Israelis Celebrate Simchat Torah Joyously; Reform Group Wins Court Rule

Joyous processions in synagogues and on the streets marked the Simchat Torah festival in Israel this weekend. Thousands took part in public Torah processions in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim and Minister for Religious Affairs Zerach Warhaftig greeted the crowds in Jerusalem’s be flagged Paris Square, outside the Heichal Shlomo, the Supreme Religious Center, which organizes the processions each year. In Tel Aviv, the crowds were greeted by Mayor Mordechai Namir and Chief Rabbi Isar Unterman.

Enthusiastic Torah processions were held Saturday might in almost every town and settlement as well as in military bases. Long lines of dancing Hassidim and religious youth movement members passed through the Tel Aviv and Haifa streets to the central square, where the dancing continued until the early hours of Sunday morning. In Tel Aviv, a Torah Scroll reputed to have been used by the Spanish Jews prior to their expulsion in 1492 was carried by the leader of a long procession of Sephardic Jews assembled from various communities.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the observance this year was the Sinchat Torah observance in the public hall of Kfar Shmaryahu, where a group of Reform Jews had their special celebration. During the procession, a guitar-tambourine-flute band played Israeli songs and music for the dancing, with a Torah Scroll in the center of the dancing group. Since Simchat Torah coincided this year with the Sabbath, the musical instrument playing was criticized by many, including Orthodox Jews.

The Reform group went to court to win permission to use the public hall, which had been barred to it, assertedly under Orthodox pressure. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the public hall could not be denied to the Reform group.

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