Shalom, everyone! Sigd is celebrated by Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish community) on the 29th day of the eighth month (Cheshvan) on the post-exilic Hebrew Calendar. The holiday falls exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur on the post-exilic Hebrew calendar, corresponding to late October or late November on the Gregorian calendar.
According to Beta Israel tradition, Sigd commemorates the day that Y-H-V-H (YAH) first revealed Himself to Moshe. The word “Sigd” is an Amharic word meaning “prostration,” “bowing down” or “worship,” however, the Amharic word is originally derived from the Hebrew word “segida” also meaning “bowing down” or “prostration.” On Sigd, the community celebrates the renewal of the alliance between YAH, the people, and the Torah. The holiday is similar to the events recalled in the Book of Nehemiah in which the people of Israel, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, renewed their commitment to YAH and His Torah after their return from the Babylonian Exile. In Nehemiah chapters 8 and 9, the people fasted, lifted their hands to the YAH, bowed their heads and fell prostrate on the ground before Him. They then stood in their place and read from the Torah for a fourth part of the day, then confessed their sins and prostrated themselves for another fourth part of the day. During Sigd, Beta Israel fast, pray, confess their sins, bow before The Creator and plead to return to Zion.
Holiday Celebrations in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Beta Israel would gather from all distant villages to celebrate the Sigd holiday communally. The day before the holiday, the community would wash their special holiday clothing and hold special prayers to welcome the holiday the following day. The “kes” (spiritual leader) would prepare meat from cows and sheep for the festive meal held in the late afternoon at the end of the holiday; during the holiday the community fasted. On the day of Sigd, the ceremonies were conducted on a high mountain because it was considered pure and resembled the setting at Mount Sinai where the Torah was originally given. The kessim (plural of kes) would climb the mountain, reinforce its surrounding fence and prepare a place for the “Orit” (Ethiopian Tanakh) in front of the area.
Early in the morning on the day of Sigd, the community would bathe in the nearby river, get dressed and gather at the house of prayer. The kes would then remove the Orit from its place and lead the community in song and prayer up to the mountain where the Sigd ceremonies would be held. Members of the community often carried stones with them signifying regret for their sins and their surrender before YAH.
The Sigd ceremonies opened with readings from the Orit in Geez (the ancient language of Ethiopia and Eritrea) which were then translated to Amharic. The readings included the Receiving of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, Nehemiah‘s ceremony of renewal in Nehemiah Chapters 8 and 9, excepts from the Books of Leviticus, Kings, Jeremiah, Daniel and the Psalms. The kessim would also pray and the deliver sermons to the people. Throughout the ceremonies, members of the community would kneel, bow and raise their hands to the sky. There would also be the blowing of trumpets at intervals while the community said: “As we have had the fortune to celebrate the holiday this year, we shall have the fortune to hold it in Jerusalem in the next year.” This would then be followed by prayers expressing the community’s joy, comfort, and hope for the return to Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Following these ceremonies, the community would return to the house of prayer to break their fast with the festive meal, accompanied by song and dance. The festive meal resembles a Passover Seder.
Holiday Celebrations in Israel
Today, the majority of Beta Israel now live in the State of Israel. For Sigd, members of the Beta Israel community make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall and then gather at the “Armon HaNatziv” promenade for additional open-air ceremonies. The kessim lead the community in prayer and carry the Orit while holding very colorful umbrellas. The holiday now serves as an opportunity to reinforce Beta Israel history and culture among its younger members who were born in the State of Israel. After the ceremonies at the promenade, the community continues to fast until the late afternoon when a festive meal is held.
In 2008, Sigd was declared a national holiday in the State of Israel. As the holiday has gained more acceptance, many non-Ethiopian Jews now join Beta Israel in Sigd celebrations.