groups have official status under Israeli and Palestinian law, those based in Israel are integrated into Hebrew-speaking Israeli
society and are drafted into the Israeli army, while those based in the West Bank are integrated into Arabic-speaking Palestinian
society but attend a Samaritan school funded by the Vatican.
They meet several times a year, especially
Every Samaritan has both a Hebrew name and an Arabic name, and Samaritans are fluent in both languages — but
not fully accepted by either Muslims or Jews, community members say.
see us as Jews and the Jews see us as fanatics. They’re wary of us. It’s difficult,” said Rajai Al-Tarif,
the community’s spokesman, who works in a Palestinian telecommunications company.
Samaritan tradition says
the community is descended from the biblical tribes of Ephraim and Menashe and that its people remained in the Northern Kingdom
of Israel after the Assyrians exiled the Israelite tribes to Babylon in 722 B.C.
Jewish tradition says the Samaritans
are descended from the Cutheans, ancient pagans the Assyrians brought to the land after the Israelite tribes were forced out,
and merely adopted many Jewish practices.
In Christian tradition, in the parable of the good Samaritan [Luke 10.25-37],
Jesus tells of a traveler who has been beaten and left to die. While others ignore his plight, a Samaritan comes to his aid.
To this day, those who go out of their way to help others are called “good Samaritans.”
Although Jews and Samaritans
both revere the Torah, albeit in different forms, they do so in very different ways.
Unlike Jews, who consider both Jewish Torah law and oral
(rabbinical) law to be holy, Samaritans follow another version of the Torah and their own sacred texts.
HaCohen said Samaritan
ritual practices have barely changed since ancient times.
Samaritan women who give birth must have no contact with
men for 40 days if the baby is a boy – 80 days if the baby is a girl. Women are also segregated during their menstrual
“Some believe our laws deprive women of their rights in some ways, but we spoil her in other ways,”
the priest said.
Although modern society may consider these prohibitions archaic, “the fact that she is not allowed
to touch her husband or prepare her family’s food gives her the time to heal and recover,” HaCohen said.
accordance with a literal interpretation of the biblical prohibition to refrain from work during the Sabbath, Samaritans do
not use any form of electricity or fire from sundown Friday till sundown Saturday.
“We don’t use any electric
devices, not even a refrigerator. We receive our light from God,” he said.
Despite the Samaritans’ strict
adherence to ancient practices, they are also pragmatists.
During a period of violent persecution by the Byzantines
some 1,500 years ago, the community’s priests decided that sukkahs [See note at the end of this article] should
be built indoors for safety reasons. (Jews build their sukkahs outdoors.)
Much more recently, the priests came
up with ways to save the Samaritans from extinction. By the early 1900s, there were fewer than 150.
In addition to embracing genetic testing, a few years ago
the priests decided to allow the community’s men (at the time there was a male/female ratio of 3-to-1) to marry women
of Ukrainian ancestry. Although some of the brides come from Israel, most emigrate from the Ukraine after spending a few days
there with their prospective husbands.
Although Jewish and Muslim women have occasionally married Samaritan men, “bringing
in women from outside means neither the Jewish nor Muslim communities are offended,” HaCohen said. After a trial period
“any woman who is unhappy here is allowed to go home.”
Al-Tarif said the 23 Ukrainian women who have become
Samaritans and given birth to 60 children “have brought new blood. They have rejuvenated us and our religion. They have
given us hope.”