Sigd in 2023 begins Sunday evening, November 12th, and concludes on Monday night, November 13th.
The Ethiopian Jewish community, known as Beta Israel, is ancient.
For much of its history, the community grew independently from ‘mainstream’ rabbinic Judaism and, as such, developed independent customs and commemorations. One such unique custom is Sigd, a holiday now observed 50 days after Yom Kippur that celebrates a commitment to Torah and Jewish life.
The exact origins and purpose of the holiday are unclear.
One tradition explains that Sigd celebrates the end of a 6th-century war between the local Christian and Jewish communities. In the first written mention of the holiday dating to the 15th century, the explanation offered is that the holiday celebrates the end of the persecution of Beta Israel Jews by oppressing Christians. A calendar reform in the 19th century shifted the date to its present 29th of Marcheshvan.
Whatever the origin, the holiday affirms belief in the Torah and the practice of Judaism.
In Ethiopia, it was a pilgrimage holiday; the community would gather and recreate the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai by climbing a mountain, fasting, and reciting liturgy. The fast was broken with a feast and celebrations.
Community-specific customs are common in Judaism; we have Sefaradi and Ashkenazi customs and customs specific to one place – Minhag Anglia (England), Minhag Amsterdam, Syrian, Moroccan, Turkish, and on and on.
But Sigd is the only localized holiday that has made it onto Israel’s national calendar.
Between 1984 and 1991, the majority of the Beta Israel community was airlifted to Israel in a combination evacuation / aliyah fleeing civil war and famine in Ethiopia and Sudan. The three airlift missions that completed this migration are known as Operation Moses, Operation Joshua, and Operation Solomon. About 92% of the Beta Israel community now lives in Israel, making up nearly 2% of the total Israeli population.
In 2008, the holiday was adopted as a national holiday in Israel. In place of the original mountain pilgrimages of Ethiopia, those who celebrate now gather in Jerusalem for liturgical and celebratory events.
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