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Tin-can dancing – Sefardi Simchat Torah style


Some epiphanies come later in life than others, or are only possible in Israel, when you realize that not everybody is Ashkenazi like you are.  One question I heard years ago about Simchas Torah has been echoing in my mind every year, ever since: why is it called “Simchas Torah”? 

(And, yes, in my head it’s still simchas Torah, with a ת/“sav” at the end of the word.  Pronounce it however you like when you read!)

A lot of people lazily refer to the day, when they refer to it in English at all, as “Rejoicing with the Torah,” but you probably suspect this isn’t correct if you know anything about the grammar of possession in HebrewWikipedia translates it as “Rejoicing of/[with the] Torah,” which I like because therein is the answer. 

The name of the holiday is rejoicing not WITH the Torah, but OF the Torah.  Once a year, the Torah rejoices and we, Am Yisrael, are its arms, its legs, its voice in song.

Why have I been thinking about this this year in particular?  Well, if you’re Ashkenazi, like I am, this picture is probably pretty close to what you think of when you think of dancing with a Torah:


(Skverer Rebbe photo credit Arit126 via Wikipedia)

This kind of Torah is like a baby, easy to dance with.  Just smoosh it flat against your chest and off you go, bobbling lightly and sedately around the shul.

But it turns out that we Ashkenazim are the only ones who like these flat, easy Torahs.  I took Naomi Rivka shul hopping last night, which is a great opportunity to explore some of the MANY shuls in our little neighbourhood in Israel.  And I actually got a good look, for a change – I’m not usually brave enough to really press through to the front of whatever strange ladies’ section we end up in.

This is what the rest of Am Yisrael sees when they think of a Sefer Torah:


(photo © Olevy)

It turns out that Torahs are not light, easy things to carry at all.  Take a look at the size of some of these:


(photo © רפי בביאן via Wikimedia)


(photo © Israel Defense Forces)

Remember, too, that these cases are made of metal or wood.  It’s like a giant tin can full of wood and sheepskin.  Probably rather heavy, and there’s no good way to hold it flat to your chest.  Which means that in a few shuls, we saw people balancing them rather precariously, bobbing them around a little, and actually, really, a first for me… dancing.

To my eyes, a round Torah just looks more like something you’d want to dance with.  And in some ways, because there are no good handles, and because it’s so big and heavy and awkward, it also seems like something you HAVE to dance with.  Pull it out of the aron and there’s no choice: you’re going to be “dancing with the one that brung you.”

Basically, we’re talking about this…


… versus this:


(but without the convenient multi-strap carrying system!)

Sometimes, I look at various things our Sephardi (עדות מזרח / Edot Mizrach) friends do differently and it doesn’t seem right or wrong, just different.  (Unlike many Ashkenazim, I kind of couldn’t care less about rice and beans at Pesach, for instance.)  But sometimes I get a little more judgy and say, “now THAT’s how things ought to be done.” 

Because I can’t help thinking the Torah ought to be a huge, awkward tin can. 

It ought to be substantial, a little awkward to lift, to carry, to move around the shul.  And when it’s in your arms, you ought to have to keep on dancing, keep on moving, keep on shifting position – dancing out the joy of the Torah that Am Yisrael are still embracing it – or trying to – after all these years, and all these many repetitions.

Just a small thought that’s been inspiring me this Simchas Torah.

Did you know, by the way…???  The Merkazi (main) Synagogue in Kiryat Shmuel has been named one of the “Ten Most Beautiful Synagogues in Israel”?


Naturally, this is one of many shuls where we don’t daven; ours is significantly less swanky.  But we did stop by there last night on our shul hop.

Speaking of Simchas Torah… I grew up with images of apples on top of flags for this chag, but Naomi Rivka, for the first time, mentioned seeing pictures (like this one) of kids with flags, apples, and CANDLES on top.  Was this ever the custom anywhere?  It’s certainly not something I’ve ever seen in person, since it seems most dangerous and irresponsible.   


We haven’t even tried the apple thing, since it seems like the sticks nowadays are not strong enough to support even that weight, let alone an apple plus a candle.  But if you’ve ever seen this in person, or heard from someone who has, let me know in the Comments!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. Your illustration of holding a baby to compare with holding a Sefer Torah brings to mind what a neighbor of mine, a bereaved parent said at the dedication of a Torah Scroll in memory of his son. When he held the Torah Scroll he felt that he could be hugging his beloved son.

    1. Aww... that's so sweet and sad and awesome. :-/
      Thanks for sharing it!

  2. You have taken me on a trip down memory lane. Remembered that as a child, we used to stand on a table pushed to the side with proverbial flags cum apples and candles. The thought of it terrifies me now but then again we were too scared to move because the dance floor of our shul was filled with fully grown adults jammed in together (shul was a small house converted to a shul). Fast forward 10 years later to a group of teenagers going on an hour long hike to get to a different part of town with a large number of different places for hakaffot awaiting us. Very sweet memories.

    1. So they really DID do the thing with the candles. Strange. Were sticks stronger in those days, I wonder?
      Thanks for stopping by!


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