web analytics
November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Ethiopian Jewry to Celebrate Annual Sigd Holiday

Sigd means “prostration” or “bowing down” in Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian liturgical language.
Ethiopian Jews take part in a the Sigd holiday prayer in Jerusalem.

Ethiopian Jews take part in a the Sigd holiday prayer in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Until the middle of twentieth century, the Jews of Ethiopia lived in almost complete isolation from other Jewish communities across the globe, preserving and developing distinctive religious traditions not found in the rest of Jewry. In the 1980s they began leaving Africa for Israel in the thousands, and at present almost none remain in Ethiopia.

In addition to other challenges, their emigration from Ethiopia to Israel entailed—such as transitioning from village life to living in a more technologically advanced society, and becoming a minority as far as their skin-color—Ethiopian Jews also practiced a form of Judaism that was unfamiliar to most of their coreligionists.

Among Ethiopian Jewry’s unique traditions is the Sigd, an annual holiday which will be celebrated on October 31 this year. On that day, thousands of Ethiopian Jews from across Israel will ascend to Jerusalem, primarily to the Armon Hanatziv Promenade that overlooks the Old City. Since 2008, the Sigd has been an official Israeli state holiday, though it continues to be celebrated mainly by the country’s Jewish community from Ethiopia, which now numbers about 130,000.

On the morning preceding last year’s Sigd celebration, I visited the apartment of one of the oldest qessotch — priests who are the traditional spiritual leaders of Jews from Ethiopia — in Israel. Born in the Gondar district of Ethiopia, seventy-nine-year-old Qes Emaha Negat moved to Israel in 1991, and now lives in the sea-side city of Netanya. Clothed entirely in white, his head wrapped in a white turban, and speaking Hebrew and Amharic, Qes Emaha recounted the biblical events in which the Sigd is rooted.

Sigd means “prostration” or “bowing down” in Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian liturgical language. The holiday commemorates and is patterned after events described in the biblical Book of Nehemiah. Chapter 9 records that on the 24th of Tishrei, the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, fasting, wearing sackcloth, and putting dust on their heads. They read from the Torah for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping God. The 6th century BCE gathering culminated in the Jews publically recommitting themselves to the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Joined by his wife, Zena Malasa, as well as by his granddaughter, Facika Savhat, Qes Emaha paused in his explanation of the holiday’s origins. He expressed concern that the Sigd has been losing its religious significance in Israel, and is more and more becoming a cultural event. October or November serve up an array of activities and programs connected with Ethiopian Jewry in the lead up to the holiday, but many of them lack a religious framework. “Whoever goes to Jerusalem tomorrow with pure thoughts, candidly, will celebrate the holiday as it should be,” he said. “One must come to serve God and to pray. It’s not just a social gathering.”

One of the first worshipers I encountered in Jerusalem on the morning of the Sigd celebration was Adgo Salehu. Dressed in white and draped in a red, yellow, and green sash, Salehu arrived early at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, where he located a prime spot to situate his tripod-mounted video camera and record the celebration. On finding out that I had traveled from the United States to participate in the holiday, he smiled broadly. “This day of prayer must not be only for the Jews from Ethiopia, but for the whole nation,” Salehu said. “It is important that the Sigd holiday develops and expands, and that more people join in its celebration.”

During the Sigd, dozens of qessotch assemble at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade on a specially-constructed platform adorned with the flags of Israel and Jerusalem. Some are dressed all in white; others wear cloaks of embroidered gold, blue, purple, or black, adorned with large Stars of David. In addition to multi-colored parasols, the qessotch carry fly whisks and walking sticks, all three items representing their honoured position. Behind them, the stone walls of the Old City glimmer in the sunlight.

Beneath a “Welcome to the Sigd Holiday” banner written in Hebrew and Amharic, the qessotch chant prayers in Ge’ez and Agaw. Biblical passages, including those describing the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and the renewal of the covenant by the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile, are read to the congregation in Ge’ez, and then translated into Amharic, the first language of many members of the Jewish community from Ethiopia.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Ethiopian Jewry to Celebrate Annual Sigd Holiday”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Yehudah Glick on the Temple Mount.
Yehuda Glick’s Condition Stabilizing, “He Was Very Lucky” (1:00 PM)
Latest News Stories
Raining in Jerusalem

Starting the 7th of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar, Jews in Israel will start inserting the formal request for rain in the 9th blessing of the Amidah prayer.

Yehudah Glick on the Temple Mount.

Doctors are predicting minimal long-term disability to Yehudah Glick following surgery today.

Ikea Instruction

Sweden and John Kerry would make wonderful partners to get lost in the same maze.

Little Heroes

Pictured is an IDF ceremony for graduates of the “Little Heroes” foundation, which works to integrate kids with special needs in society, on October 30, 2014. The annual ceremony is in cooperation with the Logistics Corps in order to strengthen the connection between the IDF and the special needs community.

“It’s serious, there are now genuine questions being asked about whether we will be able to vote Labor next May.”

Does that mean Kerry also will stay away?

He is not in a coma and may undergo another operation today.

Israel’s anti-Netanyahu media might regret their wishes if early elections are held.

Authorities in Peru this week arrested a suspected Hezbollah terrorist who planned to murder Jews. Lebanese citizen Mohammed Hamden was in possession of explosives and other materials when he was arrested, according to the Peruvian Interior Ministry. Police found traces of TNT, detonators and other explosive devices in his apartment. Reports indicate that the suspect […]

Israel decides not to go ahead with huge military purchase from U.S., likely to provoke rumors of continuing feud.

Highlight: Exclusive Interview with Rabbi Yehuda Glick at the Foot of the Temple Mount.

Doctors reported as of 8 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday night that there is a “very small” improvement in the condition of Yehuda Glick, gunned down by an Arab terrorists Wednesday night, but that he still is in critical condition and his life remains in danger.

Foreign Minister Lieberman may be playing “chicken.” What happens if France follows Sweden?

Conference of Jewish groups chided the Obama administration for the nasty comments made about Bibi.

More Articles from Shai Afsai
A copy of the Orit is displayed to worshipers during the 2013 Sigd.

“Sigd” means bowing or prostration in Ge’ez, and the service includes frequent bowing and prostration on the part of worshipers.

Left to right: Rabbi Wayne Franklin, Elder Ovadiah Agbai, and Elder Pinchas Ogbukaa speaking to students at Temple Emanu-El's Religious School.

There are some 3,000 members of the Igbo ethnic group practicing Judaism in Nigeria.

Sigd means “prostration” or “bowing down” in Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian liturgical language.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/uncategorized/ethiopian-jewry-to-celebrate-annual-sigd-holiday/2013/10/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: