What are the customs for Shemini Atzeret?

Shemini Atzeret customs are not plentiful. In fact, there is only one major custom that is celebrated on Shemini Atzeret and that custom is related to the agricultural seasons in Israel. So what is this special custom that is observed on Shemini Atzeret? It is the custom to recite the "Prayer For Rain" ("Tefilat Geshem" in Hebrew).

Why is there a custom to recite a prayer for rain on Shemini Atzeret?

Because the time of season in which Shemini Atzeret occurs - the autumn season - is when the start of the rainy season occurs in Israel. Since humans depend on water to grow crops so that they can sustain their lives, and this applied to the biblical Hebrews/Jews just as it does to this day, forgiveness for sins committed against G-d (meaning sins committed against oneself) during the past year is sought by the Jewish people on Shemini Atzeret so that a positive judgement can be rendered by G-d on the day of Shemini Atzeret through the bringing of rain. Therefore, in most synagogue services on Shemini Atzeret, the cantor, or liturgical singer, wears a white "kittel" ("robe" in Yiddish), in which the color white is a symbol of piety and expresses the hope for a positive judgement by G-d for rain. White also symbolizes purity and hence a willingness to begin again with a clean slate after seeking forgiveness from G-d for one's sins committed against G-d (meaning sins committed against oneself). In Judaism, sins commited against other persons cannot be forgiven by G-d; no amount of prayers will absolve someone of sins against other people; only a forgiving person can do that.

On Shemini Atzeret, as on the final day of Pesach/Passover, and on the final day of Shavuot/Shavuoth/Shavuos (for Jews living outside Israel, Shavuot/Shavuoth/Shavuos is a two-day holiday, therefore, the second day; for Jews living in Israel and for Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews, Shavuot/Shavuoth/Shavuos is a one-day holiday, therefore, on the day of Shavuot/Shavuoth/Shavuos), and on Yom Kippur, the Yizkor service [Yizkor means "May (G-d) Remember" in Hebrew, it is from the Hebrew root word "zakhor", meaning "remember".] for departed loved ones is recited in the synagogue.

Are there any other customs for Shemini Atzeret?

Well, for some Jewish people, there is one other custom on Shemini Atzeret that they observe. Since Shemini Atzeret occurs immediately after the seventh day and final day of the festival of Sukkot, and since historically, there was uncertainty in Jewish communities that existed beyond the borders of Israel as to exactly when the seventh day of Sukkot actually took place since it took some time before the news of when to celebrate any festivals and/or holidays in a given month reached outlying Jewish communities after these dates were determined at the start of the month by the Torah Sages in Jerusalem, there is a custom on Shemini Atzeret for some Jewish people to continue to observe the festival of Sukkot custom to sit in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret based on this doubt that the first day of Shemini Atzeret may actually be the seventh day of Sukkot.

In what ways was Shemini Atzeret kept as a separate holiday from the festival of Sukkot ?

In Temple times, many sacrifices were offered by the Hebrew/Jewish people during the festival of Sukkot (such as the 70 sacrifices for the nations of the world, which symbolized the universalism of Sukkot), whereas on the day of Shemini Atzeret, only one sacrifice was offered. To illustrate this difference, the major Kabbalistic or Jewish mystic literary work, known as the Zohar, states that after the final day of Sukkot was completed, the emphasis switched from a universalistic outlook to a personal outlook between G-d and the Hebrews/Jews as told in the following verse from the Zohar: "Now bring a sacrifice for yourselves". Furthermore, the liturgy of Shemini Atzeret, particularly the prayers and psalms, were significantly different than the prayers and psalms for Sukkot. Another difference between Shemini Atzeret and Sukkot was that whereas the festival of Sukkot is held in the Sukkah, or booth or hut, the holiday of Shemini Atzeret is held in the household.

On the other hand, there is one similarity between Shemini Atzeret and Sukkot: both emphasize the feeling of joy.

More Shemini Atzeret Information

What is Shemini Atzeret ?
When is Shemini Atzeret ?
Shemini Atzeret Customs
Shemini Atzeret History

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