by the former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yedidya Frankel.
The Simhat Torah festivities begin with the evening service. All the synagogue's Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and are carried around the sanctuary in a series of seven hakafot (circuits). Although each hakafa need only encompass one circuit around the synagogue, the dancing and singing with the Torah often continues much longer, and may overflow from the synagogue onto the streets.
In Orthodox and Conservative Jewish synagogues, each circuit is announced by a few melodious invocations imploring God to Hoshiah Na ("Save us") and ending with the refrain, Aneinu B'yom Koreinu ("[God] answer us on the day we call"). In Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, the hakafot are accompanied by traditional chants, including biblical and liturgical verses and songs about the Torah, the goodness of God, Messianic yearnings, and prayers for the restoration of the House of David and the Temple in Jerusalem. Congregations may also sing other, popular songs during the dancing. Children are often given flags, candies and other treats. The vigour of the dancing and degree of festive merriment varies with congregational temperament.
In Orthodox synagogues, the dancing is mainly carried out by men and boys; children (even young girls) may also dance with their fathers. Women and older girls often have their own dancing circles sometimes with the Torah scrolls, or look on from the other side of a mechitza (partition), in accordance with the value of tzniut (modesty). In Conservative and progressive congregations, men and women dance together. In some congregations, the Torah scrolls are carried out into the streets and the dancing may continue far into the evening.
After the hakafot, many congregations recite a portion of the last parashah of the Torah, V'Zot HaBerachah ("This is the Blessing ...") in Deuteronomy. The part read is usually 33:1–34:12, but may vary by synagogue custom, although Deuteronomy is never read to the end in the evening.
The morning service, like that of other Jewish holidays, includes a special holiday Amidah, the saying of Hallel, and a holiday Mussaf service. When the ark is opened to take out the Torah for the Torah reading, all the scrolls are again removed from the ark and the congregation again starts the seven hakafot just like in the evening.
Early priestly blessing
In many congregations, one deviation from an otherwise ordinary holiday morning service is the performance of the Priestly Blessing as part of the Shacharit service, before the celebrations connected with the Torah reading begin, rather than as part of the Musaf service that follows. This practice hearkens back to an old custom for the kiddush sponsored by the Hatan Torah (see below) to be held during the Simhat Torah service itself where hard liquor (along with other refreshments) may be served. Since the Bible prohibits Kohanim (descendants of Aaron) from performing the priestly blessing while intoxicated, and there is concern that Kohanim may imbibe alcoholic beverages during the Simhat Torah festivities, the blessing was moved to before the time when alcohol would be served. In some congregations, the Kohanim deliver their blessing as usual during the Musaf service of Simhat Torah. (In some congregations in Israel, the Kohanim deliver their blessing at both Shacharit and Musaf services.)
Torah reading and customs
After the hakafot and the dancing, three scrolls of the Torah are read. The last parashah of the Torah, V'Zot HaBerachah, at the end of Deuteronomy (33:1–34:12), is read from the first scroll, followed immediately by the first chapter (and part of the second) of the Book of Genesis (1:1–2:3), which is read from the second scroll. It is a Jewish custom that a new beginning must immediately follow a completion, therefore it is logical to immediately read Gen. 1 after finishing Deuteronomy.
It is a special honor to receive the last aliyah of the Book of Deuteronomy; the person receiving that aliyah is called the Hatan Torah (the groom of the Torah) (or Kallat Torah (the bride of the Torah) in synagogues that allow women to receive an aliyah). Likewise, it is a special honor to receive the first aliyah of the Book of Genesis; that person is called Hatan B'reishit (the groom of Genesis) (or Kallat B'reishit (the bride of Genesis).
In many congregations it is customary to call all eligible members of the congregation for an aliyah to the Torah on Simhat Torah. To accommodate this the first five aliyot are reread so that everyone has an opportunity to recite the blessing. To save time, some congregations call people up in groups. Others hold a series of separate minyanim for the Torah reading. In a minority of Orthodox congregations women receive aliyot in single-gender tefillah groups (prayer groups consisting only of women, who pray together), and only men are called to the Torah in front of the whole congregation.
