Shemini Atzeret is a festival celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Outside of Israel, an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately known as Simchat Torah.
Shemini Atzeret is referred to as the eighth day of the Festival of Sukkot (Rosh Hashana 4b); however this is actually a separate festival. There is no use of the Succah in Israel on Shemini Atzeret and the Lulav and Etrog are not used. However this festival continues the theme of the ‘’Time of Our Happiness’’ just as it is used during the Succot festival (Succah 48a).
Furthermore, in the Gemarah of ‘Rosh Hashanah,’ it mentions that Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday unto itself in respect to six specific Halachic (Jewish law) matters, but is considered the eighth day of an eight-day holiday (Rosh Hashana 4b).
The Jews start to ask for rain during the ‘Geshem’ prayer in this festival, which is recited in a distinctive plaintive melody during the chazan’s repetition of the Musaf prayer. A brief mention of rain continues to be inserted in the Amidah until Pesach. As we are approaching the autumn and winter seasons, we pray for rain to provide blessing for the world and all the nations. This festival is not just a festival praying for the welfare of the Jewish nation, it is for the welfare of all seventy nations!
The Yizkor (memorial service) is also recited this day in Ashkenazi Synagogues. The book of Kohelet is usually recited on Shemini Atzeret, although this is depending on the area or custom, it may also be read on the first day of Succot. This book was narrated by the wisest of men of all time, King Soloman.
This festival is very much described in Parshat Emor in the book of Vayikra. The Haftorah read on this festival comes from the first book of Kings, verses 54 – 66 in Chapter 8 (Kings I 8:54-66). This describes the construction of the First Temple in the days of King Solomon. The Torah reading is from Chapters 14 to 16 in the book of Devarim (Devarim 14:22-16:17), which is all in Parshat Re’eh. This reading describes the festivals in the Jewish religion. The Maftir reading is from Parshat Pinchus (Bamidbar 29:35-39).