The Life of the Synagogue

Simchat Torah

engraving depicting Simchat Torah procession
שמחת תורה
Simchat Torah: The joyous procession of the Law
Engraving by John McRae
“The Joy of the Law” by Mordecai Manuel Noah
The Odd-Fellows’ Offering, for 1851

The Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, literally meaning “rejoicing of the Torah,” marks the day of the year when the annual cycle of Torah readings comes to a conclusion and begins anew. While many Jewish holidays are celebrated in both the synagogue and home, Simchat Torah is based exclusively in the synagogue, where the Torah scrolls reside inside the ark. On Simchat Torah, congregants celebrate with a joyous procession of the scrolls around the sanctuary, dancing and singing along the way.

The engraving shown here accompanies an article entitled “The Joy of the Law” by Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785–1851), author, diplomat, and Jewish community leader. Noah describes the scene this way: “Upon this day they read the last section of the law, and likewise began the first, lest they should seem more joyful in ending their sections than in beginning them; and this is the ceremony which our painter has represented of taking the law out of the ark and walking in procession to the reading-desk, where it is unrolled and read—the last of Deuteronomy and the first of Genesis, the end and the beginning; and this is called Simcha Torah, the Joy of the Law—literally, the triumph of the law of Moses.” Noah notes that it is only God and His law that have sustained the Jewish people in their trials and persecutions since their Exodus from Egypt, and that “they never forgot their duty and devotion to both.” The celebration of Simchat Torah in all its joy testifies to this duty and devotion.