The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv is featuring an exciting exhibit which centers around the Simchat Torah flag.
Simchat Torah is the holiday which is celebrated following the last day of Sukkot and in which Jews celebrate the completion of the weekly cycle of Torah readings and its renewal. The holiday is a fairly recent one, as opposed to Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret which are mandated in the Bible, and is first mentioned in the early Middle Ages.
In Israel it is combined with the Shmini Atzeret holiday and in the Diaspora, it follows Shmini Atzeret as a separate holiday. The last portion in the book of Deuteronomy is read, followed by the first portion in the book of Genesis.
The Torah reading during the day is preceded by a celebration in which the Torah scrolls are given to congregants to carry in a row while the first of them chants responsive verses as they march around the synagogue. The congregation joins them, singing and dancing. This is repeated in seven rounds called Hakafot with different men being honored with the Torah scrolls each time and passing them joyously from one to another. In many yeshivas and large synagogues, the dancing continues for several hours.
The flags are the traditional way to integrate young children, for whom carrying the Torah scrolls is too heavy and too much of a responsiblity, in the celebrations. Many fathers can be seen dancing with young flag-waving children on their shoulders.
The Hakafot also take place the night prior to the Torah reading.
Arutz Sheva visited the exhibit and spoke with the curator, who described the different flags which are on display. The flags cover time periods from the 17th and 18th centuries all the way to the 1980s. The exhibit will run until December 1.