MOUNT GERIZIM, May 3 (JMCC) - Religious chants filled the air -- loud, powerful, and punctuated only by the plaintive bleats of the soon-to-be victims. As the high priest signaled the death knell, glinting blades sliced down in a mass cull of some 35 sheep.
The creatures thrashed, throats open, at the feet of the white clad Samaritans with whom they exchanged bloodstained embraces. Thousands gathered in the Samaritan village just outside Nablus
last Thursday to watch the Samaritan Passover ceremony.
The ritual unfolds annually in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, believed by Samaritans to be the holiest site on Earth.
“In the Bible, it is mentioned as the mount of the blessed,” explains archeologist Yuval Baruch.
Jews and Samaritans share a common history. “Samaritans preserve the original attributes of the Israelites,” says Baruch. “The temples built here by the Samaritans are the same shape as Jewish temples in Jerusalem
Prayers are recited in the ancient Hebrew language. The community’s priests are from “priestly families” believed to have a dynastic connection with priests mentioned in the Bible.
The sacrifice is carried out according to scripture. “Only a person trained in the particular unique and humane technique by the community to may kill a sheep,” explains Naila Samri of the Samaritan Legend Association.
Some 50 Samaritans have received the training in the months leading up to the Passover sacrifice, explained Samaritan Golan Tiedaka.
After the cull, the meat is prepared according to Samaritan law. Salted and skinned, the meat is cooked in deep fire pits covered over with mud. Then, while the meat is eaten, every other part of the animal is incinerated.
“The Bible says you have to sacrifice everything because it is a sacrifice for God,” Tiedaka explains. “It is not for a gourmet restaurant.”
Approximately 700 Samaritans live in Israel
and the occupied Palestinian territories
, divided between Holon
and this Nablus village. Each family brings a sheep to the sacrifice. After the slaughter, the ritual becomes a family affair with each family eating the meat quickly at midnight with unleavened Passover bread, according to biblical tradition.
“This is a sacrifice. It is not a celebration or party,” says Tiedaka.
The ceremony holds a deep significance, with the sacrifice representing a purging of sins. Through the prayer ritual, the sheep becomes a vessel for the year’s transgressions; its blood is spilled and God is appeased.
“This is the most beautiful day in our lives. I wait all year for this day,” says Samri.