Hamas attack: What are the holidays of Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah?

Israel was celebrating the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah when Hamas attacked.

What should have been a weekend of celebration in Israel took a tragic turn on Saturday after the Hamas militant group attacked the southern area of the country on several fronts.

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Saturday’s attack also came nearly 50 years after the surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973.

The latest attack came at the tail end of the fall Jewish holiday season, when Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined into one large celebration.

The two holidays are celebrated after Sukkot, which is named after the booths and huts where Jews are supposed to live during the weeklong celebration, according to the My Jewish Learning website.

When Sukkot ends, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah begin.

What is Shemini Atzeret?

The holiday of Shemini Atzeret is known as the “Eighth Day of Assembly.”

No work, writing, commerce or travel is permitted on that day.

According to Brittanica, Shemini Atzeret is considered an independent celebration after Sukkot. In the Old Testament of the Bible, 70 sacrifices were offered during the first seven days of Sukkot. They signified the “70 nations” of all humanity known as the time.

On the eighth day, or Shemini Atzeret, a single ram and a single bullock -- young neutered male cattle primarily raised for beef -- were sacrificed as a symbol of Israel’s special relationship to God.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th-century German rabbi, wrote that “Atzeret” means “storing up,” according to AJC/Global Voice. He believed that Jews must store up the gratitude and connection to God acquired throughout the fall holiday season.

A prayer for rain is added to prayers, according to Hillel International. “Rain sustains crops and is integral to strength and survival, as water levels are dangerously low in Israel,” according to the website.

What is Simchat Torah?

In Israel, Simchat Torah is also celebrated on the eighth day of Sukkot; in other countries, it is celebrated the day after Shemini Atzeret.

Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in Torah.” According to Hillel International, the holiday celebrates the completion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings. Each week during the year, congregations worldwide read a certain portion of the Torah, called a parashah, in a specified order, according to Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine, which cites The Conversation.

The name of the parashah is called “Devarim,” which means, “the words.” It is found in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 1:1.

The reading cycle begins again during Simchat Torah, according to Hillel.

The holiday is often accompanied by singing and dancing. Torah scrolls are removed from the ark in synagogues and are carried through the building seven times in a joyful procession known as kafot, according to

Like the Shemini Atzeret holiday, no work, writing, commerce or travel is permitted on Simchat Torah.

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