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 wayto Mount Grizim for the sacrifice, where the head of each familysacrifices a sheep after a long prayer service presided over by thecommunity’s high priests. When the word is given, all of the sheep areslaughtered in an instant, their blood pouring out into a trough dugthrough the center of the arena.The sheep are then skinned, washed, and salted, according to Samaritanlaws of kashrut. Afterward, they are hung up on spits and placed intotwo- or three-meter deep fire pits where they are covered with mud androasted for several hours. After midnight, long after the curious observers have left thecommunity, the Samaritans head back down to the arena and dig the sheepout of the earthen ovens. They then quickly eat all the meat andlafa-style Samaritan matzot they can eat before throwing the remainsinto the fire pits to be incinerated.