October 25-26 Simchat Torah
This last day of the Jewish week-long harvest festival celebrates the most holy Jewish scriptures.
"It is almost as though we are drunk with happiness." That is how one Jew has described what is traditionally the happiest of Jewish holidays.
Just how special it is can be judged from what happens in many synagogues.
Even in strictly Orthodox synagogues where men normally worship downstairs and women and girls sit in balconies upstairs, everyone gathers together downstairs as the Torah scrolls are carried up and down the aisles and everyone tries to reach out and touch them. To be selected to carry them is a special honour.
"Simchat Torah" means "rejoicing in the Torah." "Torah" means "the teaching" and is the name given to the first five books of the Jewish Bible (which are also the first books of the Christian Bible). They describe the history of the founding of the Jewish nation under Moses and include the Judaic law.
The Torah is read in all synagogues over the course of a year, starting and ending on Simchat Torah - so, on this day, the last chapter of the fifth book and the first chapter of the first book (Genesis) are both read to show that God's law has no end but lasts for ever.
When not in use, the scrolls on which the Torah is written are kept in a cupboard called the Ark set in the wall at the Jerusalem-facing end of the synagogue. The Ark is also the name of the wooden chest in which it is said the Jewish people kept the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.
Coming at the end of the Jewish harvest festival (called Sukkot), Simchat Torah is not only a thanksgiving for the Law but a time for rejoicing at having lived through another year and a time of hope for the future.
Invite a Jewish person to talk about the festival. Beforehand, brainstorm questions to ask about Sukkot and Simchat Torah. After the death of Moses, the Jews were led by Joshua. Read chapter six of the Book of Joshua to see the part played by the Ark. Discuss what might have happened at Jericho.
There is an excellent website about the Torah scrolls created by Sir Robert Hitcham's Primary School, Framlingham, Suffolk at www.hitchams.suffolk.sch.uksynagoguetorahscrolls