An eclectic mix of settlers, Palestinians, journalists, and politicians thronged the Samaritan enclave on Mount Grizim on Wednesday night, to observe the tiny Samaritan community’s annual sheep sacrifice.
The Samaritan religion marked a leap year this year, so this year’s sacrifice came a month after Pessah, a fact that allowed an unprecedented number of observers to attend. Some in attendance estimated the crowd at around 7,000, with Samaritan Guy Yehoshua saying that “as big as I thought it would be this year, it’s at least three times that size.”
The facilities at Mount Grizim were so packed that the army had to turn away busloads of visitors at the base of the mountain outside Nablus. Inside the outdoor arena where the slaughter is held there was very little room to move and curious onlookers and cameramen crowded the surrounding rooftops to get a better look.
The Samaritans number barely more than 700 members on Mount Grizim and the community’s enclave in Holon. They trace their roots in Samaria back to the days before the Babylonian exile and practice a religion that closely resembles Judaism, albeit with some marked differences. including the use of an ancient form of Hebrew that is the language of their liturgy.
In addition, according to the Samaritan religion, Mount Grizim, not Jerusalem, is the holiest site on Earth.
Every year on the Samaritan Pessah, the entire community makes its way
to Mount Grizim for the sacrifice, where the head of each family
sacrifices a sheep after a long prayer service presided over by the
community’s high priests. When the word is given, all of the sheep are
slaughtered in an instant, their blood pouring out into a trough dug
through the center of the arena.
The sheep are then skinned, washed, and salted, according to Samaritan
laws of kashrut. Afterward, they are hung up on spits and placed into
two- or three-meter deep fire pits where they are covered with mud and
roasted for several hours.
After midnight, long after the curious observers have left the
community, the Samaritans head back down to the arena and dig the sheep
out of the earthen ovens. They then quickly eat all the meat and
lafa-style Samaritan matzot they can eat before throwing the remains
into the fire pits to be incinerated.