Passover, Samaritan Style


Mount Gerizim, in the northern West Bank halfway between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, holds a special place in Jewish tradition. It was the site where half of the biblical tribes were commanded to pronounce the blessings upon the Children of Israel after Joshua led them into the Promised Land.

In Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim holds the highest position of honor.

The Samaritans — the Hebrew name, Shamerim, means “keepers” of truth — are the monotheistic group that, according to their teaching, are descended from the sons of Joseph. Because of theological differences with mainstream Judaism, they have lived — in central Israel — as a distinct group for millennia. The community numbers about 720, half at Mount Gerizim, half in Holon near Tel Aviv.

Mount Gerizim is the center of their Moses-based faith, a holy sanctuary, a site of annual pilgrimages. And it is the location where the Samaritans hold their Passover observance, on a date determined by their calendar, each year. A member of the Samaritan community, left, brings his sheep for slaughtering at a holiday sacrifice this week. Near the summit of Mount Gerizim, a Samaritan priest slaughters one sheep for each family. Jews have not offered such sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

A Samaritan boy, above, is marked with sheep’s blood after the slaughter.

Members of the Samaritan community, right, gather around an oven in the ground where the skewered sacrificed are roasted. After the meat is consumed, the leftovers are burned in the oven.