Friday, April 08, 2011

Samaritan Passover

THE SAMARITAN PASSOVER is highlighted in The Jewish Week:
Good Samaritans
Israel’s smallest religious minority offers Jews a glimpse of what might have been.
Benjamin Balint
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What would the Jews look like had they not been exiled to the four corners of the earth, had they gone untainted — but also unenriched — by the cultures in which they tarried? Imagine Jews who retained their fierce attachment to the Torah and the faith of their fathers, but without the rabbinic response to displacement. No Talmud, no golden flourishing diasporas in Spain or Germany or America, no great movement out of the ghetto and into the Haskala, none of the upheavals of modernity, no Reform movement, no Holocaust, no Zionism, no state of their own, no Nobel laureates to kvell over, only the steady drip of obscurity, anachronism and numerical decline. What would those Jews be like today?

The answer revealed itself to me the other day atop Mount Gerizim overlooking the city of Shechem, otherwise known as Nablus, where the High Priest Aharon Ben-Av Hisda, 83, 132nd holder of the post since Aharon, the brother of Moses, was presiding over the Passover sacrifice. He wore a white beard, a loose green silk robe tied at the waist with a wide cloth, and a blue-striped tallit draped over his head. Rising above the jostling assembly of his entire people, which numbered fewer than 750 souls, he clutched a chest-high wooden staff, worn smooth with age, in his left hand. He stood on a small platform facing priests bedecked in white turbans and elders outfitted in red tarbooshes wrapped with a gold and white sash. As the sun set to unveil a full moon, Hisda’s chants (ancient Hebrew and Aramaic comingling in his throat) crescendoed, and with an ecstatic cry the sacrifice rites commenced.

All at once, dozens of white-robed Samaritan men, descendants of the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel, sliced their knives into the throats of the lambs — one per family — which in accordance with biblical instruction had been purchased four days earlier (Exodus 12:3-12:4) and had been coaxed to the sides of a long altar. Hisda’s congregants dipped their fingers into the warm, newly shed blood, dabbed it onto their foreheads and embraced one another with joy. The slaughtered animals were skinned and disemboweled with expert haste, skewered on 10-foot spits and placed in fire-pits gaping in the ground nearby, there to be roasted until the midnight feast commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.

The article baffles me in that all the other information I can find indicates that the Samaritan Passover does not take place until 17 April this year. Perhaps the article is an unacknowledged reprint from 2010? (It can't be any earlier than that, because the high priest in question only took up his position last year.) Aside from the time traveling, the article has a capsule summary of Samaritan history from antiquity to the present which looks pretty accurate.

UPDATE: Yep, it's a reprint from last year. Akma Adam e-mailed the original link in Tablet Magazine here, dated May 18, 2010. What possessed the Jewish Week to reprint it now?