Another custom is to call all the children (in Orthodox congregations boys only) to a special aliyah called Kol HaNe'arim ("all the children"). In many congregations, a large talit is spread out over the heads of all the children as the blessing over the Torah is pronounced, and for the congregation to bless the children by reciting (in Hebrew) a verse from Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh, Genesis 48:16.
May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the children, and may my name be declared among them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they teem like fish for multitude within the land.
Although the blessing of the children is omitted from the 1985 edition of Conservative Judaism's Siddur Sim Shalom prayer book, it was reinstated in later versions. Most Conservative congregations still perform it.
After the portion of Genesis is read, the Maftir, Numbers 29:35–30:1, is read from a third Torah scroll. The passage describes the prescribed offerings performed for the holiday. The haftarah (reading from the prophets) is the first section of the Book of Joshua.
Simchat Torah holiday celebration in the army, with the Rav Goren 1969
The name Simhat Torah was not used until a relatively late time. In the Talmud (Meg. 31b) it is called Shemini Atzeret. The Darchei Moshe (OC 669:3) cites a responsum from R' Joseph Colon (#26) who found a Geonic responsa mentioning the custom of dancing on Simhat Torah, thus dating the current practice of dancing on Simhat Torah to the 1st century CE.[dubious – discuss]
In the 9th century, some European Jewish communities assigned a special reading from the Prophets to be read on this day. In the 14th century, the reading of Genesis was added immediately upon the completion of Deuteronomy and the Shulhan Arukh (written about 1565) only mentions this without mentioning the presumably later custom of southern European countries to remove all the Torah scrolls from the ark and to sing a separate hymn for each one. In northern European countries, those who had finished the reading of Deuteronomy made donations to the synagogue, after which the wealthier members of the community would give a dinner for friends and acquaintances. By the end of the 15th century, it was a common though not universal practice for the children to tear down and burn the sukkahs on Simhat Torah.
In the 16th century, the practice of taking out the scrolls and filing solemnly around the bimah on the night of the 23rd of Tishri became customary; and on the same evening, after the procession, a number of passages from the Torah were read.
In Poland it was the custom to sell to the members of the congregation, on the 23rd of Tishri, the privilege of executing various functions during the services on Shabbat and Jewish festivals; i.e. the synagogue used this occasion as a fund-raiser. People who made these donations were called up to the Torah and given a congregational blessing.
"Feet" of the Torah
In ChabadHasidic thought, the traditional dancing with the Torah allows the Jew to act as the "feet" of the Torah, taking the Torah where it wishes to go, as feet transport the head. This is thought as an act of submission to the will of God as expressed in the dictates of the Torah. It is an act that causes the Jew to inherently and naturally observe the Jewish faith. And just as the head benefits from the mobility of the feet, so does the Torah become exalted by the commitment of the Jew.
Symbol of Jewish identity
In the 20th century, Simhat Torah came to symbolize the public assertion of Jewish identity.The Jews of the Soviet Union, in particular, would celebrate the festival en masse in the streets of Moscow. On October 14, 1973, more than 100,000 Jews took part in a post–Simhat Torah rally in New York city on behalf of refuseniks and Soviet Jewry. Dancing in the street with the Torah has become part of the holiday's ritual in various Jewish congregations in the United States as well.
Rejoicing under adversity
Elie Wiesel related the difficulties and meaning of Simhat Torah in times of terrible adversity:
The Gaon of Vilna said that ve-samachta be-chagekha (You shall rejoice in your festival; Deuteronomy 16:14) is the most difficult commandment in the Torah. I could never understand this puzzling remark. Only during the war did I understand. Those Jews who, in the course of their journey to the end of hope, managed to dance on Simhat Torah, those Jews who studied Talmud by heart while carrying stones on their back, those Jews who went on whispering Zemirot shel Shabbat (Hymns of Sabbath) while performing hard labor . . . ve-samachta be-chagekha was one commandment that was impossible to observe—yet they observed it.
See you tomorrow bli neder
Simchat Torah starts on Monday night, with our return to Israel from visiting Miriam's parents in the Czech Republic the same day G-d willing.