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A Respectful Rejection

October 6, 2023
by Tamar Zeffren

The holiday of Simchat Torah (translated as “Rejoicing with or of the Torah”) commemorates the completion of an annual cycle of Torah readings, followed immediately by the start of a new cycle. Among the many festive practices accompanying this milestone are the awarding of certain “honors” associated with the Torah reading. One of these honors is called Hatan or Chatan Bereshit: In Hebrew, Hatan means “bridegroom” and “Bereshit” is the Hebrew name for Genesis, the first Torah portion, which describes the creation of the world.

These honors are considered a mark of distinction, and are frequently conferred upon distinguished members or leaders in the community. However, in a September 9, 1794 letter, Bernard S. Judah, a New York merchant, respectfully declines this recognition, stating that he finds it is “rather too early in life for me to accept of[sic] the office.”

Letter from B. S. Judah to Mr. S. Nathan, declining the honor of Chatan Bereshit. Jacques Judah Lyons Papers (P-15)