Tonight is Erev Sigd, and the Jewish Ethiopian community will be celebrating. CAEF sends greetings to our Ethiopian Jewish brothers, sisters, cousins, the majority of whom are in Israel. Let’s all celebrate our diversity, our thousands of years of history, the return of our people from Ethiopia, and the success of their lives in Israel.
The Ethiopian Jewish community lived in complete isolation from other Jewish communities for many centuries, until the mid-20th century when many Ethiopians were air-lifted to Israel. For this reason, the Ethiopian Jewish community, called the Beta Israel, developed many holidays and celebrations that do not exist in other Jewish communities. Airlifts from Ethiopia were resumed this past September, bringing together many families that were long separated.
The name “Sigd” means “prostration” in Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopian liturgical language, but it is related to the word sged (same meaning) in Aramaic, one of the languages of the Talmud.
Sigd is about accepting the Torah and yearning for Israel and the Temple. It is thought to be the date on which God first revealed himself to Moses.
The Sigd holiday is celebrated annually, exactly fifty days after Yom Kippur, on the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. Sigd is a fast day, accompanied by purification and renewal. At the center of the holiday is the renewal of the covenant between the children of Israel and God. The holiday is marked with readings from the holy Ethiopian Jewish text, the Mäṣḥafä Kedus, blessings, and prayers for redemption. The ceremony was usually held on the peak of a tall mountain, symbolically standing in for Mount Sinai, where the Torah was originally given to the children of Israel.
Today, since most members of the Ethiopian Jewish community have made Aliyah to the State of Israel, during the holiday members of the community travel to Jerusalem and visit the Western Wall and the promenade in the city's “Armon Hanatziv” neighborhood. The holiday serves as an annual gathering of the entire Ethiopian community, and its members view it as an opportunity to strengthen their connection with their roots and culture.
The Kessim (Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders), dressed in their traditional robes, carry the Torah scrolls while holding multi-colored umbrellas. They stand on an elevated stage, read excerpts from the Bible and recite prayers before members of the community, also in Hebrew. Public officials attend the celebration and greet the audience, and many of the community members continue to fast until late in the afternoon.
The Knesset legislated the Sigd Law in 2008, declaring the 29th of Heshvan as a national holiday.
Watch Bagels TV, featuring a talk with an Israeli Ethiopian about his childhood journey to Israel and the meaning of Sigd.