In "Heart and Soul", Patricia Golan speaks to religious and secular Israelis to find out what Simchat Torah means to them, and what role the Torah itself, the text which contains the core of Jewish teachings, plays in their lives.
Cantor at singing the Simchat Torah prayers, chants etc. (THIS IS A SOLO WITHOUT PEOPLE, VERY SLOW)
VOICEOVER1: THE SERVICE FOR SIMCHAT TORAH IS QUITE ENERGETIC AND JOYOUS, EVEN BOISTEROUS, BUT PRAYERS DURING THE SERVICE BEGIN AS AN EARNEST PLEA: "PLEASE GOD HELP US AND ANSWER OUR PRAYERS ON THIS DAY, PLEASE GOD LET US SUCCEED."
ORIGINALLY THE HOLIDAY WAS CONNECTED WITH THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF SOWING AND HARVESTING. AS THE LAST DAY OF SUCCOT, A HARVEST FESTIVAL, IT WAS THE DAY BEFORE WINTER BEGINS IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL, AND AS TODAY IN THIS PARCHED LAND, PEOPLE WERE PRAYING FOR RAIN.
Sfx2 Simchat Torah Hakafot, processions, chanting in Haredi synagogue, Jerusalem.
VOICEOVER 2: THE HOLIDAY OF "SIMCHAT TORAH" - WHICH MEANS "REJOICING OF THE TORAH" - IS A RELATIVELY RECENT INNOVATION. IT IS NOT BASED ON A BIBLICAL COMMANDMENT, BUT WAS DEVELOPED DURING THE MIDDLE AGES IN THE DIASPORA, TO MARK THE COMPLETION OF THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF READINGS FROM THE TORAH - THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES.
DURING THE SERVICE THE TORAH SCROLLS ARE CARRIED AROUND THE SYNAGOGUE IN PROCESSION, WITH CHILDREN AND ADULTS DANCING AND SINGING. USUALLY MAKING SEVEN ROUNDS.
SFX3: Simchat Torah ceremony of prayers and rounds from Bulgarian synagogue in Jerusalem -- chanting and clapping with sound of bells on the torah scrolls.
VOICEOVER3: BUT AS ORTHODOX RABBI BEREL WEIN, A JERUSALEM HISTORIAN, EXPLAINS, IN ISRAEL THE DAY ALSO HAS AN ELEMENT WHICH AT FIRST SIGHT MIGHT APPEAR SOMBRE.
ACT1 [WEIN] what is interesting about it is that it's the day of the death of Moses - that's the part that you read in the torah, and one would expect that would have a damper but it doesn't. There's even a special prayer that's recited, a very stark, candid prayer that says if Moses died then, who shall not die. But that also has been transformed into a song and a prayer of joy because it testifies to our immortality because here we have the book that Moses wrote and the book is 3300 years old, and there are people who live by it and study by it and it's the focus of their lives, so it's a symbol of immortality and therefore even the sad event becomes a very positive and joyful event. 56"
SFX4: Hassidic type orchestra with children's choir in Yiddish
VOICEOVER4: BUT NO GROUP CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAY WITH GREATER VIGOR AND JOY THAN MEMBERS OF THE HABAD COMMUNITY. HABAD IS A MOVEMENT WITHIN THE HASIDIC TRADITION OF JUDAISM, WHICH EMERGED IN THE 18TH CENTURY AND PLACES GREAT EMPHASIS ON THE MYSTICAL IDEAS UNDERLYING THE QUEST FOR GOD. ONE OF THE PRINCIPLES OF ALL HASIDISM IS TO "SERVE GOD WITH JOY." THUS EVERY CELEBRATION IS MARKED BY MASS ENTHUSIASM AND INTENSE DEVOTION.
DR. VELVEL GREEN, WHO LECTURES ON MEDICAL ETHICS AND ALSO TRAVELS AROUND THE WORLD ON BEHALF OF THE HABAD MOVEMENT, EXPLAINS.
ACT2 [GREEN] Habad does it longer, their dances are longer, their singing is louder, and there's a lot more people, excitement, if you want some excitement on simchat torah you go to a habad minyan where they will take all day to do this reading...and the concept of celebrating a wedding permeates it, and people dance, and my very orthodox, ultra orthodox friends won't really like it, but at this time they usually break down the mehitza, the barrier between the men's and the women's section and there, though no dancing together, there is a mingling, there is an awful lot of excitement. It is a real wedding, a real celebration [Golan] as you're telling me this, as you're relating this, you seem so full of joy yourself.
