Understanding the Sigd Holiday of Ethiopian Jewry

Belaynesh Zevadia remebers the holiday in Ethiopia: 'We went up the hill & prayed 'Next year in Jerusalem.' Now we're celebrating in Israel'

Yoni Kempinski ,

Marking the Sigd holiday in Jerusalem
Marking the Sigd holiday in Jerusalem
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Belaynesh Zevadia was born in the Gondar region of Ethiopia. She immigrated to Israel in 1984, and was the first immigrant from Ethiopia to enter the Israeli Foreign Service as a trainee, working at Israeli consulate posts in Houston and Chicago.

In 2012, she was appointed ambassador to Ethiopia, becoming the first immigrant from Ethiopia to Israel to serve as an Israeli ambassador.

In 2016, she was the Israeli ambassador to Rwanda. Now she is an official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

She explained her perspective of the Sigd holiday: "When I was in Ethiopia, it was something we waited for one full year, to celebrate this holiday," Zevadia told Arutz Sheva. "It's a holiday that we count from Yom Kippur 50 days, like Ezra and Nechemia did."

Sigd, a holiday celebrated by the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jewish community and almost unknown to the rest of Jewry prior to the group's aliyah to Israel, falls on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, the 50th day after the Yom Kippur fast.

The word “Sigd” ( ሰግድ ) is based on the Aramaic word “segida,” which is used to describe a form of bowing in worship to G-d. The holiday is sometimes known as "Mehallela" (ምህልላ), meaning supplication.

Traditionally, the day is split into two: A lengthy service featuring prayers, supplications and fasting, and a festive meal at night.

Ethiopian Jews, cut off from the rest of the Jewish world and the Oral Law for centuries, interpreted the biblical commandment "And you shall count from the day after the Shabbat… seven full weeks" to mean starting from the day after Yom Kippur, called "Shabbaton" in the Bible – whereas all other Jews count seven full weeks called "Counting the Omer", during the 49 days that separate the Passover and Shavuot holidays.

However, Sigd has other aspects to its observance. It is also a yearly reacceptance of the Torah, modeled after the reacceptance ceremony led by Ezra the Scribe in the month of Heshvan, when the Jews returned from Babylon to build the Second Temple (Nehemiah 9, 1-3).

"We went up to the hill in the morning, fasting, to pray, to say thank you to G-d, and to pray, 'Next year in Jerusalem.' Now we are celebrating it here, in Israel."

"My grandfather performed the holiday. He was like the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Ethiopia and he performed the celebration and prayers."

"We always dreamed that we would be part of the Jewish Community in Israel," Zevadia said.



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