Sunday, September 26, 2010

In Lisbon, Hakafot Have a Sense of Military Efficiency

Zvuvi has decided to go on vacation this week, so that I can send out a Simchat Torah custom. This time we’re going to Lisbon, Portugal, where Hakafot are somewhat akin to a military operation – in kinder words, Yekke efficiency, Sephardi style.
Hakafot in Lisbon are strictly an evening activity held on Erev Simhat Torah. The sense of a military operation comes with the organization of the event. There are approximately 30 Sifrei Torah standing on a bench dedicated to them. Each male member of the congregation receives a card ahead of time, informing him which Sefer Torah he is to take and for which Hakafa. For instance, your card says that you are to take Sefer Torah #26 for the 3rd Hakafa. The Hakafa seems to be a personal event, with one person at a time holding a Sefer Torah going around the Bima only once. When the Hakafa is finished you return to the Sefer Torah bench, waiting for the next “soldier.” When he takes his Hakafa turn you remain at the bench, standing guard over the Sifrei Torah until the next rotation. The epitome of Rules & Regulations, this custom can be easily adapted to the classroom in a variety of ways. I leave it up to your imagination.

Speaking of the classroom, I thought it might be interesting to find out when the holiday of Simhat Torah as we know it first began. All it took was a little Googling and I discovered the interesting facts behind an evolutionary holiday: The Jews of Babylonia invented this holiday, its name and the dancing associated with it. In the 12th Century, the French added the Attah Horeita verses. At the beginning of that same century, Spain’s Jews began reciting the beginning of Bereishit by heart. Ping Pong back to the the Jews of France who at the time instituted the concept of Khattan Bereishit reading the beginning of Bereishit. By the early 15th century, evening Hakafot were instituted in Ashkenaz. How did the number of Hakafot reach 7? The ARI and his students in sixteenth-century Safed were responsible for that addition, making sure the Hakafot should be around the Bimah – most probably copying the bride’s circling her groom seven times under the khuppa. All this illustrates that customs do not stay stationary, they evolve. If you have a new and interesting Simhat Torah custom, please share it with us.
Chag Sameach…Tami

No comments:

Post a Comment