We have been davening Shabbat afternoon with the Plag HaMinchah split (Mincha before Plag and Ma’ariv after Plag), as we are davening outside in an unlit backyard. Scheduling hakafot for that early feels wrong — when davening Ma’ariv for the next day (whether it’s Yom Tov or chol), everyone then walks home and continues to act like Shabbat until Tzeit HaKokhavim. But to dance hakafot and publicly celebrate the next day of Yom Tov while it is still Shabbat feels different. Am I right in thinking that there might be halakhic issues with starting Simchat Torah publicly so early in the day? Any practical suggestions on what to do?
Starting hakafot of Simchat Torah on Shabbat after Plag – so there are two questions here – one about any technical issur, the other about is it a pegam in the kavod of Shabbat. For the technical issur you are fine – if you think that clapping is okay because we aren’t choshesh for שמא יתקן כלי שיר, then the same is true about dancing, and I don’t see dancing with the Torah to be a problem of the spirit of Shabbat.
As to the question of whether bringing Simchat Torah into Shabbat is a pegam in the kedushah of Shabbat: simply making an early meal and Kiddush would not be this problem, but this is very different in terms of the activity (and also, Kiddush just mentions Shemini Atzeret, which is consistent with Shabbat, here the expression is very much that of Simchat Torah). I think the jumping off point here is the Tosafot in Sukkah 47a, s.v. מתיב, that discusses why we sit in a sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, according to the Gemara, based on sefeika deyoma, but we don’t take a lulav. He writes,
בלולב לא רצו לתקן כלל שיטלנו הלולב מספק לפי שהוא י”ט ומוקצה לטלטול ומינכר’ למילתיה שנוהג בו מנהג חול אבל סוכה פעמים שסוכתו עריבה עליו אוכל בה אפי’ בי”ט.
On the one hand, he says that sitting in a sukkah is not obviously done for the mitzvah – maybe you just want to sit outside. This would suggest that the contrast to lulav is that it is obviously done for the mitzvah, and therefore that is a pegam in Shemini Atzeret. But his language is that it is muktzah, and that taking it is treating the day as if it were a weekday! Since Shabbat, without sefeika d’yoma, a lulav is muktzah, taking it makes it seem like Shabbat is a weekday, or that you are violating the kedushah of Shabbat.
So, I think in this case, since dancing is possible on Shabbat, there is no pegam in doing something which is associated with Simchat Torah. It is not like the muktzah case. Also, at the end of the day, Simchat Torah is really Shemini Atzeret, and in Israel they combine the two – they will be doing dancing on Shabbat! So it is hard to say that dancing with the Torah on Shabbat compromises Shabbat in any way.