At Temple Emanuel, Simchat Torah is a time of musical celebration. We dance down the aisles with our Torah scrolls to the uplifting melodies of a klezmer band.
Simchat Torah is a Hebrew term which means "rejoicing with/of the Torah". The annual cycle of reading the Torah is completed and begun anew, with the last section of Deuteronomy and the first section of Genesis read in succession after a festival parade of the Torah scrolls amidst singing, dancing and (typically) a moderate consumption of alcohol. It is one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar.
Simchat Torah takes place on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, or Eighth (day) of Assembly, which falls immediately after the seven-day holiday of Sukkot in the autumn (mid to late October).
In Israel and among Reform Jews, Shemini Atzeret is one day long and the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah are celebrated on that day. Outside Israel (the Diaspora), Shemini Atzeret is two days long, with the Simchat Torah festivities observed on the second day. The first day is sometimes referred to as Shemini Atzeret and the second day as Simchat Torah, though both days are officially Shemini Atzeret according to Halakha, and this is reflected in the liturgy.
Simchat Torah festivities begin with the evening service. All the synagogue's Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and carried around the sanctuary in a series of seven hakafot (circuits). Although each hakafah need only encompass one circuit around the synagogue, the dancing and singing with the Torah often continues much longer.
After the processions and the dancing three scrolls of the Torah are read. The last Parshah (section) of the Torah, called V'Zot HaBerachah at the end of Deuteronomy (33:1-34:12), is read from the first scroll, followed immediately by the first chapter (and part of the second) of the Book of Genesis (1:1-2:3), read from the second.
The name Simchat Torah was not used until a relatively late time. In the Talmud (Meg. 31b) it is called simply the second day of Shemini Atzeret.