Shemini what?

I’ve previously written about Brooklyn’s Conservative Kane Street Synagogue here and here; I’ve written about Hadar here; and I’ve written about B’nai Jeshurun here, here and here.

Shabat Shalom and Chag Sameach, jblogosphites.

wordpress simchat torah

I grew up with one-day chag, that being the usual Reform custom. I maintain that custom with intellectual back-up from BZ. Because I only grew up with one day of chag, I grew up with Simchat Torah, but no Shemini Atzeret. BZ again:

Shemini Atzeret is the only yom tov that has no special mitzvot […] beyond the mitzvot that apply to all festivals

[…] Therefore, to save Shemini Atzeret […] some Babylonian Jews decided to make this the time when the annual cycle of Torah reading was finished and restarted. Thus, they created the ritual of Simchat Torah. This ritual was created for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, specifically the second day thereof (since these Babylonian Jews observed two days); it is observed on the single day of Shemini Atzeret in communities that observe one day. There is no holiday of Simchat Torah separate from Shemini Atzeret […]

With this added ritual, the second day of Shemini Atzeret has, of course, become much more popular than the first. Lots of people observe only the second day (which is d’rabbanan) and not the first day (which is d’oraita). Some communities that generally observe one day of yom tov still have their Simchat Torah celebration on the night of the 23rd of Tishrei (i.e. the night that others consider the 2nd night of Shemini Atzeret), to blend in or something.

What I’m pretty sure I grew up with at Beth Israel in Austin is was what BZ is describing. At CBI, we observed one day of chag, in this case Simchat Torah and not Shemini Atzeret. I’m not sure whether we did it on Tishrei 22 or 23. What I’d like to do at this point in my life is to observe the ritual of Simchat Torah on Shemini Atzeret, as it seems BZ wishes to do as well in the post that the above quotes are from.

To do this, I’d have to find what I imagine is a Reform community doing what I’m suggesting. I assume that non-Reform communities would do both days, waiting until the 23rd for Simchat Torah. So I assumed I’d just observe my one day of chag on the 23rd. I decided to look into three places where I thought I might go tomorrow for Simchat Torah–B’nai Jeshurun, Kehilat Hadar and the Kane Street Synagogue.

BJ and KH both had what I was expecting from them, but KSS is advertising on their website that Simchat Torah is today, the 22nd or Tishrei! This is surprising because KSS is Conservative-affiliated and the Conservative movement does not, as far as I know, advocate only one day of chag.

It’s confusing. And I still haven’t made up my mind about where to go tomorrow.

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16 Responses to Shemini what?

  1. dlevy October 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    Actually, the Conservative Movement recognizes both 1 and 2 day chagim as legitimate options. The only Conservative shul I knew of that observes 1 day chag was Har Slalom in Potomac MD, but it’s possible that KSS follows this tsheuva too.

    • David A.M. Wilensky October 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

      good to know. thanks, dlevy. I’d be interested to read the respon(a/um) addressing this, but I can’t find the Conservative responsa online the way the Reform stuff is.

      • BZ October 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

        The Conservative responsa aren’t online as far as I know, but I discussed them in brief here, and in nauseating detail here.

        I have copies of the responsa that a friend scanned in, so I’ll email them to you.

    • BZ October 11, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

      Har Shalom’s website seems to indicate that they do 2 days. So if they once did 1 day, they seem to have caved to peer pressure.

      Ditto for Kane Street – I don’t see any evidence of them doing Simchat Torah on 22 Tishrei; it says their Simchat Torah celebration was Saturday night.

