|Official name||Hebrew: שמיני עצרת|
|Also called||Translation: "The eighth [day] of Assembly"|
|Observed by||Judaism and Jews|
|Date||22nd day of Tishrei|
|2012 date||7 October (at sundown)|
|2013 date||25 September (at sundown)|
|2014 date||15 October (at sundown)|
|Celebrations||Prayer for rain; includes the celebration of Simchat Torah|
|Related to||Culmination of Sukkot (Tabernacles)|
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת – "the Eighth [day] of Assembly"; Ashkenazic pron. shmini-atseres) is a Jewish holiday. It is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. In the Diaspora, an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately referred to as Simchat Torah. In Israel, as well as in Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined into one and the names are used interchangeably.
Relationship to Sukkot 
Shemini Atzeret is often referred to as the eighth day of the Festival of Sukkot, which occupies the seven preceding days. This description is not entirely accurate, however.
The Talmud, in Tractate Sukkah 48a, describes Shemini Atzeret with the words "a holiday in its own right" (רגל בפני עצמו, regel bifnei atzmo) with respect to six specific halakhic (Jewish law) issues. The six issues are abbreviated as פז"ר קש"ב:
- Lottery (פּיס): During the year, the twenty-four priestly watches or divisions rotated through responsibility for conducting the Temple services, one week per watch. During most of the festivals, all twenty-four watches were present and available, and drew lots to determine which group would conduct the services on a given day. Because very large quantities of offerings were brought during the seven days of Sukkot, all twenty-four watches participated and divided the work each day. However, on Shemini Atzeret, lots were drawn as on all other festivals.
- Blessing over day (זמן): Recitation of the Sheheḥeyanu blessing as on the first day (Diaspora: two days) of all other festivals. This differs from Passover (Pesach), where the last day (Diaspora: last two days) is/are considered part of the same festival.
- Pilgrimage Festival (רגל): Description of day as regel bifnei atzmo, as described above. Rashi at Sukkah 48a states that this specifically means (a) that one does not dwell in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret and (b) that one does not describe the day as "Sukkot" during one's prayers.
- Temple offering (קרבן): On the seven days of Sukkot, the additional (מוסף) offerings included 2 rams and 14 lambs each day, along with a series of 70 bulls in decreasing numbers over the week. On Shemini Atzeret, the offering included one ram, seven lambs and a single bull.
- Song (שיר): There are some differing views on this, but a prominent one is that this refers to the Shir Shel Yom (psalm of the day) recited by the Levites in the Temple. Those of Sukkot refer to agricultural gifts to the poor required to be separated from the crops by Sukkot; that of Shemini Atzeret is entirely different.
- Blessing (ברכה): Rashi (quoting Tosefta) says that this refers to the blessing the people gave King Solomon at the dedication of the First Temple. Rabbeinu Ḥananel says this refers to not describing the day as "Sukkot," similar to what Rashi says at regel (see #3 above).
Just below this discussion, the Mishnah (at Sukkah 48a or at Mishnah Sukkah 4:7) describes Shemini Atzeret as יום טוב אחרון של חג (yom tov aḥaron shel ḥag, final holiday of the Festival [of Sukkot]). The context here is that the Sukkot obligations of שמחה (simcha, joy) and recitation of הלל (Hallel) last eight days. With respect to these two obligations, Shemini Atzeret is part of Sukkot. This is why one of Sukkot's liturgical aliases, זמן שמחתנו (zman simḥatenu, "Time of Our Happiness,") continues to be used to describe Shemini Atzeret (and by extension Simchat Torah) in prayers. Indeed, the biblical name of the holiday, Shemini Atzeret, is a clear reference to the fact that it falls on the eighth day, counting from the first day of Sukkot.
This dual nature of Shemini Atzeret (both part of Sukkot and apart from it) is reflected in the observances and customs of the day(s).
Observances and Customs 
The Torah only includes a limited direct reference to Shemini Atzeret: its date (relative to Sukkot) and its restrictions on work (similar to other Festival days). The Talmud describes happiness (שמחה, simcha) and recitation of Hallel as the two obligations of Sukkot that carry over to Shemini Atzeret. As a proof text, at least in regard to Shemini Atzeret evening, the Gemara brings the text at Deuteronomy 16:15: "והיית אך שמח" ("v'hayyita akh sameaḥ", "and you shall be completely happy").
The Vilna Gaon notes that the commandment to rejoice over the seven days of Sukkot is stated twice in this paragraph of the Torah. In this context, he wonders what the further purpose of "v'hayyita akh sameaḥ" is, especially as akh is normally used as a restricting word. He introduces the notion that just as one rejoices during the seven days with sukkah, lulav and etrog, so one rejoices equally on Shemini Atzeret, even without (the restriction) using sukkah, lulav and etrog on that day.
