Hebrew Cookies for Simchat Torah

IMG_6068Simchat Torah is the celebration of the never-ending circle of Torah. One wonderful way to celebrate is by baking cookies in the shape of the first word in the Torah.

Simchat Torah services begin at sunset on Thursday, October 12. The last chapter of Deuteronomy is read, followed by the first chapter of Genesis. This is the only time of the year that the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark at night.


The first sentence of Genesis in Hebrew.

The first phrase in Genesis is “In the beginning.” In Hebrew, this is written as one word, “Bereishit.”

The whole family can have fun mixing sugar cookie dough, rolling it out, and cutting out the shapes of the Hebrew letters. You may use Alef-Bet cookie cutters, or a knife. A fun tactile activity is to sculpt the letters with the dough. This is much less fussy than rolling and cutting it.

Refrigerated sugar cookie dough is perfect for this if you are pressed for time. Alternatively, if you are too busy to bake, you may purchase some Alef Bet cookies. If you like, you may decorate your cookies with icing and colorful sugar sprinkles. As you bite into each sweet letter, you will be reminded of the sweetness of learning Torah.

Sugar CookiesIMG_6067

Adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  4. Roll out the dough.
  5. Cut out the letter shapes.
  6. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Sweet Phyllo Scrolls for Simchat Torah

— by Ronit Treatman

The holiday of Simchat Torah celebrates the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. The name of the holiday means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” The eve of Simchat Torah is only time of the year that the Torah is taken out at night in the synagogue and the penultimate Chapter is read (up to Deut. 33:26). The following morning, the last part of the Torah is read. In many synagogues each congregant is given an opportunity to be called to the Torah. We then immediately begin reading the first part of Genesis from another Torah scroll emphasizing that study of Torah never ends. These Torah readings are followed by the beginning of the book of Joshua showing the continuation of the narrative after the conclusion of the Torah.

Sweet foods that resemble a Torah scroll are a traditional part of the festivities. Phyllo scrolls filled with a sweet almond paste are edible stand-ins for Torah scrolls.

The delicious recipe follows the jump.
Sweet Almond Scrolls (Adapted from Israel Aharoni)

  • Frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
  • 14 ounces blanched almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Olive oil
  • Honey
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a food processor, combine the blanched almonds, sugar, vanilla extract, and zest.  
  3. Unroll the phyllo dough onto a work surface.
  4. Brush the dough with olive oil.
  5. Cut the dough into 4-inch squares.
  6. Place 2 teaspoons of filling on each square of dough.
  7. Roll it up into a scroll.
  8. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  9. Brush with olive oil.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Place on a serving dish, and drizzle with honey.

Why I Don’t Go to Shul on Simchat Torah

— by Hannah Lee

For the first time since Before Children, I attended an evening service for Simchat Torah. This was the inaugural Simchat Torah service for our partnership minyan, Lechu Neranena, and we had a terrific turnout. It was held in our new home, a township building that was the first home of the Bala Cynwyd Library. We danced with four sifrei Torah, from two schools and one family. The remarkable aspect of the attendance– other than the 100 or so in number– was the participation of young married women wearing tichels (wrapped headscarves), a group that had never attended the partnership minyan or our women’s tefillah group. (I, myself, wear a hat every day, but some observant women only cover their head for services.) A partnership minyan conducts services according to Orthodox tradition, but where women may give divrei Torah, lead Kabbalat Shabbat, and read from the Torah.

More after the jump.
My introduction to Judaism was in the pioneering communities of the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Flatbush, Brooklyn in the early 80’s, where women’s tefillah groups allowed traditional women access to the Torah. I was in the audience for the first international conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA). When my family moved to Lower Merion in 1990, I joined the fledgling Women’s Tefillah Group of the Main Line and when one of the founders moved to Teaneck, I took over as coordinator.