[Green] yeah, I look forward to it; this is one of the things that attracted me to the Hassidic movement. Of course with a certain amount of sense, and a certain amount of logic, and let me tell you the burdens are burdens. You do "daven", you do pray in the morning, you do observe all 613 commandments, but with the concept of doing it with joy...1'04" [opt] I am very excited about it because it is about Jewish life, it is what has sustained Jewish life, it is a group of people who have suffered unbelievably, unprecedented, in the history of mankind, and have bounced back because of this resilience, this desire to serve the almighty in joy and together, and so they extract from every commandment in the bible the most that you can do. [end opt] 1'31" together
SFX5: young men and women singing religious songs in Hebrew w/out instruments, clapping
ACT3: [AZARI, BUT NOT YET ID'D] for us the celebration is quite unique; men and women are dancing together. which is a celebration not just for the torah, but another meaning here for the celebration of simchat torah - equality between men and women. Both of them are holding the torah. 20"
VOICEOVER5: RABBI MEIR AZARI IS THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF BEIT DANIEL, THE CENTER FOR PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM IN TEL AVIV - THE BRANCH OF JUDAISM WHICH ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD IS KNOWN AS LIBERAL OR REFORM. THOUGH REGARDED BY MANY IN ISRAEL AS A WESTERN IMPORT, IN RECENT YEARS, PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM HAS BECOME
INCREASINGLY POPULAR AMONG YOUNG ISRAELIS.
ACT4 [AZARI] more and more Israelis are looking for a different type of Judaism, for them the division between black and white, being ultra orthodox or haredi Jew, or being secular is not enough. Then they understand that there is another way in between, a modern Jewish way which means more rights for women, more modern approach toward Judaism and more and more people are looking for that type of Judaism. 32"
VOICEOVER6: FOR RABBI AZARI'S CONGREGATION SIMCHAT TORAH IS ALSO A JOYOUS OCCASION - IN PARTICULAR AS WOMEN ARE ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE FULLY AND HELP CARRY THE TORAH, WHICH IS NOT THE CASE IN ORTHODOX CONGREGATIONS.
ACT5: [AZARI] for me simchat torah is a great day, a day of joy, I know that we worked hard for a year, we read the torah we gave a new perspective to the torah, we saw through the year hundreds and thousands of men and women coming and participating in this process, and we're celebrating that achievement, concluding the torah reading. This is not just a celebration for the past; this is a celebration for the future. 34" [opt] at the same time we are starting to read the torah from the beginning. For me personally to see men and women holding the torah, young and old people, those who immigrate to Israel just recently or those who were born here, having the same access to the torah, this is the main celebration. [end opt] 55" together
SFX6: Kleismer type music for feasts,
VOICEOVER7: THE HOLIDAY OF SIMCHAT TORAH WAS RELATIVELY OBSCURE TO THE NON-ORTHODOX WORLD UNTIL THE EARLY 1970'S. IT WAS THEN THAT IT BECAME A VEHICLE AND A SYMBOL OF RESISTANCE AMONG SOVIET REFUSENIKS - THE NAME GIVEN TO SOVIET JEWS WHO WERE REFUSED PERMISSION TO EMIGRATE TO ISRAEL. THEY WANTED TO PROTEST AGAINST THE REPRESSION OF THEIR DESIRE FOR SELF-EXPRESSION AS JEWS.
THESE NOISY CELEBRATIONS DURING SIMCHAT TORAH BY YOUNG JEWS IN MOSCOW, LENINGRAD AND KIEV SOON CAME TO THE ATTENTION OF THE FOREIGN PRESS, WHO WERE
FASCINATED BY THIS BURGEONING REBELLION.
YULI EDELSTEIN, A WELL-KNOWN FORMER REFUSENIK, IS TODAY DEPUTY MINISTER OF IMMIGRANT ABSORPTION IN THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT. EDELSTEIN ISN'T SURE WHY SIMCHAT TORAH, OF ALL THE JEWISH HOLIDAYS, BECAME THE HOLIDAY OF PROTEST.
