Welcoming one more soul to Israel’s tiny Samaritan community

Nearly a dozen kohanim in long robes and red fezzes lead the services in the ancient Samaritan Hebrew that is their language of liturgy.

March 2, 2010 23:01
1 minute read.
Samaritan Kohanim (Ben Hartman).

samaritans 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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Hundreds of worshipers crowded the community center in the Samaritan enclave of Neveh Pinchas in Holon on Tuesday, to hold a brit mila ceremony for the newest member of their community, Shahar Yehoshua.

Nearly a dozen kohanim in long robes and red fezzes led the services in the ancient Samaritan Hebrew that is their language of liturgy. The women crowded around Shahar at a table in the back of the room as a mohel from the Holon Rabbinate performed the circumcision. The men remained standing during the entire service, in keeping with Samaritan tradition.

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One worshiper, Menashe Tzadka, said standing has an added relevance at brit milas because “in the days of the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel, circumcisions were forbidden and they had to be done secretly, and quickly.”

The Samaritans are Israel’s smaller minority and one of the oldest on Earth, numbering barely over 700 with a history that dates to before the Babylonian Exile.

Around half of the community lives in Neveh Pinchas, whose back streets and alleyways make it feel almost like a village in the middle of the Tel Aviv metroplex. The rest of the community lives in Kiryat Luza on Mount Grizim, the holiest site in the Samaritan religion, more than 800 meters above the southern outskirts of Nablus.

The Samaritan religion is separate from Judaism but has many parallels. It has its own text of the Torah and does not accept traditions or religious interpretations from post-Torah Judaism (Purim, Hanukka, etc.).

Shahar’s father, Oren Yehoshua, said Tuesday’s ritual had greater relevance considering the small size of the community.

“Look around, when an event like this is held, over 350 people come. Nearly half of the entire Samaritan community is here,” he said.

After the ceremony ended, worshipers conversing in Hebrew and Arabic mingled around a long table piled high with plates of humous, kubbeh, and pitot, before spilling out into the side streets of Neveh Pinchas.

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