Daily Israel Report

Samaritans Perform Passover Sacrifices

Samaritans celebrated their version of Passover Wednesday, complete with high priest, paschal lambs, and matzah.
By Malkah Fleisher
First Publish: 4/28/2010, 11:18 PM / Last Update: 4/28/2010, 11:30 PM

Meir Eisenman

On Wednesday, a small and ancient community in the Samaria region performed a Passover offering just as it has done for over two thousand years.

Israel's small Samaritan community gathered, as it does annually, to offer sacrifices on Mount Gerizim, overlooking Shechem. Heads of Samaritan households slaughtered 35 sheep that were offered in a way very similar to that prescribed in the Torah, for sacrifices at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Samaritans have been present on the Land of Israel for over 2500 years. Their religion is considered Abrahamic, a very close relative of Judaism in ritual observance. Samaritans keep many of the Torah holidays, including Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and their biggest – Passover – which they celebrate on the 14th day of the month of Nissan, as do the Jews.

However, because of differences in counting leap years, the Samaritans' month of Nissan this year took place one month later than the Jewish one. Because of the difference, the Samaritan Passover this year coincided with Pesach Sheni (Second Passover), a day set in the Torah to enable those who had been ritually impure or unable to travel to Jerusalem for Passover, to bring the Passover offering in accordance with Torah law.

While the Jewish Torah requires Passover offerings to be brought on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with all the Jews coming there for this and two other holidays, Sukkot and Shavuot, Samaritans believe that the preeminent holy spot is Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim also features promimently in the Torah as a mountain upon which blessings were pronounced to the Jewish people.

The ceremony
According to a press release issued by the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council, the Samaritan priesthood conducts the offerings. The leader of the priests is called the "High Priest," as the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron are called in the Torah. Following the slaughter of the animals, they are roasted and eaten with matzah, similar to the way it would be done by every family if Jews today brought the paschal lamb to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The ritual is a source of festivity for the Samaritans, who number about 900 people throughout Israel. Though the Samaritan community is small, their Passover offering ceremony is a source of interest for Jews throughout Israel. Tour guide Meir Eisenman, who was present at the ceremony, said tens of buses arrived to witness the Passover rituals of the Samaritans. 

"I found it fascinating and interesting as a tour guide, and as someone who likes to see the [Bible] actualized in real life, to see someone bring the Korban Pesach [Passover offering], a real biblical act." According to Eisenman, "all kinds of Jews came to witness the occasion, including Hareidi and National Religious Jews, as well as some members of the secular community."

Samaritans are citizens of Israel, and welcome visitors throughout the year; visits can be arranged under the auspices of the Shomron Liason Office.