Yesterday was Pesach sheni, one month after Passover when someone who had missed Passover could celebrate it. However, for the Samaritans, שומרונים it was Pesach!
The Samaritans believe in the Torah, but not in any of the other Biblical books, nor do they accept the Talmud or other rabbinic writings. Since modern Judaism is a product of rabbinic interpretation which they don’t accept, their religion differs in major ways from normative Judaism.
Yesterday a bus of Modi’in residents made its way to Mount Grizim to watch the Passover festivities nd to learn about the Samaritans.
All told, there are about 700 Samaritans in the world and all are living either in Holon, Israel, or on Mount Grizim which is located in Samaria (what some people call “the West Bank”). For the Passover observance, all Samaritans must come to Mount Grizim and participate. Busloads of curious Israelis and tourists arrived to watch the festivities.
On a fairly warm day, the mountain was cold and windy. As we walked toward the location of the ceremonies, we saw some sheep grazing. They looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but feel sad for what was to happen to them.
We went to the museum which was small, but well kept and we were lucky enough to have one of the Cohanim talk to us and tell us about their beliefs and observances. I found it fascinating that they take the same basic laws from the torah as we do and observe them differently. For example, on Yom Kippur, among the Samaritans, everyone fasts, even babies. The only exception is for those babies who are still nursing.
Yesterday, we were instructed not to bring with us anything that would be considered chametz, not kosher for Passover. We came to see the ritual slaughter of the paschal sacrifice, the lambs.
In addition to the Samaritans, there were hundreds of people who had come to watch the ceremony as well as dignitaries from the Palestinian Authority with whom they also have cordial relations. There also were almost as many professional photographers as there were sheep.
People crowded around the enclosed area where only the participants, dignitaries, photographers and some very persuasive visitors were allowed to be. We occupied a grandstand, a hillside all of the areas around the fences, and areas overlooking the site including roofs of buildings. It was very difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph as the people in front of us kept swaying and blocking our views and never thought of saying “why don’t you take a couple of pictures standing in my place and then switch back with me.” It was cold and windy and pretty frustrating to be standing on my feet for about 2 hours and not seeing much.
What we did see were many men approaching the ceremony. Most were dressed in white, however it appeared that the men of higher stature wore green robes. All of the elders some robes and each had a staff that he walked with.
As we stood and watched, we heard chanting. The leader would begin the chanting and then all of the men would chant. The words were not intelligible to us because they speak a different dialect. The chanting was not unpleasant, but the noise and commotion of all of the onlookers and of the non-participants made it difficult to appreciate. We saw some dignitaries, cohanim/priests, I suppose, on the podium and then there were two long lines of men. also dressed in white, many of them wearing boots, facing each other on either side of a long trench. A glimpse of two of the men showed them each holding a lamb between their legs.
At a certain point, a word was shouted and then in a couple of seconds there was cheering and shouting and people kissing each other. Although we had seen nothing, we guessed that at that point, the lambs were slaughtered. We later found out that we were right. There was such joy and elation among the participants that I found it incomprehensible.
While we were not looking the animals were skinned and gutted and later we saw a few put on huge skewers being readied to be thrown into the deep, round pits that had been burning for hours.
We were told that at that point, the people would go home and only return around midnight to claim their lamb that would be eaten with the people they were close to.
A few commments:
1. I am glad that I went. It certainly was an experience unlike any other I have had. that said, I wish they could have kept their ceremony purer– with less noise and fuss and extraneous noises and people and bustle. It didn’t have a spiritual quality that I could grasp.
2. I am still feeling very sorry for all of the lambs, and especially so when I think of the joy that slaughtering them brought to the people who did it. I never imagined that animal sacrifice could be anything but deeply solemn and deeply moving.
3. I am pretty sure that I heard our neighbor’s cat praying this morning saying “…שלא עשני כבס”
(If you don’t know Hebrew, it probably isn’t worth explaining it…)