From Jerusalem to Jerusalem

Celebrating the Sigd


From Ethiopia to Israel – from Jerusalem to Jerusalem

The Holiday of Sigd, that falls this year on Wednesday, 23 Nov, 2022 (Erev Chag on Tuesday 22.11) is the best known of the customs of the Ethiopian Beta Israel Community.  

But what is it and what is being celebrated?

picture from: מצילומי יהודית גרעין-כל

Sigd is connected to the Hebrew word Sgida meaning worship. Sigd is a holiday unique to the Ethiopian community that commemorates the renewal of the covenant between God and the people of Israel seven weeks after Yom Kippur.

In Ethiopia, the community’s tradition was to take the Holy books and go on a pilgrimage to a certain high mountain that looked towards Jerusalem and to recite special prayers there. Since coming to Israel, the community has made a practice to make pilgrimage to the Armon HaNatziv promenade in southern Jerusalem that looks out over the Old City and the Temple Mount from the south.

Sigd is an important symbol of the great yearning of the Ethiopian community to come to Jerusalem – a yearning that held communities together over generations. Many Ethiopians who immigrated to Israel recall the strength that the dream of aliyah gave to them, supporting each difficult step on the road they walked and trekked, until its realization upon arrival.

Today the Ethiopian community has arrived in the land of Israel but the Jerusalem they dreamed of – that Godly city that is purely wisdom and justice – is still far from reality. Sigd celebrates the hope that is as relevant as ever.

For non-Ethiopian Israelis, Sigd offers an opportunity to learn about the Ethiopian community and its special traditions, including the difficult journey that its members made on the way to Israel and the difficulties that are exposed in every meeting of dream and reality.

Across our congregations and school curricula being led by our rabbis and educators, many are engaging in discussions about the Ethiopian community, its heritage and practices, and sharing new traditions today with their communities.

Five Things to Know about Sigd

  • The word Sigd means worship, bowing down, and it symbolizes the consciousness of complete submission to God, which exists in Ethiopian theology. The holiday is also called Mehalla (supplication).
  • Sigd is a 2500 year old holiday! The origin of the holiday is from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Following the return from the Babylonian exile to Jerusalem, the people decided to renew the covenant between God and the people of Israel. Because of this, the holiday served as an opportunity to demonstrate absolute loyalty to God.
  • Sigd falls on the 29th day of the month of Cheshvan – exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur – similar to the holiday of Shavuot starting 50 days after Pesach.
  • The central ceremony of Sigd is held on top of a high mountain, as a symbol of Mount Sinai, and is managed entirely by the community priests (the kisims).
  • In 2008, the Knesset approved a bill for the holiday of Sigd, establishing it as an official holiday in the State of Israel, and, in practice: holding an annual state ceremony to mark the holiday, teaching about the holiday in school curriculu, and providing an optional vacation day for observers.

One more point of interest about Sigd:

The Beta Israel community brought from Ethiopia a rich and deep Jewish tradition that is different from both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Judaism. This tradition, according to certain claims, preserved some of the customs that were practiced in the Temple itself. By opening our congregations and community to sharing in their observance, we aim to reflect the true diversity in practice and faith of the Jewish people.

Picture in Header by בני וודו, Cc-by-sa-3.0

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