Photo Credit: Ilene Perlman
A copy of the Orit is displayed to worshipers during the 2013 Sigd.

In his address, MK Shimon Solomon suggested that the Sigd holiday has three primary functions: to safeguard Jewish identity and assure that Jews remain distinct from gentiles; to safeguard the Jewish way of life; and to bring about peace in the home and between friends.

“The Sigd is my answer to those who question our Jewishness,” MK Solomon declared.

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Rabbi Yosef Hadane, the Chief Rabbi of the Ethiopian community, stressed the significance and historical context of the Sigd in his speech. “This day is important for us, the Jews from Ethiopia, as well as for the entire nation of Israel — as all of Israel are responsible for one another,” he said.

The rabbi recounted that in Ethiopia the practice was for Jews to gather and ascend a mountain during the Sigd, to pray, and afterwards to return to the synagogue.

“Why don’t we pray in the synagogue? Why do we climb a mountain?” Rabbi Hadane asked.

He explained that the Sigd practice of worshiping outdoors, on a mountain, is connected to the original receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

“We celebrate in commemoration of Ezra and Nehemiah,” the rabbi said, describing how the Jews in the Land of Israel had forgotten much of the Torah and intermingled with the local non-Jewish population as a result of the Babylonian exile, but that when Ezra arrived he reorganized the community “so that all will be according to the ways of Moses and Israel.” As a result, the Jewish community repented and recommitted itself to the covenant with God in Jerusalem.

“Gentlemen,” Rabbi Hadane said, returning to his point about why the holiday is celebrated atop a mountain, “the acceptance of the Torah at that time was similar to the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai,” and each year that covenant is renewed during the Sigd.

As the Sigd has a strong element of repentance, it is also a fast day. Following the services, the worshipers joyously escorted the qessotch to a specially erected tent at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, in which the fast was broken. After some traditional celebratory Ethiopian dancing, the qessotch recited blessings and then passed out chunks of bread to the people crowded within, and the Sigd ceremony at the Promenade concluded.

Following the Sigd, I visited the Netanya home of Qes Emaha Negat, one of the oldest qessotch in Israel. Among the topics the qes talked about was the importance of maintaining Ethiopian Jewry’s unique religious heritage in the state of Israel, including the Sigd celebration.

“The Sigd isn’t something that the community formed there [in Ethiopia]. It was instituted here, in Jerusalem, after the return from the Babylonian exile,” Qes Emaha said, citing a tradition about the holiday. “And so our community safeguarded it, to strengthen Judaism, and we kept it for 2,500 years. We don’t understand why the rest of the Jewish nation didn’t maintain it. And now we want the entire Jewish nation to safeguard this heritage.”

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