Daily Israel Report

Ethiopian Jewish Sigd Festival to Become National Holiday

The Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd will soon become a national holiday. Preliminary legislation was approved Wednesday.
By Ezra HaLevi
First Publish: 1/31/2008, 12:31 PM

The Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd will soon become a national holiday. Preliminary legislation submitted by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) was approved Wednesday.

The proposal was supported by MKs from National Union, NRP, Shas and Likud, as well as Labor and Meretz.

The ramifications of adopting Sigd as a national holiday would be that the Education Ministry would teach about it in schools and employees would be given the option to take the day off, such as is currently the practice for days like Jerusalem Day and the holiday of Purim. The Prime Minister’s Office would also be assigned the responsibility of funding the yearly Sigt festivities in Jerusalem.

Sigd takes place on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, exactly fifty days after Yom Kippur. The holiday is pronounced Sigd (one syllable), which means prostration in Amharic and shares its root with the word for temple. The ceremony resembles the one held for the renewal of the Divine covenant by Ezra the Scribe during the Second Commonwealth, described in the Book of Nechemia. "All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel" (Nehemiah 8:1)

Prior to their immigration to Israel, the Beta Israel (meaning 'House of Israel') or Falasha (meaning ‘strangers,’ a term used by their non-Jewish neighbors in Africa) community would observe Sigd each year on mountaintops outside their villages. The Kessim, the community's rabbis and ritual leaders, would ascend the mountain, which was meant to represent Mount Sinai.

Upon the Aliyah (immigration to Israel) of Ethiopia’s Jews, the holiday has become both a celebration of returning to Zion and a longing for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Ethiopian Jews gather from all across Israel at the Armon HaNetziv Promenade, overlooking the Temple Mount.

MK Ariel says he submitted the bill to share the beauty of the holiday with all of Israel, as well as to give the Ethiopian Jewish community the recognition it deserves. “The Ethiopian community has preserved customs dating back to the days of the Holy Temple and even Biblical times,” the bill states. “The acceptance of this holiday by the Knesset and the State of Israel will allow for the revival of an age-old tradition and the strengthening of the Ethiopian community's identification with and involvement in the Israeli community at large.”

The bill will next be voted upon by the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee.

Click here for an Arutz Sheva photo feature on Sigd.