Prayer, devotion, and community among the Samaritans

Not far from Nablus, in the west bank, we arrive at the small village of Kiryat Luza early in the morning during Succot (the Feast of the Tabernacles) and we join the early morning prayer of the Samaritans.

This small group are a small ethnoreligious group who date their ancestry to the Biblical tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Their roots are ancient, by some accounts beginning with the entry into Canaan, or by others beginning with the Babylonian exile. In any extent, this indigenous group broke off from mainstream Judaism during the time of the kingdom of Judah (between the ninth and the fourth century, BC).

Samaritans believe that theirs is the true religion of the Israelites, as mainstream Judiasm underwent changes during the Babylonian exile.

During morning prayers, sons, fathers, and grandfather commune and read an ancient text. The air of devotion is palatable in the synagogue.

The two Samaritan communities are very small, totaling about 800 people altogether. About 400 live in Kiryat Luza, and the rest live in the Israeli town of Holon. Despite being recognized as a religious entity, the religious monopoly in Israel (the Chief Rabbinate) requires that Samaritans undergo a conversion to Judaism in or to be considered as Jews. During the ceremony we witnessed we were amazed to see some visitors from the Ultra-Orthodox community as well as some discussions between the two groups.

Most Samaritans speak Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, or a mix and their prayers are in Samaritan Hebrew or Samaritan Aramaic, written in the Samaritan alphabet (which is related to ancient proto-Hebrew, and is undependable by Hebrew readers).

Following the indoor prayer session, all head out for the outdoor ceremony on the hillside of Mount Gerizim.