Sigd Celebrations
Sigd CelebrationsMark Naiman

Israel’s Ethiopian community officially kicked off its celebrations of the annual Sigd holiday in a special celebration that took place in the residence of President Shimon Peres on Sunday.

Sigd is a holiday which is traditionally marked on the 29th day of the month of Cheshvan, which is 50 days after Yom Kippur. The festival, which is unique to the Ethiopian Jewish community, symbolizes the reacceptance of the Torah led by Ezra the Scribe and that took place before the construction of the Second Temple. Its date is analogous to the 50 days which are counted between Pesach and Shavuot when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. According to the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews who did not undergo conversion to Chiristianity and subsequent return to Judaism as did the Falashmura Jews) tradition, the 29th of Cheshvan is also the day that G-d revealed himself to Moses for the first time on Mount Sinai.

The word “Sigd” is the Amharic word for “prostration”. The celebration of the festival in Israel is marked by a fast and a gathering in Jerusalem, during which the Kessim (the Ethiopian religious leaders) read from the Orit (an Amharic version of the Torah). The ritual is followed by the breaking of the fast, dancing, and general revelry.

In Ethiopia, the community would ascend to the highest point in their dwelling place and pray for their redemption while facing Jerusalem, a city of mystical centrality in the Beta Israel tradition.

The holiday is in fact an act of public self examination, which comes in addition to the private self examination for which each Jewish individual is responsible on Yom Kippur. During the public gathering, the community reaffirms the covenant and expresses its continued hope for the arrival of the final redemption.

Sigd was first celebrated in Israel by members of the Ethiopian community in the early 1980s. In February 2008, MK Uri Ariel submitted legislation to the Knesset that would see Sigd established as an Israeli national holiday. The Knesset officially added Sigd to the list of State holidays in July 2008. The law says that Sigd would be marked on the 29th day of Cheshvan in a special assembly organized by the Ministry of Education.

Photos by Mark Naiman