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Ethiopian Jewry: Sigd Holiday

Sigd is an Amharic word meaning “prostration” or “worship” and is the commonly used name for a holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This date is exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, usually falling out in late October or November, and according to Ethiopian Jewish tradition is also the date that God first revealed himself to Moses.

Traditionally on Sigd, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community would fast for a day during which they would meet in the morning and walk together to the highest point on a mountain. The “Kessim,” spritual leaders of the community, would carry the “Orit,” the Ethiopian Torah, which is written in the ancient Geez language and comprised of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophetic writings, and other writings such as Song of Songs and Psalms. The Kessim recited parts of the Orit, including the Book of Nehemiah. On that day, members of the community recited Psalms and remembered the Torah, its traditions, and their desire to return to Jerusalem. In the afternoon they would descend back to the village and break their fast, dance and rejoice in a sort of seder reminiscent of Passover.

The holiday symbolizes the Jewish covenant in receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai in addition to the reacceptance of the Torah that was led by Ezra the Scribe before the construction of the Second Temple. Its date is analogous to the 50 days which are counted between Passover and Shavuot when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai.

The Ethiopian community in Israel has been celebrating the holiday by holding a mass ceremony on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, topped with a procession to the Western Wall. Recently, the ceremony has been held in Jerusalem's Armon Hanatziv Promenade.

In February 2008, MK Uri Ariel submitted legislation to the Knesset that would see Sigd established as an Israeli national holiday. In July of that year the Knesset followed Ariel’s suggestion and added Sigd to the list of State holidays. The law states that in addition to being a state holiday, the Sigd would also be marked in a special assembly organized by the Ministry of Education. The holiday's history, traditions and ceremonies will be included in the educational system's curriculum and going to work during the holiday will be optional.

Sigd is now typically celebrated in a ceremony at the residence of Israel’s president and attended by thousands of Ethiopian Jews and dignitaries.

Sources: “Ethiopian Sigd made official State holiday,” Ynet. (February 7, 2008).
Elad Benari, “Sigd Celebrations Begin,” Arutz Sheva, (October 11, 2010).
“Sigd,” Wikipedia.
Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ).

Photo: Sigd - ?????? ???????? ???? ????? ???????, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.