web analytics
February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post


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.

By the afternoon, the hours of worship and study at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade build to a religious crescendo. The tone of the Sigd chanting becomes increasingly joyous, and the qessotch sway, accompanied by rhythmic drumming. Women raise their hands, ululate, and prostrate, pressing their foreheads to the ground.

When the qessotch descend from their platform at the conclusion of the services, they are quickly surrounded by hundreds of congregants, who accompany them with jubilant cries, applause, and trumpet blasts to a nearby tent, there to break the fast communally following the annual renewal of the covenant.

“I would suggest that Jews in Israel and the rest of the world adopt this holiday,” Rabbi Hadane, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community from Ethiopia, said to me outside the tent. “Our forefathers in Ethiopia always prayed to return to Jerusalem and always prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. We are here, but the vast majority of the Jewish nation is still in the diaspora, and this day and these prayers are very important for ingathering the exiles.”

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.

Current Top Story
John Kerry up in the air and out of this world.
Kerry to Talk with Iran at Same Time Netanyahu to Warn Congress
Latest News Stories
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey.

US Intelligence Chief Says ISIS ‘low priority’ for Turkey.

Tsanz Wedding 1

Thousands of ultra orthodox Jews attend the wedding of the granddaughter of the rabbi of the ultra orthodox Jewish Kretchnif dynasty in Kiryat Tsanz, Netanya.

John Kerry up in the air and out of this world.

Kerry not only is evading Netanyahu but also is trying to upstage him.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner asserts next week’s speech to Congress by Israeli PM Netanyahu won’t hurt US-Israel relations.

Jordan and Israel signed an historic agreement Thursday to implement the Red Sea-Dead Sea rescue pipeline project.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power will represent the Obama administration at AIPAC next week.

A NYC jury has convicted Al Qaeda’s ‘minister of communications’ on charges connected to the 1998 bombing of a US embassy in East Africa.

Netanyahu to meet with bipartisan congressional leadership before he addresses the joint session of Congress on March 3.

Jihadi John, the British beheader in Daesh-land (Islamic State) has been tentatively identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Brit, born in Kuwait, who grew up in West London and has a degree in computer programming. His former friends who have identified him, and are positive its him.

An Arab tried to stab an IDF soldier at the Gush Etzion junction on Thursday evening.

“It is a development that I did not expect five years ago and that’s a bit shocking.”

The survey also revealed that 52 percent of the respondents have an unfavorable view of the president.

The PA says the New York court decision is “a tragic disservice to the millions of Palestinians who have invested in the democratic process and the rule of law.

No one was injured, and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed painted on walls.

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: