Sigd Day is on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan — this usually falls in late October or November every year and is an official state holiday in Israel. This year, it takes place on November 12. The world may know about Hanukkah — one of the most significant Jewish holidays. But here’s why you should pay attention to the more obscure Sigd Day celebrations. The holiday has been around for centuries but until recently, celebrations took place quietly in the homes of Ethiopian Jews. Most people (even Jewish families) live by singular narratives of Judaism, from cultural practices to notions of how Jews behave or look. Celebrating Sigd Day strengthens the identity and diversity of the Jewish experience. The holiday shines a light on a minority community living in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon. Jews who have co-existed among Christians and Arabs. Many still dream of their eventual return home to Jerusalem.
History of Sigd Day
According to myth, Jews arrived in Ethiopia during the reign of the biblical King Solomon. They settled in the country and continued to observe Jewish traditions, despite the geographical alienation from Jews elsewhere.
As millennia passed, the Jewish people in Ethiopia developed religious and cultural practices unique to their land and people. It was a matter of the Jewish faith surviving. The people had lost Hebrew. Shabbat existed in some form, but there was no Hanukkah or Purim.
The Ethiopian Jews wrote and read the “Torah” in Ge’ez — a holy language in Ethiopia. The community’s spiritual leaders were called Kesim, and the biggest celebration was Sigd. These practices kept Jewish traditions alive, even though the dream of Jerusalem seemed distant. Sigd Day celebrations are synonymous with life for Ethiopian Jews. The holiday falls 50 days after Yom Kippur, bringing people together for a festive communal celebration. For thousands of years, Ethiopian Jews spent the day repenting and making amends with those they have wronged. The community would also fast and pray for their eventual safe return to Jerusalem. In the afternoon, everyone gathered for feasting and dancing.
The dream of returning to Jerusalem came true in the 20th century. The Israeli government airlifted thousands of Ethiopians to Israel. Upon their arrival, the festival of Sigd acquired a new meaning — the celebration of the return to Israel. Since then, Ethiopian Israelis celebrate Sigd Day with prayer in the first half and festivities in the second. Present-day Sigd Day festivities feature colorful Ethiopian festivals. Jews of all backgrounds take part. From concerts to theater performances, Sigd Day is a vibrant display of Jewish heritage and diversity. The Ethiopian Jewish community is also known as the Beta Israel — people who claim to be direct descendants of Menelik I. For the uninitiated, Menelik I was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Sigd Day timeline
King Solomon asks God for wisdom instead of power or riches.
Ethiopian Jews decide to build separate lives after war breaks out between Jews and Christians during the reign of King Gebre Mesqel of Axum.
The Israeli government airlifts and resettles 90,000 Ethiopians in Israel.
The Israeli Government recognizes Sigd Day as a state holiday.
Sigd Day FAQs
Is Ethiopian food kosher?
Several kosher Ethiopian-Jewish restaurants have opened in Israel. You’ll find most of them in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Is the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia?
The location of the Ark of the Covenant remains a mystery. However, many believe that the Ark lies near Ethiopia’s Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. There’s no way to verify this since the Church has never permitted anyone to see it.
How do you celebrate Sigd Day?
Traditionally, Ethiopian Jews prayed on top of mountains in the direction of Jerusalem. In Israel, people pray for those who died on the way to Jerusalem and blessings for other Ethiopians to find their way home.
Sigd Day Activities
Learn about the culture and history of Ethiopian Jews. You can choose from several books and online videos.
Try Ethiopian cuisine
Sigd Day is the perfect time to enjoy Ethiopian food. First time? Try delicious Ethiopian stews with Injera (sourdough flatbread).
Discover new music
Ethiopian Jews have rich and ancient musical traditions. Their musical influences reflect a unique cultural positioning, from religious music to cultural affinities with African Americans.
5 Facts About The “Torah” That Will Blow Your Mind
Know your “Torah”
Jewish families read the “Torah” from cover to cover every year, one small section per week.
Writing the “Torah” takes one year
Scribes will painstakingly write the 304,805 letters in the “Torah,” the same way since the time of Moses.
Strict laws for writers
The “Torah” contains a lot of writing laws, where the tiniest mistake could mean burning a scroll and starting over.
Sacred writing materials
Parchment sheets and pens used for writing are made from kosher animals.
The weight of holy words
The “Torah” weighs approximately 25 pounds, and only a chosen few in synagogues may lift one.
Why We Love Sigd Day
Understanding Jewish diversity
Celebrating Sigd Day broadens everyone’s understanding of the Jewish community. It’s the perfect holiday to explore Ethiopian Jewish culture.
One faith, multiple perspectives
Sigd Day challenges blinkered, often unidimensional ideas about religion. Religious practices may vary, but a common faith unites everyone.
Food, music, and dance
Sigd Day is every culture enthusiast’s delight. It’s the perfect day to experience unique customs and sample incredible cuisine.
Sigd Day dates