By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb
Recently I heard a discussion on whether we can declare a new Jewish holiday. In fact Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a newly-created holiday, to celebrate the rebirth of an independent Jewish State. Needless to say, how it is defined and celebrated continues to be the subject of much debate – halakhic, theological and political.
Simhat Torah is a “recent” holiday, if it should be considered a separate holiday at all. It has no basis in the Torah and is in fact an embellishment of Shemini Hag Ha’Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot. It has no separate identity liturgically – it is called “Yom HaShemini Hag Ha’Atseret hazeh (zman simhatenu)” in the Amidah and the Kiddush. The name Simhat Torah was apparently first used in the Geonic period (8th – 10th centuries), in Bavel and Eretz Yisrael and is found in Rashi’s Siddur (11th century, Ashkenaz). And the practices we now associate with it developed at different times and places, in the Geonic period and later.