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Celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community, Sigd marks the 50th day after Yom Kippur and marks the renewal of the covenant between the Jewish people, God and the Torah, beginning with a fast and ending with celebration.

The festival takes place on the 29th of Cheshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur (10th of Tishrei). According to the Ethiopian tradition, ultimate divine forgiveness requires more than individual repentance on Yom Kippur. Consequently, a period of 50 Days, similar to the time period between Pesach and Shavuot, is required for the community to come together for communal introspection and atonement. The culmination of the 50 days is the festival of Sigd.

Rabbi Dr. Sharon (Zewde) Shalom, a Rabbi of the Ethiopian community in Israel, suggested 5 underlying reasons behind the institution and perpetuation of the festival.

  1. Commemoration of Matan Torah (God’s revelation of the Torah), and strengthening the community’s commitment to its study and practice.
  2. Renewal of the covenant with God, in a similar fashion to the renewal experienced in the days of Ezra (Nehemiah 8 – 10).
  3. Encouraging the community to preserve their Jewish identity, and to remain steadfast in their observance of the Mitzvot (commandments), notwithstanding the difficulties involved, and despite their traditional isolation from other Jewish communities.
  4. A day of fasting, repentance, and supplication to God, for heavenly salvation.
  5. Promoting unity and connection among members of the community.

Tu B’Av, the 15th day of Av, is considered one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar, for on this day, many happy events contributing to the unity of the Jewish people took place. In ancient times, this day was celebrated in a unique way. The unmarried women of Jerusalem would dress in white and dance in the vineyards, where they would meet unmarried men and seek their soulmates. In modern times, the 15 Av is considered an auspicious day for weddings.

6 significant events are associated with Tu B’Av

  1. Before entering the Land of Israel, a group of spies went to assess the land. They returned with a very negative report, and outraged at their evil report, God decreed that none of those that had left Egypt would enter the land and that they would all die in the desert. Every year of their 40-year sojourn in the desert, numerous Jews would die. In the 40th year, these annual deaths ceased happening on the 15th of Av, marking the day as one of great celebration.
  2. During the desert sojourn and the initial conquest and settlement of Israel, the 12 tribes were not permitted to intermarry. This was enacted to maintain the initial land distribution for each tribe. On the 15th of Av, when the land was eventually divided and settled, the tribes were once again permitted to intermarry.
  3. Following the incident of Pilegesh B’Givah (Judges 19-21), the tribe of Binymain was proscribed from marrying any other tribe. On the 15th of Av this ban was rescinded.
  4. The Altar in the temple required large amounts of firewood to keep it running daily. Tu B’Av was the day when the wood was finally gathered for the upcoming.
  5. Following the split in the Unified Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, posted guards on the highways to prevent people from visiting the Temple during the Festivals. This continued for over 2 centuries until the last king of the Northern Kingdom, Hoshea, removed the guards and allowed travel to the Temple.
  6. During the Bar Kochba revolt, the ancient city of Beitar was massacred, but the Romans did not allow the burial of those killed. On the 15th of Av permission was granted to enter Beitar and perform burial rites. A miracle had occurred and the bodies had not decomposed.
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