Over the years, I’ve done just about everything that needed to be done: collected dues, labeled and stuffed envelopes, schlepped chairs, and plated munchies. I’ve even leined (chanted) Torah when we lived in Brooklyn, but my voice is not as lovely as those of my husband and girls, so I’ve retired myself.

This Sukkot was the first time I felt really uplifted, when Jews parade with lulav and etrog during the Hoshanot portion of the morning service.  Years ago, I too had my own lulav and etrog in shul, but I was so klutzy holding them while juggling the machzor (holiday prayer book), that I resigned myself to bentching (saying the blessing) in our own sukkah before leaving for shul. I’ve also tried walking with my husband during Hoshanot while the parade was outside of the Sanctuary, but that was deemed not advisable. This year I felt totally fine with not joining in parade.

Simchat Torah was still different. How could I rejoice when I and other women are not allowed to dance with the Torah? So, I stayed away from shul. My refuge was the women’s tefillah gatherings where we davened according to the laws about praying without a minyan, had hakafot with two sifrei Torah, and listened to women chanting from the Torah portion. I was mostly content, but it was hard to be separated from my family and it necessitated juggling logistics and childcare. This Simchat Torah was different and it was lovely. Men, women, and children were all together and we danced with our separate sifrei Torah. This felt right and it was uplifting indeed.

On Monday evening, October 15, Rabbi Daniel Sperber of Bar Ilan University will speak at the University of Pennsylvania campus, Steinhardt Hall, on “New Halachic Frontiers: An Analysis of the Shira Chadasha Movement.” In 1992, Rabbi Sperber was the recipient of the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest honor, for Jewish studies.  He is the halachic advisor for several partnership minyanim, including Shira Chadasha in Jerusalem and Darchei Noam in New York.

Sweet Almonds For Simchat Torah

— by Ronit Treatman

To me, Simchat Torah tastes like candied almonds.  This holiday, which means “rejoicing in the Torah,” is one of the most joyous celebrations in the Jewish tradition.  

This is the evening when we read the last page of the Torah, and then start all over again at the beginning. It is the only time of the year when the Torah is read at night in the synagogue, during evening services. My earliest memory of attending synagogue is of sitting on my father’s shoulders during the Simchat Torah service. We danced hakafot, or circuits, with the Torah around the synagogue seven times. The synagogue was filled by the voices of all the celebrants chanting traditional tunes. The Torahs were splendid in their velvet covers and silver crowns.  Why seven hakafot? Seven is a very symbolic number in Judaism. Very appropriately, it is the Divine number of completion.  

More after the jump.

When the hakafot are concluded, a portion of the last part of Deuteronomy (33:1-34:12) is read from the first Torah scroll. It is the tradition that Deuteronomy is never read until the end in the evening service. This is immediately followed by Genesis (1:1-2:3), recited from the second scroll. Thus continues the never ending cycle of reading Torah.

Why do I associate Simchat Torah with almonds?  Our neighbors always made them as a special treat.  Almonds originated in the Middle East.  The Book of Genesis 43:11 describes the almond as “among the best of fruits.”  In Numbers 17, almond flowers grow from the rod carried by Aaron.  It is said that sweet almonds grew on one side of this rod, and bitter almonds on the other.  If the Israelites were true to G-d, then the sweet almonds ripened.  If the Israelites strayed, the bitter almonds flourished.  It is customary among Sephardim to celebrate Simchat Torah with candied almonds.  These almonds are served to symbolize the sweetness (sugar) of learning Torah, which offsets the bitterness (almonds) that life may bring.  My Sephardic friends and neighbors always prepared candied or sugared almonds at home.  Here is the recipe.

Almendras Garrapiñadas (Candied Almonds)

  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pan.
  2. Stir over medium heat until the water evaporates and the sugar crystallizes.  
  3. Turn off the heat, and continue stirring the almonds until they are completely coated with sugar crystals.

The blessing that is said over candied almonds is:

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי העץ.‏

Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam borei pri ha etz

Blessed are you G-d, our Lord king of the world who creates the fruit of the trees.