Simchat Torah 
Separately, the cycle of completing an annual public reading of the Torah through weekly Torah portions concludes at this time of the year. Given a day mandated for seasonal rejoicing (Shemini Atzeret) with no specific obligations as to the focus of the rejoicing (such as sukkah, lulav or etrog), it is not surprising that the celebration of the conclusion of the annual reading was absorbed into the celebration of Shemini Atzeret. The Simchat Torah celebration is now the most distinctive feature of this festival – so much so that in Israel, where Shemini Atzeret lasts only one day, it is more common to refer to the day as "Simchat Torah" than as "Shemini Atzeret."
In Israel, as well as in Reform congregations, Shemini Atzeret is observed for one day. In other communities outside Israel, Shemini Atzeret is observed for two days. The Simchat Torah celebration, rabbinic and customary in origin, is deferred to the second day, when all agree there is no obligation of sukkah.
Carryover of Sukkot Observances 
In Israel and in Reform Judaism, none of the unique observances of Sukkot (sukkah, lulav and etrog) carry over to Shemini Atzeret. Elsewhere, however, there is still a further question to reconcile – one that has proved very difficult and problematic over time, going all the way back to the Gemara:
- Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right, without sukkah, lulav and etrog. At the same time,
- Outside Israel, by rabbinic decree one day is added to all holidays. Thus, just as Passover is described in the Torah as a seven-day holiday but is observed for eight outside of Israel, so Sukkot is described in the Torah as a seven-day holiday but is observed for eight outside of Israel.
- Therefore, the "eighth day of Sukkot" outside Israel coincides with the separate holiday of Shemini Atzeret.
The prevalent practice is that one eats in the sukkah on the eighth day, but without reciting the berakhah. However, one does not sleep in the sukkah on the eighth day, nor does one use the lulav and etrog on the eighth day. There are two parallel sets of explanation for this.
- Torah vs. Rabbinic Law. Dwelling in the sukkah is a Torah requirement during the seven days of Sukkot, while using the lulav and etrog is a (less-stringent) Rabbinical requirement after the first day of Sukkot. Because the eighth day is added to the seven because of doubt, the stringent, Torah requirement (sukkah) is continued into the eighth day, while the less-stringent, Rabbinical requirement (lulav and etrog) is not.
- Honoring the Festival Day (כבוד יום טוב): With very few exceptions, the second day of any Festival is to be observed exactly like the first. The previous reasoning seems to work contrary to this rule; otherwise, the eighth day should be treated just as if it were the seventh day (or, in the language of the Gemara, "shemini safek shevi'i" (שמיני ספק שביעי). But because Shemini Atzeret is also a holiday in its own right, certain things which should happen on the seventh day (ḥol hamoed) are not permitted on Shemini Atzeret. While the analysis is sometimes involved, the general practice is that anything that is permitted on yom tov and does not impinge on Shemini Atzeret carries over to Shemini Atzeret.
- Lulav and Etrog. The lulav and etrog are muktzah; that is, one may not move them on a holiday where they are not needed). If someone sees a neighbor on the street with a lulav and etrog on the eighth day, the rabbis reason, s/he might mistakenly assume that it is still the seventh day (ḥol hamoed), when the lulav and etrog are still needed. S/he might then violate prohibitions of the yom tov of the eighth day. For that reason, the rabbis ruled that one should not use a lulav and etrog on the eighth day, even outside of Israel.
- Sleeping in the sukkah
- Eating in the sukkah does not cause a parallel problem because many people simply enjoy eating in a sukkah. Seeing someone eating in a sukkah does not per se lead one to assume it is still ḥol hamoed in the same way. Likewise, eating in the sukkah does not per se impinge on one's own celebration of Shemini Atzeret. Therefore, the prevalent practice is to eat in the sukkah on Shemini Azeret outside of Israel. However, one does not say the berakhah for sitting in a sukkah, as reciting it does "impinge" on the unique status of Shemini Atzeret.
Concerning eating in the sukkah, there are variations sometimes seen. The minhag (custom) of some is to make Kiddush in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, but to eat the main meal inside. Others eat the evening meal of Shemini Atzeret indoors but the day meal outdoors. Each of these approaches addresses aspects of the dual nature of Shemini Atzeret.
- Psalm 27, which is recited twice daily starting at the beginning of Elul, continues to be recited on Shemini Atzeret outside of Israel.
