Ethiopian Traditions: Sigd

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Jewish tradition talks about Israel becoming a center for its people, as they gather from the 4 corners of the earth.


Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 up through today, Israel has become a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and traditions from around the world. Today, we truly do see the whole world found in this tiny little country. Whether from America, Russia, France or Ethiopia (to just name a few!!), once we are here, we are all Israeli.


But it is important to never forget where we come from, especially because Israel is filled with so many diverse traditions that are still essential to who we are.


Many of these exotic and unique traditions come from the Ethiopian community who began their journey to Israel with the hope of creating a brighter and better future for the Jewish community of Ethiopia!


Let's learn a bit more about this amazing community!

Two Ethiopian women standing next to each other

Aliyah from Ethiopia:

In the 1970s, a new wave of immigrants made Aliyah to Israel. The Ethiopians who came were fleeing war and religious persecution. In 1985, in what was called Operation Moses, 8000 Ethiopian Jews were rescued by the IDF/Mossad from Sudan. Then, in 1991, 14,500 more were brought to Israel on Operation Solomon in less than 2 days!


Now, there are about 155,300 Ethiopians in Israel. Around 67,800 of them were born in Israel.


With each wave of immigrants comes new traditions and aspects of culture. Ethiopian Jews brought over aspects of Judaism that were unknown and different so many modern-day Jews. Ethiopian Jews keep biblical Judaism, and have little to do with Jewish oral laws, most likely due to their inability to access it during those times. Instead, Ethiopian Jewry is very strong in its traditions, and has longed to come back to Israel for hundreds of years.


One such custom is the holiday of Sigd. Sigd, meaning "prostration" in ancient Ethiopian language, marks the celebration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. It is believed that on this day God first revealed Himself to Moses. Ethiopians pray for the return of Jews to Israel on this holiday. They dress in traditional robes, pray, fast, read from the Torah scrolls, and carry brightly colored umbrellas. The holiday ends with food, dance, and celebration. This tradition marks the Ethiopian Jewish community, also known as Beta Israel, in honoring their roots.


In 2008, Israel made Sigd officially a national holiday, a day to be celebrated all over Israel. It is held 50 days after Yom Kippur on the 29th of Cheshvan- this year on November 3rd. However, nowadays, the holiday is festivities are held throughout the whole month, with special Ethiopian foods and festivities.

Many of the other aspects of Ethiopian culture brought to Israel, including music and food, is also highlighted in Israel during this time of year- especially their sponge like bread, injera, which is traditionally dipped in spicy stews with vegetables.


Ethiopian Jewry has had a vast cultural and religious impact on the state of Israel, and we are lucky to have their unique traditions in our country!