Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Simchat Torah Experience

I always feel bad saying that I’ve never liked Simchat Torah. Complaining about the one holiday on the calendar whose entire purpose is to celebrate the beauty of the Torah, the document that is central to Judaism, sounds so negative, but it’s always how I’ve felt. I never understood women who enjoyed Simchat Torah. Where’s the fun in sitting in the women’s section of shul (synagogue) and watching the men dance around with a bunch of Torahs?

This year was literally the first year I had an enjoyable experience on Simchat Torah. Since all of the upperclassmen agreed that spending the yom tov (holiday) at the campus Hillel would be boring, a bunch of us went to a neighborhood shul. I’m not sure what denomination the shul is, but there was an Orthodox minyan (prayer quorum) in the basement where we did hakafot (dancing with the Torah).

There was a small turnout – perhaps 20 men and 25 women at any given moment – but the energy in the room made it feel like it was packed. The men had two Torahs to dance with, and the women had one. Although it irked me that the men got more Torahs even though there were fewer of them, I couldn’t be bothered for long. We were all too busy dancing with the Torah and celebrating its holiness. I didn’t hold the Torah (waaaay too heavy for me to attempt to lift it), but it was the closest I had ever come to one in my life.

After the prayer service was over, the Orthodox minyan joined the festivities that had begun on the street outside. Literally 400 people were on the street, which had been blocked off in anticipation of the crowd, dancing hakafot and celebrating the Torah. It was so inspiring and beautiful to see all these Jewish people interested in being part of their religion and affiliating themselves with a community.

The next morning, I went to Hillel for Shahrit (morning prayer services). Although I had come late and spent most of the hakafot catching up on the tefillot (prayers), I was able to participate in the last couple. The women had a Torah, and the energy behind the dancing was palpable. Everyone on my side of the mehitzah (divider) just wanted to celebrate the Torah and take joy in it.

Overall, my Simchat Torah experience this year was really enjoyable. I have no particular desire to hold a Torah or read from one, but it was inspiring to see all of the other women at my Hillel and in the community who want to take a more active role in their religion. 


  1. "Where’s the fun in sitting in the women’s section of shul (synagogue) and watching the men dance around with a bunch of Torahs?" I said the same thing on my blog years again, and nearly had my head handed to me for being intolerant of Orthodox practice. Apparently, it's okay for *you* to say that, since you're Orthodox, but since I'm Conservative, it's not okay for *me* to say that.

    " I didn’t hold the Torah (waaaay too heavy for me to attempt to lift it) . . . " Young lady, I'm old enough to be your grandmother, and it isn't too heavy for *me* to lift it! Even at the ancient age of 64, I danced with the Torah on Simchat Torah, as I have every year that my health was good enough. I consider it a great privilege, and strongly recommend that you try it.

  2. That's really unfair that you got flak for saying that... I mean, where *is* the fun in simply observing festivities and not participating in them? It's a legitimate observation regardless of denominational affiliation.

    I was nervous to try to hold it, especially after reading about the shul where the Torahs fell out of the Aron and the congregation had to fast. I wasn't going to be the one who dropped the Torah and made everyone fast. Perhaps I'll try next year.

  3. When I was 13 I held the Torah and carried it as part of my Bat Mitzvah. I really do think its a shame that Orthodox girls do not get to get up close and personal with the Torah the way the men do, the way conservative and reform and reconstructionist girls do.
    You might consider trying a conservative shul one day... maybe you'd like it?

  4. Perhaps one day I'll try a Conservative shul, but I doubt it, since I really am happy with Orthodoxy and my place in it as a woman (although hopefully with some tweaks!).