Many Jewish communities in Canada celebrate Shemini Atzeret (or Shmini Atzeret) and Simchat Torah. They mark the end of the Sukkot (or Sukkoth) festival.
Is Simchat Torah a Public Holiday?
Simchat Torah is not a public holiday. Businesses have normal opening hours.
What Do People Do?
Simchat Torah is a joyous event. The annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is completed at this time, which marks a period of great celebration. Activities include performing the Hakafot (dancing with the Torah) around the synagogue bimah (elevated area or platform in a Jewish synagogue).
Many Jewish communities in Canada observe Shemini Atzeret on one day and Simchat Torah on the following day. These days are not nationwide public holidays in Canada, but some Jewish organizations may be closed or offer a limited service to allow for festivities to occur. Election dates in some parts of Canada, such as Ontario, have been moved in previous years to avoid clashing with religious or culturally significant holidays, such as Shemini Atzeret.
The name “Shmini Atzeret” refers to the eighth day, or the extra day, that brings the seven-day Sukkot period to its state of perfection. Rabbinic tradition teaches that Shemini Atzeret is the day when the world is judged for water, or rainfall, in the upcoming year. It is an important day for agricultural purposes.
Simchat Torah is generally celebrated on the same day as Shemini Atzeret in Israel and among Reform Jewish groups. These two occasions are also observed as two separate days among many Jewish communities outside of Israel.
Jewish Holidays Last Longer Outside of Israel
In the Jewish diaspora—Jewish communities outside of Israel—an extra day is usually added to religious observances, with the exception of Yom Kippur, which lasts only one day worldwide, and Rosh Hashana, which is celebrated over two days in both Israel and the diaspora.
This custom has its roots in ancient times when the beginning of the months in the Jewish calendar still relied on the sighting of the crescent Moon following a New Moon.
The beginning of a new month was determined by the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel in Jerusalem. Once the date was published, messengers were dispatched to spread the news among Jews living abroad. Since this process took some time, it was decreed that Jews outside of ancient Israel were to observe every holiday for 2 days to make sure that the rules and customs applicable to each holiday were observed on the proper date. This rule is still observed today.