Members of the Samaritan sect take part in a traditional pilgrimage marking the holiday of Passover on Mount Gerizim, near the West Bank city of Nablus, May 9, 2015. (photo by REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
NABLUS, West Bank — Mount Gerizim, south of Nablus in the northern West Bank, is home to the Samaritans, who call themselves the world’s smallest religious community. There are some 780 Samaritans total, distributed between Gerizim, where 380 of them live, and the city of Holon in Israel, where they number 400.
Hosni Wassef, a Samaritan priest and curator of the Samaritan Museum, located on Mount Gerizim on the outskirts of Nablus, told Al-Monitor that the Samaritans are the descendants of Israelites who fled with Moses from Egypt to the Holy Land some 3,600 years ago to escape the oppression of the Pharaoh. “We have not left the Holy Land since,” he said.
The word “Samaritan” in Ancient Hebrew, the language of Moses, means “guardian,” referring to those who guarded the Torah, said Wassef. Samaritanism is based on five key pillars: the oneness of God, the prophecy of Moses, the first five books of the Torah, the sanctity of Mount Gerizim (not Jerusalem) and the Last Judgment.
The Samaritans celebrate seven holidays a year. One is Passover, during which they present offerings to God, who made way for the Israelites to save them from the Pharaoh. Among their Passover traditions, Samaritans eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs, commemorating the bitterness of life in Egypt. The others are the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which lasts for six days, the Harvest Festival, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shavuot.
Today, Mount Gerizim has been divided, distributed among Areas A, B and C in the Oslo Accord between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. The Samaritans had bought some 150 dunams (37 acres) of land in Area B, on which they built homes. Reflecting the historical struggle over the Holy Land, they hold Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian passports.
The holiest place for Samaritans is the summit of Mount Gerizim, which they believe to have been the chosen location for the holy temple. By order of Israel, the area is now fenced off and only accessible to the Samaritans for pilgrimage three times a year, during Passover, the Harvest Festival and Sukkot.
The Samaritans are led by a high priest, the eldest member of the Levites, who are descendants of Eleazer, the second high priest of the sect and son of Aaron, the first high priest and Moses’ older brother who accompanied Moses during the Exodus. Abdullah Tawfiq is the current high priest. The occupant of the office traditionally makes decisions on religious affairs, while two five-person committees, elected to two-year terms in Mount Gerizim and Holon, are in charge of managing the community’s daily life, explained Wassef.
Samaritans take great pride in their history, which is preserved in the Samaritan Museum, built in 1997. According to Wassef, the museum documents the lineage of 163 generations of Samaritan history, beginning with Adam all the way to the current high priest. It also includes what is alleged to be the oldest copy of the Torah, written in Ancient Hebrew, as well as a collection of Ancient Hebrew documents, books, coins, stones, pottery, traditional glassware and models of the Samaritan holy places. The Samaritans claim their Torah, housed in the synagogue at the museum complex, was written 13 years after their ancestors entered the Holy Land. Only Samaritans can view it, and then only on three occasions per year. By religious tradition, only three priests hold the keys to its repository.
About the differences between Samaritans and Jews, Wassef said, “Samaritans use the original [authentic] Torah, written in Hebrew by the fourth descendent of Aaron, Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, brother of Moses. It was written 13 years after [Abishua] arrived in the Holy Land. Therefore, there are 7,000 differences in verses and words between the Samaritan and the Jewish Torah. This is not to mention the sanctity of Mount Gerizim, where the true temple of Moses was built. It was mentioned 13 times in the Torah, while Jerusalem was never mentioned. It is where Ibrahim [Abraham] built his temple and wanted to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God.” The split between Samaritanism and Judaism resulted from tribal and succession conflicts.
According to Wassef, the Samaritans originally settled in Nablus, until moving to Mount Gerizim in 1987 because of overcrowding in the neighborhood where they concentrated and the outbreak of the first intifada. He told Al-Monitor that Samaritans are considered “an integral part of the Palestinian people and their social fabric, sharing their joys and sorrows. Our mission is to be a bridge for peace based on democracy, freedom and the establishment of a free and independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside Israel, along the 1967 borders.”
During the 20th century, Wassef said, the Samaritans faced the prospect of extinction, their population dwindling to 146 people in 1917. They survived, but today the community is struggling demographically due to a gender imbalance. “Samaritans are suffering from a lack of females, thus young men are obliged to marry girls belonging to other religions, which is theologically forbidden unless they convert to Samaritanism. During the past 40 years, young Samaritans managed to marry 40 girls of different religions who converted,” said Wassef.
These days, Wassef said, the community also harbors concerns about telecommunications towers erected on Mount Gerizim. “There are six towers for mobile [cellphone] companies [Jawwal and Cellcom] and for the Israeli army that have increased the chances of cancer among Samaritans, affecting and threatening our future,” he asserted. “These towers were set up without our approval.”
