Mehlella (Ge’ez: ምህልላ, lit. ‘Supplication’), also Amata Saww (ዐመተ ሰወ, ‘Grouping Day’) or Sigd (ሰግድ, ‘Prostration’, Hebrew: סיגד, also romanized Sig’d), is one of the unique holidays of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) community, and is celebrated on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Marcheshvan. Since 2008, it has been recognized as a state holiday for all Israelis.Quick Facts: Official name, Also called …
The word Sigd itself is Ge’ez for “prostration” and is related to Aramaic: סְגֵד sgēd “to prostrate oneself (in worship)”. The Semitic root √sgd is the same as in mesgid, one of the two Beta Israel Ge’ez terms for “synagogue” (etymologically related to Arabic: مَسْجِد masjid “mosque“, literally “place of prostration”, and the word for mosque in Hebrew: מסגד misgad).
Originally Sigd was another name for Yom Kippur and after the reform that reunited them, the holiday was called by its present name.
There are two oral traditions about the origin of Sigd. One tradition traces it to the 6th century, in the time of King Gebre Mesqel of Axum, son of King Kaleb, when the war between Jews and Christians ended and both communities separated from each other. The second tradition traces it to the 15th century as a result of persecution by Christian emperors. The first mention of Sigd is from the 15th century.
Sigd symbolizes the acceptance of the Torah. The kahənat have also maintained a tradition of the holiday arising as a result of persecution by Christian kings, during which the kahənat retreated into the wilderness to appeal to God for His mercy. Additionally they sought to unify the Beta Israel and prevent them from abandoning the Haymanot (laws and traditions) under persecution. So they looked toward the Book of Nehemiah and were inspired by Ezra‘s presenting the “book of the law of Moses” before the assembly of Israel after it had been lost to them during the Babylonian exile.
Traditionally in commemoration of the appeals made by the Kessim and consequent mass gathering, the Beta Israel would make pilgrimages to Midraro, Hoharoa, or Wusta Tsegai (possibly marking locations of relief from Christian persecution) every year to reaffirm themselves as a religious community.
Today, during the celebration, members of the community fast, recite Psalms, and gather in Jerusalem where Kessim read from the Orit (the Octateuch). The ritual is followed by the breaking of the fast, dancing, and general revelry.
Official national holiday in Israel
In February 2008 MK Uri Ariel submitted legislation to the Knesset in order to establish Sigd as an Israeli national holiday, and in July 2008 the Knesset “decided to officially add the Ethiopian Sigd holiday to the list of State holidays.” According to an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, however, “While the qessotch [Kessim] and Beta Israel rabbis are pleased that the Sigd became an official Israeli state holiday in 2008, they would also like the holiday to become an integral part of the yearly Jewish holiday cycle and be embraced by more Jews, at least in Israel, rather than remain a holiday primarily celebrated by the Jewish community from Ethiopia.”