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Sigd – An Ethiopian Jewish Holiday

Who, What, WhenDid you know?

By Rabbi Fabian Werbin

The Jewish calendar is a treasure that has many jewels. We all enjoy our holidays, repent during the fast days, and try to remember what the next event in the calendar is in order to get ready for it.

Have you ever heard of a celebration called Sigd? I bet you haven’t…

Sigd is an Amharic (not Aramaic, but Amharic, the Ethiopian language) word meaning “prostration” or “worship.” Sigd 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 and, according to Ethiopian Jewish tradition, is also the date that G-d first revealed himself to Moses. Previously, Sigd was celebrated on the 29th of Kislev, but after a calendar reform it was moved to its present day, 50 days after Yom Kippur.

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,” spiritual 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 (as stated in the Book of Nehemiah). 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. In July 2008, the Knesset added Sigd to the list of State holidays. The law states that in addition to being a state holiday, Sigd would also be marked in a special assembly organized by the Ministries of Education, Science, Culture and Sports.

The law also establishes that if 29th of Cheshvan is Shabbat, the celebration is anticipated and takes place on Thursday, the 27th. In 2010, Israeli President Shimon Peres led the annual Sigd celebration with a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem.

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