HAKKAFOT (Heb. הַקָּפוֹת), term used to designate ceremonial processional circuits both in the synagogue and outside it, on various occasions.
Such circuits are mentioned in the Bible. There were, for instance, seven circuits around Jericho (once a day for six days, and seven times on the seventh day; Josh. 6:14–15). The Mishnah records that the lulav was carried around the Temple altar during the seven days of *Sukkot (Suk. 3:12). Although the Gemara makes no mention of similar circuits during Sukkot in the post-Temple period, both Hai Gaon (B.M. Lewin, Oẓar ha-Ge'onim (1934), Sukkah, 60, no. 151), and Saadiah Gaon (in his Siddur) mention the custom of making a circuit around the synagogue with the lulav and etrog on Sukkot. Nowadays a single circuit is made around the bimah on each of the first six days of Sukkot (except for the Sabbath) during the chanting of *hoshanot at the close of the Musaf service. On *Hoshana Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot, the procession around the bimah is repeated seven times. It is related that on this day, Hai Gaon used to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and there make seven processional circuits around The Mount of Olives (Sefer Ḥasidim, ed. by J. Wistinetzki (19242), no. 630). The Torah scrolls are carried around the synagogue in processional circuits during both the Ma'ariv and Shaḥarit services on *Simḥat Torah (a custom first mentioned by Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau, 14th–15th century; Minhagim (Lunéville (1806), 51a). The Ḥasidim perform these hakkafot also at the conclusion of the Ma'ariv service on *Shemini Aẓeret. In Reform congregations, these hakkafot are performed on Shemini Aẓeret. In Israel where Simḥat Torah coincides with Shemini Aẓeret, many congregations perform hakkafot again after Ma'ariv at the completion of the festival. With the advent of the Jewish women's movement in the 1970s, particularly in the United States, there was an on-going attempt to include women above the age of bat mitzvah in traditional synagogue ritual. This effort has had an impact across the spectrum of contemporary Jewish life. By the beginning of the 21st century, it was not unusual in modern/centrist Orthodox circles to give women one or more of the congregational Torah scrolls with which to make hakkafot and with which to dance. In most Conservative/masorti and in all Reconstructionist and Reform congregations, women and men participate in the same hakkafot and dance together with the Torah scrolls.
Hakkafot are also performed on a number of other occasions. For instance, Torah scrolls are carried around in a processional circuit during the dedication of both synagogues and cemeteries. In a number of communities, it is customary for the bride to make either three or seven hakkafot around the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony. The Sephardim and Ḥasidim walk around a coffin seven times prior to burial. It is also customary to walk around the cemetery when praying for the sick.
On all of these occasions one may note the juxtaposition of the "magic circle" with the mystical figure of seven, and the implied attempt to dissuade shedim ("evil spirits") from intruding upon the object of attention. With regard to the funerary hakkafot it has been suggested that the purpose is to ward off the spirits of the dead man's unborn children and to appease them with symbolic gifts of money. It is also significant that *Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel's miracles were performed after he had made a circuit (in the form of a drawn circle), around the place on which he stood (Ta'an. 19a, 23a).
ET, 10 (1961), 539; Eisenstein, Dinim, 105.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.