ACT6: [EDELSTEIN] it's very difficult to say why because definitely the renaissance of simchat torah in Moscow, meaning thousands of mostly young people who would flow to the synagogue on archipova street in the center of Moscow, was definitely connected to the quote unquote Zionist renaissance, with the refuseniks, with those who wanted to move to Israel after the six day war. it would be only natural to suggest that probably the holiday would be the Independence Day, or the Jerusalem day, something that is strictly connected with Israel. But it didn't happen. 37"
VOICEOVER 8: YULI EDELSTEIN RECALLS HIS MOST MEMORABLE SIMCHAT TORAH IN MOSCOW, WHEN, AS A FAMOUS ACTIVIST HE WAS ASKED TO HOST A CONCERT OF JEWISH SINGERS IN THE MAIN MOSCOW SYNAGOGUE. THE PERFORMANCE HAD BEEN BANNED BY THE KGB, AND EDELSTEIN AND THE MUSICIANS HAD TO SNEAK INTO THE SYNAGOGUE, WHICH WAS FILLED WITH CROWDS OF REFUSENIKS, WORSHIPPERS AND KGB AGENTS.
ACT7: the concert lasted for 20-25 minutes, there was a lot of embarrassment among the policeman and KGB, they were definitely not ready for this kind of development. And then I guess that was the most exciting military experience of mine before the Israeli army. I had to jump from this high wing into the crowd. While I was jumping someone changed a hat on me and the coat on me and they ran me out of this crowd so there wouldn't be any immediate contact with the police. The contacts started a couple of days later when the kgb agents appeared at the place where I worked those days and they explained to me loud and clear that my days in Moscow are over. and I have to tell you that till this day I sometimes meet people who remember that gathering and that concert on simchat torah in Moscow. 48"
VOICEOVER9: EDELSTEIN WAS ARRESTED AND EXILED TO SIBERIA FOR THREE YEARS.
FOR SOME JEWS SIMCHAT TORAH ALSO HAS A PROFOUND __INTELLECTUAL__ SIGNIFICANCE. DAVID OHANA IS A PROMINENT ISRAELI HISTORIAN AND CULTURAL SCHOLAR AT THE BEN GURION RESEARCH CENTER IN THE SOUTH OF ISRAEL. ALTHOUGH AN AVOWED SECULARIST, OHANA ORGANIZES WELL-ATTENDED PUBLIC LECTURES GIVEN BY WRITERS AND ACADEMIC FIGURES ON THE WEEKLY TORAH PORTION.
ACT8: [OHANA] this is the only culture, or the only people that I know from history, that dance with some text. Not with the sun or a tree - and this really impressed me, and I think .. Maybe this is the most important thing of the Jewish contribution to the world history and culture. everything began with the text: .monotheism, what is monotheism? that universal assumption that all the people, all the human beings came from one source, and this is a revolutionary thought. and this was the text, I mean, by text, by words, by sentence, by books, by the book of the books, the Jewish people start a revolution, some thousands [of] years ago and we celebrate it every year. 1'05'
SFX7: "Simchat Torah" from Four Festivals, choral work by Israeli composer Max Stern, sung in English (1"25") establish then under, bring up at end.
VOICEOVER 10: BACK IN JERUSALEM, RABBI BEREL WEIN EMPHASIZES THAT THE REVERENCE FOR THE TORAH IS NOT JUST FOR THE BOOK ITSELF, BUT THE ENTIRE VALUE SYSTEM AND WAY OF LIFE IT REPRESENTS.
ACT 9 [WEIN] it encompasses the philosophy of Judaism and encompasses the fact that the torah allows for a wide latitude of opinion and of expression. Traditional Jewry generally is not monolithic in the sense that everyone agrees about everything, because the torah was given to human beings, and human beings are famous for not agreeing about everything and I think Jews are probably doubly famous for that, and that's part of our heritage, is to ask the question, to have a different opinion, etc. but there's a box, there's a frame, there's a parameter, and the parameters are that the torah's divine and that it was given at Sinai and that the Jewish people by accepting the yoke of torah have undertaken a special mission in the world, that's the box. 1'05"
VOICEOVER10: AND IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, WEIN SAYS, THE IDEA OF THE TORAH AS A GOD-GIVEN TEXT IS AT THE CENTRE OF JEWISH IDENTITY.
Act: [Wein] I think that if the torah is not regarded as divine, then an awful lot of Jewish history not only makes no sense, but it's almost suicidal. why should anyone want to remain Jewish in a world of six billion non-Jews, why should we remain the minority, why should we have all the problems that we have, why? So many Jews opt to drop out because of that. But the sense, the core of the Jewish people, and the core belief of the Jewish people that we have a divine mission, that there is a god, that there was a revelation, that the torah is more than a book, that is really what holds us together// 45"
BRING UP CHORAL MUSIC AT END.
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