Let me respectfully point
out that from a historical perspective, your question is phrased backwards!
Originally, Simchat Torah was not a separate day. Outside Israel, where
for certain reasons the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah festival came
to be two days, the strong contrast between the two themes of the holiday
led to them being treated as separate, unrelated entities. Nevertheless,
both aspects are part of one whole, and the proof is that in all the
festival prayers both days are referred to as Shemini Atzeret.
First of all, let's understand
the origins of the two day celebration. This Diaspora practice began
during Second Temple days. Jewish months are based on the lunar cycle,
which is approximately 29½ days. Since a month must consist of
full day units, it has to be either 29 or 30 days. On today's fixed
calendar, introduced during the dispersion from Israel more than 1500
years ago, the months mostly alternate between these two lengths.
In Temple times, however,
Rosh Chodesh [New Moon Day] was not determined (solely) astronomically,
it required the sanctification of the Supreme Court. If two witnesses
who saw the new moon showed up on the 30th day and their testimony was
accepted, the Supreme Court could proclaim the new month as sanctified.
This would establish the old month as having been only 29 days. Otherwise,
the 30th day was considered part of the old month and the new month
would begin on day 31.
Either way, only by daytime
of the 30th, and even then only in Jerusalem, could the population be
certain on which of two days a festival slated for the 15th of the new
month would occur, such as Passover in Nissan or Sukkot in Tishrei.
Other communities could not know until they received word from Jerusalem.
Originally, this communication
was accomplished by a series of fires lit on mountain tops (Tsfat was
the last station on the northern route). When the Sadducee sect sabotaged
the system by setting false fires, a new system of messengers was instituted:
delegates of the Sanhedrin would be sent to all the Jewish communities
near and far. Those places that were too far away for word to arrive
on time as to exactly which day had been Rosh Chodesh would keep the
festival on both possible days, to be sure.
Centuries later, at the same
time a fixed calendar was inaugurated, the Sages decreed that those
communities should continue to keep two days, in memory of the Holy
Temple and, also, to not break a long-maintained tradition of extra
observance. Without entering into the halachic intricacies, let's say
simply that today's most widely accepted line of demarcation is the
borders of the state of Israel.
Thus, from the perspective
of Jewish law, the separate Simchat Torah holiday is simply an extra
day of Shemini Atzeret, born from the inability to receive communication
from Jerusalem quickly enough.
One distinction some make
between the two days is that on Shemini Atzeret people eat in the sukkah
(without saying the special blessing) because of the "doubt"
whether it is the seventh and last day of Sukkot or if it is already
the Eighth, while on Simchat Torah, the "ninth" (or perhaps
actually the Eighth), they do not.
Eating in the sukkah on Shemini
Atzeret is not, however, a universal practice. Most Chassidim* and Sephardim
do not, although some do make kiddush there.** How can you "insult"
a full-fledged holiday, they say, by eating in the sukkah as if it were
still the seventh day of Sukkot, a day of Chol HaMoed, only a "half"
holiday. After all, Shemini Atzeret has the status of being a holiday
in its own right, separate from Sukkot, even though its name means "The
Gathering of the Eighth [Day]."*** One reason it falls immediately
after Sukkot because it is the culmination as well as the personal assimilation
of the effects of the month-long cycle of holidays: Rosh HaShanah, Yom
Kippur, and Sukkot with Hoshannah Rabbah.
More strikingly, even the
central element of the Simchat Torah celebration, the custom of hakafot-dancing
to mark the annual completion of the public reading of the Five Books,
does not set it off completely from Shemini Atzeret. Nearly all Chassidim
and Sephardim in Diaspora do the dancing with the Torah on the night
of Shemini Atzeret also, in addition to night and day on Simchat Torah,
so that distinction falls away too.
To shed more light on your
question and to bring in the inner dimensional perspective, let's turn
to the dilemma of a Diaspora Jew in the Holy Land on Shemini Atzeret/
Simchat Torah, and the reverse, an Israeli gone abroad for that festival.
Do they observe one day or two days?
The ruling of most major
halachic authorities is that Diaspora residents keep two days in Israel
while Israelis abroad celebrate one day. The most important factor is
the person's primary residence. This determines his practice, which
he maintains wherever he goes.
According to the mystics
and some major halachic authorities, however, an individual's observance
of the festival is determined by his current location. Their position
is that in the holy land, G-d's chosen place, the entire sanctity of
the festival is containable in the first day. Therefore everyone in
Israel, no matter where they usually reside, should keep one day only.
In contrast, they state,
the Diaspora is not sufficiently pure to contain the sanctity within
the parameters of one day; it has to be "spread" over two.
So everyone there should keep two days, even if they are from Israel,
since the second day there really does have the spiritual essence of
Although, as said, the position
of "current location," as opposed to "primary residence,"
does not enjoy general halachic acceptance, it helps us to better understand
the dynamic. After all, once the calendar became fixed it may seem astonishing
that two-day observance is still maintained by anyone anywhere! Now
we can see a reason. In Israel everything is completed in one day; "the
Gathering" and the "Joy of the Torah" are both part of
what is happening. In Diaspora, everything takes place in the context
of the holiness of the festival requiring two days. On the one hand
the days are called differently and celebrated differently. On the other
hand, Simchat Torah infiltrates Shemini Atzeret with hakafot, and we
mention Shemini Atzeret on Simchat Torah when we say in Amidah and kiddush,
"Yom Shemini Atzeret haHag haZeh."
Did you know that the Chassidic
practice of hakafot on Shemini Atzeret in the Diaspora is based on a
beautiful custom that originated in Tsfat?
The Simchat Torah celebration
is a powerful statement of Jewish unity, for in dancing we are all equally
capable, even if in Torah study there exist enormous gradations of levels
(as discussed in depth in AQ 25 in two different articles). Yet, we
find that the Jews of Israel and the Jews outside Israel are dancing
at different times, the former on the "eighth" day, the latter
on the "ninth." This prevents the unity from becoming total.
For that reason, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria [the holy Ari, leader of the Kabbalists
in 16th century Tsfat] suggested that the Jews of the holy land make
an additional set of hakafot after the conclusion of Shemini Atzeret,
at night, to unite with the Jews outside of Israel, because Simchat
Torah and its dancing does not start there until the Second Night of
the holiday. And so, our own Tsfat is the source of the present-day
custom all over Israel of "Second Hakafot," complete with
bands, inter-city participation, etc.
And that's not all. A few
centuries after the Ari, the Chassidim in Europe picked up on his innovation
and reversed it, inaugurating hakafot on Shemini Atzeret night in Diaspora,
in order to be in harmony with the Jews in Israel. Put it all together
and you have Jews everywhere dancing an extra set of hakafot, all for
the sake of Jewish unity. It's a great idea, isn't it?
* With the exception of Chabad-Lubavitch.
** This statement is a gross over-simplification. Customs vary greatly,
especially among the different Sephardic communities. Also, many have
different practices for the night and day meals.
*** During the seven days of Sukkot numerous sacrifices were offered
in the Temple for the seventy nations of the world (The Gemarah states:
"If the nations of the world understood what the Jews were doing
in the Holy Temple for them, they would have sent armies to protect
it!"). On Shemini Atzeret only a small sacrifice was offered, on
behalf of the Jewish people. It is a private occasion, so to speak,
just between G-d and us.