Sigd: A Little Known Israeli Holiday

Nov 23, 2022

וְיֵשׁ־תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָה וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם׃

And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem: Your children shall return to their country.

v'-yaysh tik-VAH l'-a-kha-ree-TAYKH n'-um a-do-NAI v'-SHA-vu va-NEEM lig-vu-LAM

Jeremiah 31:16

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

Today, the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, is Sigd, a holiday unique to Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews. Celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sigd is a  Ge’ez/Amharic word meaning “prostration” or “worship”. 

What exactly does this holiday commemorate and how is it celebrated?

Sigd symbolizes the acceptance of the Torah. Traditionally, Beta Israel would purify themselves by bathing in a river. They would then make a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain, ritually commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, where they would read from the Torah.  During the ceremony, the members of the community would kneel, bow and direct their hands at the sky. This was followed by the blowing of trumpets, while they recited: “As we have had the fortune to celebrate the holiday this year, may have the fortune to hold it in Jerusalem in the next year.” They recited a confession of their sins after which the Kes (Rabbi) would give a lesson on the Torah. They then partook in a festive meal. 

The holiday of Sigd, as celebrated in Ethiopia, not only commemorated the giving of the Torah but recalled the longing on the part of the Ethiopian Jewish community to return to Israel and live as full Jews in every sense of the word.

Today, the majority of the Beta Israel community has made aliyah to the State of Israel and their dream of “next year in Jerusalem” has materialized. Ethiopian Jews now celebrate Sigd at the Western Wall! Members of the community fast, recite Psalms, and gather in Jerusalem where Kessim (holy men) read from the Orit (the Octateuch). The ritual is followed by the breaking of the fast, dancing, and general revelry.

Sigd is a very important day for the Ethiopian community, and in 2008 the Knesset officially recognized it as such, adding the Sigd holiday to the list of official State holidays. The holiday serves as an annual gathering of the entire Ethiopian community and they see it as a chance to strengthen their affinity to their history and culture. 

The fact that Sigd is celebrated on the 29th of Cheshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), serves as an important lesson for us all. Yom Kippur is a powerful day – a day when we renew our covenant with God and when we remember what really matters in this life.  But of course, as time goes by, the clarity of Yom Kippur begins to fade.  And so now, 50 days after the high moments of Yom Kippur, our Ethiopian brothers are reminding us to pause, close our eyes, and remember how we felt on that holy day.

This is a significant lesson for all aspects of our lives. Sometimes we have moments of inspiration, moments of closeness to God, moments of clarity. But then we go back to our regular lives and those moments fade. Sigd teaches us that we should not just let those moments get lost in the business of everyday life, but we should do something to make sure that they last and leave an impact on our lives. Take time every once in a while to reflect back on those moments and make sure you are living the life that you really want to live.

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