Daily Israel Report

Meah Shea'arim - Dancing & Music Every Chol Hamoed Sukkot Night

Throughout the days of Sukkot thousands join the giant celebrations at the Hassidic Yeshivot in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah She'arim.
By Yoni Kempinski
First Publish: 10/16/2011, 5:07 PM

Sukkot at Toldot Aharon
Sukkot at Toldot Aharon
Yoni Kempinski

Sukkot is called the "Time of Our Rejoicing" in the Bible. It is one of the three holidays during which Jews are commanded to go up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

They did so throughout  the many hundreds of years during which the First and Second Temples stood majestically tall on the Temple Mount.

The Jews who came to the holy city which G-d had chosen for his Temple rejoiced at gathering up the last of the harvest, at the recollection of G-d's watching over their ancestors during the 40 years of travelling through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land - and festively obeyed the Biblical commandment to "Be joyous on your holiday, be wholly joyous".

They had reason to rejoice, for being G-d's Chosen People, for the privilege of obeying His Torah, for His blessings to them.

A tangible symbol of this joy was the Simchat Beit Hashoeva - literally, "joy of the water-drawing" in preparation for a special ceremony that took place each morning at the Holy Temple on Sukkot. 

The water for the daily Sukkot Temple service was drawn the night beforehand from the Shiloach spring that was the source of Jerusalem's water supply, and this was done with great joy and happiness, with singing and dancing, as it says in Isaiah 12.3: "And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation".

It was called "Simchat Beit Hashoeva" -- the "joy of the drawing." 

The Mishna in the Sukkot tractate says that "he who has not seen a Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebration has never seen a really joyous celebration at all". Even the most venerable Torah Sages would dance holding torches in the Temple courtyards, some would even do juggling and other joyful antics .

A commemoration of that water drawing rejoicing takes place with music and dancing every night of Chol Hamoed, the Intermediate Days of Sukkot, in synagogues and yeshivot all over the world.

Arutz Sheva went to the hub of this year's celebrations, the hareidi-religious neighborhood of Meah She'arim, to bring you a taste of the joy at Toldot Aharon, the ultra-Orthodox hassidic community, whose Simchat Beit Hashoeva is legendary. Note the different kippot in the crowd that comes from all over the city and beyond.

In Temple times, the water was poured on the altar, a symbol of the coming year's rainfall that it was hoped would be plentiful and at the right time. In Israel, the rainy season begins after Sukkot, which is the holiday on which the Talmud says G-d decides on the year's rainfall.

G-d, says the Talmud,  holds "the key" to rain. And, despite his great strides in science and technology,  man cannot control the weather and remains at G-d's mercy for bountiful harvests.

On Shemini Atzeret, the day added on to the Sukkot Holiday, a solemn prayer for rain is recited, but during the Sukkot festivities, joy and optimism reigned supreme, as they do today.

Editor's Note: The celebrations are open to men, but only women who belong to the Toldot  Aharon community and have entrance tickets may enter the women's section, a reaction to past years, when there was no room left in the small area for them to see their husbands and sons dancing due to the overflow crowd of women who came to the celebration. All Meah She'arim synagogues will demand tickets from women and are closed to women who are not members of their respective congregations.

Other celebrations are held all over the city and have no such limitations. Yeshivat Merkaz Harav holds its celebration on Sunday night and check local papers for others.