Israeli star saw dark side of the Good Samaritan
Conal Urquart in Jerusalem reports that women are ostracised for daring to marry outside one of the Holy Land's tiniest and most ancient communities
Sunday December 28, 2003
The Samaritans won renown for kindness in the time of Jesus. But today they are ruthless in defence of the purity of their tribe, prepared even to shun their own daughters to preserve their lineage, a fate that has befallen one of Israel's most celebrated actresses.
The ancient sect, which was celebrated in the Christian world through the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's gospel, now numbers only 600, divided between two communities - one near Tel Aviv in Israel and the other near Nablus in the West Bank. Women are banned from marrying outsiders; those who disobey are ostracised and rejected by the close-knit community. That is what has happened to Sophie Sedaka, who was brought up as a Samaritan but is now an outcast.
Sedaka, 28, is one of Israel's most popular soap opera stars and children's TV presenters. Despite her prominence, few in Israel know the story of how she came to be shunned by her own community. Twenty years ago, when she was only eight, her sister ran away to marry an Israeli Jew. From then on, she says, she was treated by the community as 'infected' by her sister's crime. It was the beginning of her estrangement from the Samaritans.
The Samaritans are essentially a Jewish sect, although Jews have tended to regard them as lower than the Gentiles. Their language is ancient Hebrew and their religion is akin to Judaism, although it does not contain modifications that Jews added over the past 3,000 years, such as the festivals of Purim and Hanukkah. The main difference is that the Samaritans never left the holy lands and they believe Abraham bound his son, Isaac, in preparation for his sacrifice on Mount Gezirim, not on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
This paragraph needs some correction and tuning. The main differences are that the Samaritans regard themselves as members of the lost ten tribes, so they are Israelites but not Jews, and they believe the site God chose for the temple (and they used to have a temple there) is Mount Gerizim near Nablus rather than the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).
Despite their similarities, even in the time of Jesus the Samaritans were shunned by the Jews and the two communities were often at war. Now the Samaritans find themselves in the middle of the modern-day war in the holy land. They remain strictly neutral and carry both Palestinian and Israeli identity cards.
Men can marry outside the community because for the last 200 years there have been more sons born to the community than daughters; the ratio currently stands at about five men for every three women.
The Samaritans allow their women to mix freely with the Palestinian community in Nablus and the Jewish community in Israel. Because of the doctrinal differences between Samaritans and Jews, Samaritans are educated in secular Israeli schools.
UPDATE: Earlier this month I blogged a somewhat different version of this article by the same author, and with the same irritating misspelling "Gezirim," from Newsday.