The Samaritan Community in Israel

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




In Kings I 14:24 we read that the king of Israel, Omri, bought the hill of Shameria from Shemen, the name of the owner of the hill. The province of Israel called Samaria is named after Shemen.

So called Samaritans still live in Israel near Mt. Gezirim overlooking the town of Nablus. Today there are only about 700 people in the Samaritan community who live between Tel Aviv and Hulon . Samaritans have been persecuted for centuries, during all those years before Israel was restored in 1948. Today, the Samaritans are not considered Jews by the Jewish establishment, as they do not recognize the Talmud, but cling to the ancient versions of Jewish ritual, that is, animal sacrifices. At Pesach or Passover, the Samaritans perpetuate the ritual of slaughtering sheep, as was done in the ancient temple in Jerusalem.

The Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the biblical tribes of Menasha and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph. Although, the majority of the population of the northern kingdom of Israel was exiled to Assyria by Sargon II in 722 BCE, a few remained behind, and these are the Samaritans. When the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in the sixth century BCE and built the second Temple, they refused to recognize the Samaritans as Jews.

 Samaritan children become bar mitzvah at the age of six after reciting the entire Torah. Because the Samaritans are not considered Jewish, the Arabs in Israel support them and even reserve a seat in their parliament for a Samaritan representative. Samaritans bear Jewish first names and carry Israeli and Palestinian ID cards. Samaritans also employ a high priest, whose name is Aharon ben Av Hisda. According to Samaritan tradition, Mt. Gerizim was the are original holy place of Israel and not Jerusalem. The Talmud calls the Samaritans Catheans or Kutim, which refers to the ancient city of Kutha in Iraq. Modern genetics studies support this claim.

 The reason for the small number of Samaritans lies in the bloody suppression of the Samaritan revolt against the Byzantine Empire in 529 C.E. Conversion to Christianity also reduced the number of Samaritans. Thus, Samaritans are so few that survival is in doubt. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how long this distinct culture has continued.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including End of the Patriarchy (2015).

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