Shemini Atzeret is a Jewish celebration which succeeds the Jewish celebration of Sukkot and is sometimes referred to as the eighth day (since Sukkot lasts for 7 days). However, Shemini Atzeret is a distinct celebration which commemorates the spiritual attributes of the Sukkot festival. Within Israel Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are observed on the same day. It is observed on Tishrei 22nd within Israel, and outside Israel it may be observed on Tishrei 23rd. In the Gregorian calendar this will usually fall between September or October.
History of Shemini Atzeret
The encyclopedia of the Jews notes that “Atzeret” is a term provided within Leviticus, Numbers, Nehemiah and Chronicles and means “a day for assembly.” Though it is related to Sukkot it is unique in its own right. When it is referenced within the Torah it is typically in relation to the Sukkot festival which lasts for seven days, as it occurs on the eighth day. The term “Shemini” is Hebrew and means eight, which is a reference to the time in which Shemini Atzeret occurs.
Customs Performed During Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret is considered an important day, and as with many Jewish celebrations most types of work are not allowed. Candles will be lit (mostly by females), blessings will be recited and festive meals will be consumed. Jew will not write, drive, work or even activate electric devices during this observance.
On this day of Shemini Atzeret the Prayer for Dew (“Geshem”) will be conducted, which commemorates the Israeli or Mediterranean rainy season, and another prayer (the Yizkor) asking for the souls of those who are deceased to be remembered.
The end of Sukkot marks the beginning of Shemini Atzeret. While the two events are sometimes seen as being one in fact they are separate. In Israel this particular holiday will last for one day whereas in the Jewish diaspora it will last for two days. The second day of Shemini Atzeret is referred to as Simchat Torah. This celebration is filled with a level of joy that exceeds even that of Sukkot.