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Happy Sigd!? -- Chronicle Online/The WORD 11/23/22

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah

November 23, 2022

29 Cheshvan 5783

Parashat Toldot

Happy Sigd! Some scholars believe the Jewish community of Ethiopia dates back to the 1st Temple period over 2,500 years ago. Other estimates are little more conservative—suggesting that the Jewish community was established in Ethiopia “only” 1,500 years ago. Either way, the Ethiopian Jewish community—known as the Beta Israel—is a unique group of Jews. Until the 19th century, Jews in other parts of the world did not know anything about them. There were rumors of a Jewish community in Africa, but no one was certain. On the flip side, the Beta Israel believed they were the only Jews in the world, and they longed for the day when they could return to Israel and Jerusalem. When the first European Jew came to Ethiopia and reached out to the Beta Israel, they did not believe that a person with such light skin could actually be Jewish. Due to this centuries-long separation, the Beta Israel did not know anything about rabbinic Judaism; the split happened before the completion of the Talmud. So, for example, they had never heard of the holiday of Hanukkah. Their Torah, which they call Orit, is written in an ancient Ethiopic language called Ge’ez. Their religious leaders are called Kessim—not rabbis. But, they observe Shabbat, the Biblical festivals, Kashrut, and the family purity laws. They are undoubtedly Jewish. While they may not celebrate Hanukkah, they have preserved another holiday the rest of the Jewish world did not know about. It is called Sigd, and it falls 50 days after Yom Kippur. It parallels Shavuot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Like Shavuot, Sigd celebrates the giving of the Torah. The word Sigd comes from a root that means “supplication.” It is a renewal of the covenant with God. On Sigd, it was the custom to climb the highest nearby hill or mountain to reenact the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Upon reaching the top of the hill, the Kessim would chant passages from the Bible. Everyone would then descend and enjoy a festive meal. In case you are trying to do the math in your head, Sigd falls today! In 1984, Israel brought approximately 8,000 members of the Beta Israel community to escape famine in a covert operation called Operation Moses. In 1991, Israel brought nearly 15,000 more to Israel to escape the civil war. Today, there are over 150,000 Israelis of Ethiopian descent. In 2008, Israel declared Sigd a state holiday. We may not be celebrating Sigd today, as we may be focused on another holiday most American Jews will celebrate tomorrow. However, it is a good opportunity to learn a little more about another Jewish community—the Beta Israel. So, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Sigd! Shalom, RAF.

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