Wassef concluded, “Samaritans numbered 3 million before the arrests launched by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of ancient Babylonia, in 586 B.C. Their number dwindled through the centuries, and 800 remain today. They live with the obsession of preserving their lineage and protecting their history, which goes back to the days of Adam.”
A common but mistaken reading of the current strategic situation in the Middle East presents the region as approaching the end of a period of instability. The “return of the Arab state” is one of the more arresting refrains that this perspective has produced.
According to this view, the wars in Syria and in Iraq are drawing to a close. The defeat of the Islamic State in these countries represents the eclipse of the political ambitions of Salafi jihadi Islamism for the foreseeable future. Assad is set to restore his repressive but stable rule in Syria. In Iraq, the firm reaction by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the Kurdish bid for independence has ended prospects of the imminent fragmentation of the country. In Lebanon, attempts by Sunni jihadis to export the Syrian war have failed, and all is quiet.
In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Kingdom says Jerusalem agreed to pay compensation over deaths of three people, in order to end diplomatic standoff
Jordanian protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017, calling for the shutting down the of the embassy, expelling the ambassador, and canceling the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL MAZRAAWI)
Israel is paying $5 million in compensation to the families of two people shot dead by an Israeli embassy guard last year, as well as a Jordanian judge killed in a 2014 incident, diplomats in Jordan told the al-Rai newspaper Saturday.
Ultra-Orthodox women and children attend a ceremony to welcome new Torah scrolls in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, Oct. 1 2014.
Reuven K., who is about 30 years old, is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic man who lives in Betar Illit, one of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox localities. Reuven studies in a yeshiva, a Jewish school for Talmudic learning, but works half of each day as a wholesale merchant selling religious ritual supplies. His wife, Bracha, works as a bookkeeper in a governmental institution.
Palestinian boss Mahmoud Abbas recently declared that Israel is “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.” Moses, King David and thousands of years of Jewish history would disagree. Israel and the Jews are part of the story of human civilization. Over 50% of the human race has a holy book that tells of the Jewish journey to Israel. That includes Mohammed’s own copy of the Koran.
Israel isn’t a “colonial enterprise.” Palestine is.
Anyone who wants to find out where the name Israel comes from can open the Book of Genesis 32:29. The story even appears in Islamic hadiths. But where does “Palestine” really come from?
It may not be a shooting war. For the most part. (Though don’t tell that to some Republicans at a charity game practice who were targeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter.) But it’s a war all the same.
The war is still being fought with paper and protests. But it’s based on irreconcilable differences between parts of the country. Much like the ones that brought on the war between brothers.
This is a topic that I’ve written about quite often over this past year. Rush Limbaugh saw fit to read and promote some of those pieces. And now I’ll be giving a talk on the subject at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. It’ll take place from Jan 20-22. I’m scheduled to speak on the 21st, but there are plenty of other great speakers there.
The speech was loud and clear. It wasn’t just the “may your house be demolished” curse that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired at the leader of the strongest world power. It was the utterly delusional ideology, with false claims that only make the Palestinians sink deeper into a path of delusions and collapse.
The reactions were predictable: We have to understand him. He’s under a lot of pressure. He has no political horizon. The Palestinians are desperate. He didn’t really mean it.
A document drafted by members of the global Christian community convening at the 3rd International Christian Forum held in Moscow, detailed how over the past 10 years the Middle East’s Christian population has shrunk by 80 percent and warned that unless current trends are reversed Christianity “will vanish” from its ancient homelands in a few years’ time. Around the year 2000, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas today there are only 100,000, roughly a 93 percent drop, the document notes. In Syria, the largest cities “have lost almost all of their Christian population.”
Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has delivered a speech triggered by his rage at the President of the United States Donald Trump, going so far as to hurl the most bitter curse in the Arabic language at the POTUS: “May your house be destroyed.”
This imprecation does not merely relate to someone’s present home, but to all the members of his family being thrown into the street to lead lives of destitution, humiliation, and shame. Only someone familiar with Middle Eastern culture understands the real significance of this curse.
The 1964 presidential election was the second in which I voted. Lyndon Johnson who had succeeded John Kennedy was running against Barry Goldwater. I didn’t like either candidate: Johnson’s personal characteristics were obnoxious, though he had achieved much, especially in the area of civil rights; Goldwater’s personal characterizes seemed fine, but I disapproved of his conservative political views.
I was shocked to read an article in Fact magazine, based on interviews with more than 1,000 psychiatrists, which concluded that Goldwater was mentally unstable and psychologically unfit to be president. It was Lyndon Johnson whose personal fitness to hold the highest office I questioned. Barry Goldwater seemed emotionally stable with excellent personal characteristics, but highly questionable politics. The article was utterly unpersuasive, and in the end, I reluctantly voted for Lyndon Johnson. Barry Goldwater went back to the Senate, where he served with great distinction and high personal morality. Lyndon Johnson got us deeply into an unwinnable war that hurt our nation. The more than 1,000 psychiatrists, it turned out, were dead wrong in their diagnosis and predictions.