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Simchat Torah - Judaism Celebrates Change

10/04/2023 09:19:13 AM


Rabbi Rudin

If you’ve seen or heard about Simchat Torah celebrations in New York, Moscow, Boston, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, London, Johannesburg, you know that they are huge, joyful spectacles where we dance our Torahs out into the streets and the joy, music and celebration are explosive and radiant.

Simchat Torah, the culmination of the High Holidays, has always been a big deal. Observant or not, Jews we are all and the Torah is core to our identity. The Torah is all of our story and its values are the lifeblood of Judaism as a way of life.

Torah is about continuity, it’s true. But it’s also about change, renewal, new interpretation, change and claiming our heritage in a way that speaks to our hearts. Dancing on Simchat Torah became the signature of the Free Soviet Jewry Movement with Jews dancing like mad under the confused eyes of the KGB openly reclaiming the heritage that the commissars tried to quell.

On Simchat Torah, we don’t study or read - we dance, making up the steps as we go along, remembering old Horah crossteps and kicks and spins but adding our own innovations - just like how we read and live the Torah.

Last year’s scholar in residence, my great teacher Rabbi Jill Hammer has this to say about Simchat Torah:

I have on rare occasions stayed in bed during Yom Kippur because of the flu, but I have never in my adult life missed the festival of Simchat Torah. I have danced with the Torah in student chapels, in formal synagogues, in seminaries, on streets in New York and Boston and Jerusalem.

To join a dance circle, I have leaned out over balconies, run down stairs, crept through crowds, and scrambled around parked cars. Simchat Torah is the holiday I look forward to all year  not only because of its celebration of joy, motion, and music, but because of its celebration of God as a change maker.

Simchat Torah celebrates the moment when Jews complete the reading of the Torah and begin it again. As a Jew seeking to make Judaism more inclusive of previously silenced voices, for me Simchat Torah celebrates the possibility of rereading the Torah in a new way…Though the words of the Torah are always the same, Simchat Torah reminds us that as we change, our interpretations too may change. Our new commentaries become part of our people’s long-standing conversation with God. Each new person added to the circle makes the Torah grow.

I hope that you can join us for our Simchat Torah celebration and what’s more, I hope that you take a moment to dance with the Torah - because after all, it is yours. Whether or not you feel close or far from your Jewish Center, your voice, your perspective, your truth and your selfhood is essential to the completeness of the Torah’s story of our people.

If a Torah scroll is missing even a single one of its six hundred thousand letters, it is considered pasul, disqualified and may not be read. Each of us is a part of the saga, each of us features in the odyssey of witnessing and living that is being a Jew - celebrate Torah, celebrate us, celebrate you!  Chag Sameach!

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784