      • dlevy October 11, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

        I should have prefaced what I wrote with “when I was in high school, my friends at Har Shalom told me…” :)

  2. BZ October 11, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    Because I only grew up with one day of chag, I grew up with Simchat Torah, but no Shemini Atzeret.
    […]
    What I’m pretty sure I grew up with at Beth Israel in Austin is was what BZ is describing. At CBI, we observed one day of chag, in this case Simchat Torah and not Shemini Atzeret. I’m not sure whether we did it on Tishrei 22 or 23. What I’d like to do at this point in my life is to observe the ritual of Simchat Torah on Shemini Atzeret,

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean. If you grew up with Simchat Torah, then you did grow up with Shemini Atzeret. Even if people were calling it “Simchat Torah” (which people often do in Israel too to refer to this one-day chag), the kiddush and amidah for this day in Reform siddurim (like all other siddurim) refer to the day as “yom hashemini, chag ha’atzeret hazeh”. And according to Beth Israel’s website, they had Simchat Torah services yesterday, 22 Tishrei (Fri-Sat Oct 9-10), aka Shemini Atzeret. This is almost universal in the Reform movement.

    Though I don’t consider it yom tov, I still go to celebrations on 23 Tishrei – at night every year, and in the morning only if it’s on Sunday like this year (otherwise I go to work). If you’re looking for places in NY, BJ at night is unequaled (sorry I didn’t see the post in time for this info to be useful, but check it out next year). For this morning (if you see this in time), Hadar is a blast, and BJ is a much tamer version of the nighttime one but still good; they’re close enough that it’s possible to hit both. I haven’t checked out the Brooklyn options.

    (I’ll comment on the rest later. I’m heading off to services with my 2-day-yom-tov-observing spouse; I’ll be saying a weekday amidah. To be polite, I won’t put on tefillin, though I’m tempted.)

    • David A.M. Wilensky October 11, 2009 at 3:55 pm #

      I ended up at Hadar this morning, and went to bed early last night. But I heard all day today that I should’ve spent last night at Hadar.

      • BZ October 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

        Interesting. In my experience, Hadar at night (which was just joining Ansche Chesed’s hakafot in progress) was never all that exciting. I wonder what changed this year.

        • David A.M. Wilensky October 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

          Shit. I mean that I heard I should’ve spent last night at BJ.

  3. Harold October 11, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Yes, CBI does, in fact, celebrate Simchat Torah on 22 Tishrei. And we had a great time Friday night celebrating. The highlights being a small child pushing the yad around while the rabbi was trying to use it to chant B’reishit and the usual low level of chaos that surrounds most CBI events.

  4. Jesse October 11, 2009 at 10:22 am #

    David (and BZ), if I’m not mistaken, Shavuot is also a yom tov that has no special mitzvot beyond the mitzvot that apply to all festivals… am I missing something?

    • BZ October 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

      I addressed that in passing in the post that David quoted: Shavuot includes the mitzvah to bring “shtei halechem” — an offering of two loaves of bread from the new harvest of grain. As a counterpoint to Pesach, this is the only time of the year when a communal offering must be chameitz. Of course, this mitzvah, like all the others involving sacrifices (animal, vegetable, or mineral), is no longer observed.

      But Shemini Atzeret doesn’t even have defunct unique mitzvot.

  5. BZ October 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    What I’d like to do at this point in my life is to observe the ritual of Simchat Torah on Shemini Atzeret, as it seems BZ wishes to do as well in the post that the above quotes are from.

    To do this, I’d have to find what I imagine is a Reform community doing what I’m suggesting.

    I’ve had varied experiences trying to do this in New York. The trouble is that (perhaps peculiarly to New York) a number of congregations that ordinarily do 1 day of yom tov decide to make an exception for Simchat Torah (including both Reconstructionist congregations in Manhattan and even some Reform congregations), and the places that are left doing Simchat Torah on 22 Tishrei focus on “consecration”, so that it’s geared mainly to 5-year-olds and their parents.

    It sounds like East End Temple (where they danced in the street on Friday night) was the place to be this year; unfortunately I never made it there during my time in NYC.

    This year, now that I’m in the DC area, I went to Adat Shalom on Shabbat morning (where they were doing Simchat Torah on the day I consider yom tov), and it was by far my best experience of this sort (though, as you can see, it wasn’t up against such stiff competition).

    • David A.M. Wilensky October 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

      I’ve been to EET for a friday night service once and it was very nice. There was nothing wrong with is, but it didn’t strike me as anything special either.

      I’ll have to remember them for next year.