Friday, October 9, 2020

Before Coronavirus: Second Hakafot After Simchat Torah in Jerusalem

Here's a scene that's unlikely to be repeated this year because of coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing. But two years ago at Yeshivat Har Hamor in Jerusalem, hundreds of Yeshiva students joyfully participated in the annual second hakafot at the conclusion of Simchat Torah. 

Yeshivat Har Hamor was founded in Jerusalem in the year 5758, by the pupils of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook. Hundreds of boys learn, day and night, all parts of the Torah, while also combining military service.

At the conclusion of the one day celebration of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah in Israel and the beginning of Simchat Torah in the Diaspora, there is a custom in Israel to do Second Hakafot, during which people go into the streets with Torah scrolls and dance another time. 

The source of this custom is attributed to Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital, who described the customs of his teacher, Isaac Luria, in Safed. Vital explains Luria had the custom to visit a number of synagogues after Simchat Torah, which delayed the end of the prayer services and did Hakafot

From there the custom spread to Hebron and the Beit El Synagogue in Jerusalem, and subsequently spread to other congregations in Jerusalem before becoming accepted across Israel. The custom spread from Israel to communities in Italy and the Near East—Turkey, Baghdad, Persia, Kurdistan, and India. 

Over the next few days we'll be observing a quiet Shabbat, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah while remembering joyous celebrations like this one and hoping for a return to normalcy next year.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach!

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