- Kohelet (קהלת, Ecclesiastes), is read in Ashkenazi synagogues on the Shabbat of Sukkot. When Shemini Atzeret falls on Shabbat, Kohelet is read on that day outside of Israel. (In Israel, it would have been read on the first day of Sukkot, which would also have been on Shabbat.)
- Torah and Haftarah Readings: The Torah reading is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17. This is the same reading as on the Final Day of Passover and Second Day of Shavuot. The full length of the reading is included even on non-Sabbath days because the reading refers to separation of agricultural gifts (like tithes and terumah), which are due at this time of the year. The Haftarah describes the people's blessing of King Solomon at the end of the dedication of the First Temple.
Other Customs 
- Tefillat Geshem (Rain Prayer). Israel's agriculture depends heavily on rains that come only seasonally, so Jewish prayers for rain are prominent during Israel's rainy (winter) half of the year. The rainy season starts just after the fall Jewish holidays. Because of that, and because the sukkah (and, by extension, pleasant weather) is no longer required on Shemini Atzeret, Jews begin to ask for rain starting with the Musaf Amidah prayer of Shemini Atzeret. This prayer is recited in a traditional, distinctive, plaintive melody during the cantor's repetition of the Amidah. In most synagogues, the cantor is clad in a white kittel, a symbol of piety, owing to the vitality of a positive judgement for rain. A brief mention of rain continues to be inserted in the Amidah until Passover.
- The Yizkor memorial service is also recited in Ashkenazi synagogues on this day.
Observance of Shemini Atzeret in non-rabbinical Jewish traditions 
As a biblically-mentioned holiday, Shemini Atzeret is also observed by Karaites and Samaritans:
In Karaite Judaism 
For Karaites, followers of a branch of Judaism that accepts the Written Law, but not the Oral Law, Shemini Atzeret is observed as a single day of rest, not associated with the practices of Simkhat Torah, which are a rabbinic innovation. Nevertheless, the Karaite cycle of weekly Torah reading, like the Rabbinic cycle, reaches its conclusion on Shemini Atzeret. Accordingly, in at least some Karaite circles, this day is referred to by the name of Simkhat Torah. Additionally, calculation of the Karaite calendar is not based on astronomical calculations, but only on direct observation of the New Moon and the ripening of Barley. Because of that, the 22nd day of the 7th month is not necessarily celebrated on the same date as 22 Tishrei in the (conventional, Rabbinic) Jewish calendar (in 2010, Shemini Atzeret fell out on October 1 for Karaites, one day later than in the conventional Jewish calendar).
In the Samaritan tradition 
- Shortly after midnight, prayers are made in the synagogue for more than ten hours. No work is permitted on this day. At the end of the holiday, the succahs are dismantled. Their poles and nets will be stored until the next Harvest Festival. The fruits will be squeezed into sweetened juice and some will be eaten by the children.
- B. Betzah 4b.
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 669
- B. Sukkah 48a ; also Rosh Hashanah 4b and Ḥagigah 17a, among others
- See, e.g., Siddur, Kiddush for Festival evenings
- Numbers 29
- See Mishnah Order Zeraim
- Massechet Soferim
- 1 Kings 8:66
- Deuteronomy 16:13-16
- B. Gemara Sukkah 48a
- W. Gewirtz, "The sukkah on Shemini Atzeret controversy," the Seforim blog, October 12, 2011. This covers this very complicated topic in great detail.
- Accordingly, this issue does not apply to Simchat Torah, the ninth day outside Israel.
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 668
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 496
- See H. Jachter, "Lulav and Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret," Kol Torah, September 29, 2001.
- Gewirtz cites Rabbi Dr. Aaron Wertheim’s Law and Custom in Hasidism, pages 279–286, for attribution to other kabbalistic sources.
- See, e.g., any Orthodox or Conservative siddur intended for use outside Israel.
- Section manually translated from French Wikipedia. The author there accessed web sites footnoted here–all are in English–on December 27, 2010. As of this writing (January 2012) they remain present, except that the 2010-11 holiday dates have been replaced by 2011-12 dates.
- "Hag Ha-Sukkot", from karaite-korner.org
- Congregation Oraḥ Ṣaddiqim (Karaite) (Site unavailable Friday and Saturday in respect of different start/end times for Shabbat possible around the planet)
- Moetzet Hakhamim Official Holidays Dates
- Karaite Jews of America
- Holidays and New Moons
- The Samaritan-Israelites and their Religion, Volume 1, "Educational Guide," 2004. Accessed Jan. 30, 2012 at http://shomron0.tripod.com/educationalguide.pdf
Further reading 
See also 
- Jewish holidays 2000-2050, showing Gregorian dates for the holidays.