Thursday, April 25, 2013

Samaritan Passover 2013

One doesn't have to be familiar with the Bible to know about Samaritans. The phrase "Good Samaritan" has entered into our language and is applied to any number of people who have provided selfless acts in the service of others.

 I suspect, however, that many people have no clue that the idea of the "Good Samaritan" come from one of Jesus's parables. Yet, the name is almost ubiquitous.  From where I am sitting I can see the houses on Samaritan Drive. And through the trees I can see that roof line of Samaritan Hospital. Most of us in town, myself included, give little thought to origin and meaning of these names.

For those who do know that the "Good Samaritan" is a character in one of Jesus' parables, many would be surprised to learn that the Samaritans are not some group in the past. The Samaritans still exist and they represent a religious community that is older than Christianity. If you drive out of Jerusalem and head north you will eventually come to Mount Gerizim, the ancient and modern home to the Samaritans. This is where they have live and worshiped for more than 2500 years.

In the spring of 1998 Lori and were part of a group privileged to visit  Mount Gerizim and to observe the Samaritan Passover. We were introduced to the Samaritan High Priest, toured their small museum and visited the ruins on Gerizim. It was a unique religious and cultural opportunity.

The highlight of the day was being able to witness the slaughter of the lambs. Fifty men, each dressed in white coveralls, entered a fenced off area pock marked with deep, narrow pits. Each man had with him a lamb and a long knife. As they stood there the high priest chanted a number of prayers in their language. After the space of about thirty minutes the 50 men all caught the throats of the lambs at once. They then took some of the blood and wiped it on one another and then took some home in a container. Finally, they skewered the lamb on long poles and placed it in the pit, fleece and all, where there was already a fire burning. The lamb would cook slowly all night and would be retrieved for the meal the next day. 

This week the small community in the West Bank celebrated their ritual again. Here is a description from the article in Ha Aretz.

As the sun set on Tuesday, Ben Asher led his community in a prayer service on their holy Mount Gerizim, which is where they believe God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Members wore white clothing and chanted passages from the 12th chapter of Exodus, which describes how the Israelites fled Egypt, in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. (The Samaritans learn to read the ancient Hebrew script as children and some of their liturgy is in Aramaic; They converse in Arabic and modern Hebrew.)
Then a cheer was raised and the community's butchers simultaneously slit the throats of the sheep. The men then dabbed the spilled blood on their foreheads. As the uninitiated in the international audience watched with horrified expressions, the men gutted and skewered the animals on long spits and placed them in sunken fire pits. The cooked meat was served with matzah and bitter herbs at midnight.
“I love this part of the holiday,” said Cochava Yehoshua, a Samaritan woman from Holon who, like all community members based there, spends the entire week of Passover in Kiryat Luza so as to avoid leavened bread. When asked if the bloody scene made her squeamish, she said: “When you grow up in this community, you get used to it.”

The rest of the article can be found here. It provides a nice historical overview of this group as well as a description of their modern practices. 

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