Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Torah Rejoicing and Torah Scroll Balloons

Yesterday was the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret held on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, better known in contemporary Judaism as Simehat Torah – the Rejoicing of the Torah. This name derives from the Jewish Babylonian custom, which in the Middle Ages became prevalent in all the Jewish world, of concluding the annual Torah reading on Shemini Atzeret.
Since the early Middle Ages special customs evolved in which the synagogue's Torah Scrolls were paraded and danced with on this day. These are known as hakaphot – that is "encirclings" – because the scrolls are carried around the synagogue's bimah.

Here's a short video of hakaphot in a Chasidic synagogue:

Children are encouraged to take part in the hakaphot, but as they cannot be entrusted with the precious Torah Scrolls, they are given other objects to parade with – special flags or small Torah Scroll replicas. A few days ago, while walking down Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, I noticed something I've never seen before:

Torah Scroll balloons for children, to be carried on Simehat Torah. While the production of flags and torah scroll replicas for Simehat Torah is quite commonplace, Torah Scroll balloons are a novelty as far as I know. They are of course similar to the Torah Scroll replicas. But there's also a big difference - the Torah Scroll balloons are instantly made and instantly destroyed. Here's an interesting meeting point between iconic books and pop culture.

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