Simchat Torah starts Thursday night. The “Rejoicing of the Torah” is a happy holiday, not surprisingly. Every week, Jews read a portion (parsha or sidra in Hebrew) from the Torah, and no matter which schedule we follow, we all finish and begin again on Simchat Torah. The moment the reader chants the last word of Deuteronomy and then the first word of Genesis is one of the highlights of the liturgical year. What are the last and first words? See below.*
At synagogue on Simchat Torah, there is plenty to keep the kids engaged and happy, especially at the evening service. Flag-waving, candy-scarfing kids can also carry toy Torahs on the noisy processionals (hakafot); beat kosher rhythm instruments with our drumming Rabbi (wicked on the bongo); and join on the bimah for the once-a-year children’s aliyah. The latter is the real liturgical highlight for me: seeing the kids—babies up through disaffected middle-schoolers—all hunched together, sheltered under giant prayer shawls held aloft by some of the taller parents. Beautiful.
But at home, before Simchat Torah, there is not so much going on. Sukkot is still unwinding, true. I am still schlepping the electric fan out to the sukkah for meals (to blow the clouds of mosquitos from our table). But there is a lull compared to the frantic first days of Sukkot.
Perfect time for an instant edible craft to prepare for Simchat Torah.
Show a picture of a Torah scroll and make a model of the edible version, so kids know what they are supposed to approximate. Then let them get messy making Torah scrolls. The vocab is what bumps it to a legit educational enterprise. See below. (EDIT: I made a Torah Scroll Parts Poster for my classes. See the picture at my Tootsie Torah post, here!)
The pretzel stick Edible Torah Scroll is quick and easy. No baking, no melting chocolate in a double-boiler. Plus, you might already have the materials lying around. If you made edible sukkahs, find the leftover bag of Snyder’s Pretzel Sticks, which are perfect for the mini version. Use the larger Rods or the shorter, plumper Dippers for different sized scrolls, as you wish.
• Two pretzel sticks, rods, dippers, or some such shape, long and straight (wooden rollers or eitzei hayyim, trees of life)
• Frosting (to dip the tops of the sticks into). Use peanut butter or soy-butter if you’d rather.
• Sprinkles (to stick to the frosting and approximate decorative finials on your scroll). Gold or Silver Wilton’s edible glitter dust is killer.
• Fruit roll-up, fruit leather, preferably a flavor that does not look quite so much like raw bacon. (Torah mantle)
If your pretzels are too close together and look weird, add a broken piece in between before you roll the fruit leather around them. The broken piece acts a a spacer, the better to mimic the bulk of a tiny scroll inside the mantle.
If you use the thicker Rods, top them with an inverted Rolo still in a golden wrapper. It looks like a proper finial or set of rimmonim. Or, use a wrapped, silver Hershey’s kiss stuck on with frosting. (A chocolate chip works fine for the tiny Sticks).
Add a yad, or Torah pointer, made from caramel string or Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzler (licorice whips) and a bit of pretzel Stick. Hang it from the wooden roller on the right.
Add a Torah breastplate made of whatever candy that can reasonably suggest a breastplate. Bottlecaps, graham crackers, Chex cereal, etc., depending on the size of your Torah scroll. If you are making a big scroll, go ahead and stick 12 different-colored Jelly Bellys on the front to represent the twelve tribes. I dare you.
Healthy version: If you feel compelled to be scrupulously nutritious, even on a holiday, wrap a tortilla around carrot, celery, or pretzel sticks. Use hummus or cream cheese as the edible glue. Tie the mantle with a chive. As for the finial or crown, hmmmmm. What would work? A carved radish, perhaps? A radish could be made to resemble the real rimmonim, sure, like mini pomegranates. I have the utmost respect for this level of health-consciousness, but on holidays I prefer Rolos and frosting.
* Last word of the Torah: Israel. First word of the Torah: Beresheet (in the beginning). An old bit of holy word play takes the the last letter, a lamed, adds the first letter, a bet, and spells lev, which means heart: לב
UPDATE (10/2015): For K-3 classes today, we used tortilla as the parchment and we skipped the mantle. This way, the students were able to write Hebrew words or letters on their “parchment” with food-safe markers. Some kids wrote their Hebrew names. One class had just learned gimmel in their Hebrew lessons, so they wrote a bunch of gimmels. Some kids wanted to spell Simchat Torah, etc. It was ever so fun. We secured the parchment with one strip of fruit roll-up, which sticks to itself. Yes, a real sefer Torah was in the room, and we undressed and dressed it to prepare for our re-creation with edibles.
Simchat Torah: Rejoicing with/of the Torah
Torah: First five books of the Bible
Sefer Torah: Torah scroll
Mantle / K’tonet: cloth covering of the Torah
Wooden rollers / eitzei hayyim / trees of life
Girtle / Chagorah: the belt or sash that keeps the Torah snug
Yad: literally, hand. The pointer used to keep our place in the Torah during a reading
Finials: sometimes the Torah rollers are each capped with metal finials rather than a single crown. The finials might have little bells and ornaments called rimmonim, but the word rimmonim can also be used to describe the finials themselves.
Rimmonim: literally, pomegranates, as per the description of the priestly decorations in Exodus
Breastplate / Choshen: this sometimes shows jewelled representations of the 12 tribes
Ahklah page on Simchat Torah.
TorahTots page on the Sefer Torah (the Torah scroll).
MyJewishLearning.com page on Simchat Torah 101.
A picture of a dressed sefer Torah toy at OyToys.com. I’m searching for an online picture of a dressed Torah with all the parts labeled, but am having trouble finding one that isn’t from a site run by missionaries, crazy folk, or spam artists. I thought MyJewishLearning.com would have one, or Babaganewz, or Behrman House or Torah Aura, but no. Anyone? (EDIT: I made one myself, here.)
Wait, here is a picture. I don’t know what this site is, but the little picture of the scroll and parts is fine to show a kid or print out. (And, I didn’t get a pop-up message or a virus.)