Shemini Atzeret

Shemini Atzeret Quick Facts - US

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2024 DateOctober 23, 2024

Shemini Atzeret

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Shemini Atzeret History

Shemini Atzeret (Hebrew: שמיני עצרת), meaning "Eighth Day of Assembly," is a Jewish observance that serves as an extension of the Sukkot festival and also commemorates the bond between God and the Jewish people. Observed after Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), this solemn day is set aside for spiritual reflection, prayer, and unique religious rituals. One of the main features of Shemini Atzeret is the recitation of the Geshem prayer, which asks for the blessing of rain in the upcoming agricultural season and symbolizes God's protection and provision for Israel.

While the roots of Shemini Atzeret date back to the biblical era, its connection to the Diaspora Jewish community is relatively more recent, thanks to the ability to mark the holiday alongside Sukkot celebrations. In the United States, Jewish-Americans commonly observe this holiday as a separate day from Sukkot but maintain its significance and related customs. Notably, Shemini Atzeret is one of the few Jewish holidays that is observed by both Orthodox and Reform Jewish communities in America.

Shemini Atzeret typically falls between late September and late October on the Gregorian calendar. In the United States, Jewish-Americans celebrate the holiday by attending synagogue services, participating in focused prayer for rain, and engaging in meals and events with family and friends. Some congregations also observe Simchat Torah, which celebrates the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings, on Shemini Atzeret. This joyous day, which often includes parading with the Torah scrolls, brings communal unity and spiritual inspiration to Jewish people across the United States.

Shemini Atzeret facts

  • The Biblical book of Nehemiah (verse 8:18) mentions how all men in Jerusalem gathered at the Holy Temple to hear the Torah on the day of Shemini Atzeret.
  • Shemini Atzeret is observed in Orthodox communities with candle lighting in the evening, Kiddush (sanctification over wine) and two challah breads. This is representative of all Jewish High Festivals and an evening and morning festive meal. Two Challah breads are used to commemorate the Sabbath in the wilderness. During this time Manna (edible substance that God provided for Israelites during time in the desert) fell from Heaven in a double portion on Friday, so that on the Sabbath day, the Israelites, did not need to perform the work of gathering Manna.
  • Often an additional service after the morning service is held in Orthodox Synagogues. Hallel (Psalms with praise) is recited. Observant Jews do not work on this day.
  • A popular prayer on Shmini Atzeret is called Yizkor, Remembrance. It serves to honor dead relatives. Even on one of the happiest Jewish Holidays of the year, dead relatives (parents, siblings, spouses and children) are remembered. This helps remind that we would not be who we are and where we are without these people.

Top things to do in the US for Shemini Atzeret

  • On Shmini Atzeret, it is customary for Orthodox Jews to spend an 'extra day with God' and postpone their return to work and to mundane tasks.
  • Many Jewish people attend special services at their local synagogue where prayers for rain and a good year are conducted.
  • In the Diaspora, Shemini Atzeret is also when Simchat Torah is celebrated. This holiday marks the end of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah and the start of the new cycle. It's typically marked with joyful dancing, community celebrations, and in particular, children often participate in a special ceremony called hakafot, where they circle the reading table with flags.
  • Since the holiday has a quieter, more reflective nature, some might visit Jewish museums or historical sites.

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