The festival came into being around the ninth century C.E. in Babylonia, when weekly readings of the Torah became common practice. In the rabbinic tradition, a specified portion of the Torah is read each week; in a year’s time the entire Torah is covered from beginning to end. On the day that the end of the last Torah portion is read, the beginning of the first portion also is read. Simhat Torah marks the end of this yearly reading cycle and the beginning of a new one. Celebrants sing and dance with the Torah scrolls, touching and kissing them. Processions, or hakafot, continue until each male has carried the Torah scroll around the synagogue. Children follow the parade of Torah scrolls, waving Israeli flags with apples and lighted candles atop them.
While many Jews view the Torah as divinely revealed truth, Humanistic Jews, recognizing that the Torah was written by human beings, view it as a valuable source of information about the beliefs and behavior of their ancestors. Some Humanistic communities – recognizing the historic importance of the Torah in Judaism – celebrate Simhat Torah as a holiday symbolizing their ongoing commitment to truth and learning. Simhat Torah is an opportunity to honor all the great literature of the Jewish people, including the Torah.