Chag HaSukkot is the third of the three annual chagim (Pilgrimage Festivals) in the Hebrew Calendar. In English this chag is known as the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles. For seven days we are commanded to live in sukkot (huts).
יהוה spoke to Moshe, saying: Say to the Yisraelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be Chag HaSukkot to יהוה, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to יהוה. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to יהוה; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations. …
You shall observe it as a festival of יהוה for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in sukkot seven days; all citizens in Yisrael shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Yisraelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Mitzrayim, I יהוה your God. (Vayikra 23:33-36,41-43)1
Chag HaSukkot is a time of joy and celebration. It is the final celebration and thanksgiving for the year’s harvest. During the times of the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash offerings were brought on each day of Chag HaSukkot. Zekharyah prophesied a time when all the Nations will join Yisrael in Chag HaSukkot and worship יהוה.
All who survive of all those nations that came up against Yerushalayim shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King יהוה of Hosts and to observe Chag HaSukkot. (Zekharya 14:16)1
B’nei Yisrael is commanded to live in the sukkah – eating, drinking, reading, and praying there – throughout the chag. According to Karaite tradition, the sukkah must be large enough to accommodate everyone who wishes to enter it. The sukkah must be open to the sky and have a roof covered entirely in branches. It is also customary to decorate the sukkah with colorful cloth and fresh fruit.2
Shemini Atzeret – known in English as the Eighth Day of Assembly – is a day of assembly that immediately follows Chag HaSukkot on the twenty-second day of the seventh month.
… On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to יהוה; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations. (Vayikra 23:36)1
Shemini Atzeret is a time of gathering for B’nei Yisrael as noted in Melakhim Aleph 8:66 and Divrei HaYamim Beit 7:10. It is on this day that the annual reading of the Torah is completed and a new Torah-reading cycle begins.
This is also a day of celebration in the Karaite Beit Knesset (synagogue). On this day all young students who have completed a level of their Hebrew studies walk in a processional to the beit knesset. After the processional the Sefer Torah is taken out of the Aron (Ark) and carried around the Beit Knesset in a processional. During this processional the boys and girls read a portion of a verse from the Torah which is completed by the congregation.2
1Stein, David (ed.). JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philaelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
2al-Qirqisani Center. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom. Troy, NY: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003.