Ethiopians Celebrate Jerusalem, Giving of the Torah

Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Israel converged on the capital this week to mark Sigd, a festival which celebrates the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by God at Mt. Sinai. Regarding the celebration of the giving of the Torah, most Jews of from Europe, North Africa, and the Far East count seven weeks in the spring from Passover to Shavuot and celebrate the historical event. However, Ethiopians mark the event by counting seven weeks from the holiday of Succot in the fall and celebrating it on Sigd, the 29th of Chadar, otherwise known as the Jewish month of Cheshvan.

The difference in tradition in the Ethiopian community may be attributed to their isolation in Africa, which is said to date back to the times of the First Temple and the Israelite King Solomon, the son of David.

Besides Sigd, Ethiopians have several other dates they mark in the month of Chadar. They include the first of the month when the biblical prophet Moses saw the face of God and the tenth when Moses greeted the Israelites on his descent from Mt Sinai with the Ten Commandments.

At this year’s gathering, the community’s continued difficulty being accepted into Israeli society was in the air but organizers of this pilgrimage were careful not to make the gathering political. “Today we have come to pray,” the Israeli daily, Haaretz quoted former MK Adiso Masala, the chairman of the umbrella organization of Ethiopian Jewish groups as saying. “The community comes together once a year, and we must not turn a sensitive religious event into a social struggle,” Masala said.

The Jews of Ethiopia began returning to Israel in 1977, after a request was made by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the government of Ethiopia. At the time 200 Jews were allowed to leave on an Israeli military jet, an achievement that was seen as the precursor for Operation Moses, which began on 18 November 1984 and succeeded in bringing 8,000 more to Israel over the course of six weeks. Since then other operations have helped thousands more arrive in Israel but many remain in Ethiopia waiting in transit camps amid sectarian violence and poor conditions.

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