“Centuries ago we, like the Jews, built our sukkot outdoors, but now we build sukkot inside our homes, according to our tradition,” said Yousef Sadaka HaCohen, a priest and one of only 802 Samaritans in the world, referring to the temporary structures Jews and Samaritans eat and sometimes sleep in during the holiday. Photo by Michele Chabin

Middle East’s Samaritans link Muslims and Jews

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank (RNS) – During the recent Sukkot holiday, Yousef Sadaka HaCohen, a Samaritan priest, greeted guests eager to soak up the Samaritans’ unique holiday traditions.

Among those guests were several Israeli and Palestinian officials, who, on the rare occasions they get together these days, usually meet to coordinate security or air grievances.

“During our holidays, officials from the Palestinian Authority and Israeli commanders accept our invitation. They eat together, even laugh together. You would never know they are enemies,” HaCohen said with a sparkle in his eyes.

“We are not Jewish and we are not Muslim, but in many ways we are the bridge between the two.”

Once numbering more than 1 million people, the Samaritans, who share many ritual practices with Jews and whose willingness to help a stranger is praised by Jesus in the parable of the good Samaritan, are now one of the smallest religious groups in the world.

Wars, forced conversions and, more recently, devastating inherited diseases caused by relatives marrying relatives have taken a catastrophic toll on the Samaritans.

Although their numbers are small — there are only 802 in the entire world — the Samaritans say they are hopeful for the future. Thanks to genetic testing and, yes, mail-order brides, the community is growing.

Today’s Samaritans live in two groups, separated not only by geography but culture. About 350 live under Palestinian rule on Mount Gerizim, the biblical mountain where, they say, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. The other group took root near Tel Aviv decades ago, after war prevented Samaritans working in Israel from returning to their West Bank homes.

Although both groups have official status under Israeli and Palestinian law, those based in Israel are integrated into Hebrew-speaking Israeli society and are drafted into the Israeli army, while those based in the West Bank are integrated into Arabic-speaking Palestinian society but attend a Samaritan school funded by the Vatican.

They meet several times a year, especially during holidays.

Every Samaritan has both a Hebrew name and an Arabic name, and Samaritans are fluent in both languages — but not fully accepted by either Muslims or Jews, community members say.

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“The Muslims see us as Jews and the Jews see us as fanatics. They’re wary of us. It’s difficult,” said Rajai Al-Tarif, the community’s spokesman, who works in a Palestinian telecommunications company.

Samaritan tradition says the community is descended from the biblical tribes of Ephraim and Menashe and that its people remained in the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the Assyrians exiled the Israelite tribes to Babylon in 722 B.C.

Jewish tradition says the Samaritans are descended from the Cutheans, ancient pagans the Assyrians brought to the land after the Israelite tribes were forced out, and merely adopted many Jewish practices.

In Christian tradition, in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus tells of a traveler who has been beaten and left to die. While others ignore his plight, a Samaritan comes to his aid. To this day, those who go out of their way to help others are called “good Samaritans.”

Although Jews and Samaritans both revere the Torah, albeit in different forms, they do so in very different ways.

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Unlike Jews, who consider both Jewish Torah law and oral (rabbinical) law to be holy, Samaritans follow another version of the Torah and their own sacred texts.

HaCohen said Samaritan ritual practices have barely changed since ancient times.

Samaritan women who give birth must have no contact with men for 40 days if the baby is a boy – 80 days if the baby is a girl. Women are also segregated during their menstrual cycles.

“Some believe our laws deprive women of their rights in some ways, but we spoil her in other ways,” the priest said.

Although modern society may consider these prohibitions archaic, “the fact that she is not allowed to touch her husband or prepare her family’s food gives her the time to heal and recover,” HaCohen said.

In accordance with a literal interpretation of the biblical prohibition to refrain from work during the Sabbath, Samaritans do not use any form of electricity or fire from sundown Friday till sundown Saturday.

“We don’t use any electric devices, not even a refrigerator. We receive our light from God,” he said.

Despite the Samaritans' strict adherence to ancient practices, they are also pragmatists.

During a period of violent persecution by the Byzantines some 1,500 years ago, the community’s priests decided that sukkahs should be built indoors for safety reasons. (Jews build their sukkahs outdoors.)

Much more recently, the priests came up with ways to save the Samaritans from extinction. By the early 1900s, there were fewer than 150.

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In addition to embracing genetic testing, a few years ago the priests decided to allow the community’s men (at the time there was a male/female ratio of 3-to-1) to marry women of Ukrainian ancestry. Although some of the brides come from Israel, most emigrate from the Ukraine after spending a few days there with their prospective husbands.

Although Jewish and Muslim women have occasionally married Samaritan men, “bringing in women from outside means neither the Jewish nor Muslim communities are offended,” HaCohen said. After a trial period “any woman who is unhappy here is allowed to go home.”

Al-Tarif said the 23 Ukrainian women who have become Samaritans and given birth to 60 children “have brought new blood. They have rejuvenated us and our religion. They have given us hope.”


  1. “Assyrians exiled the Israelite tribes to Babylon in 722 B.C” Gene has interesting discussion re: 723 BC as anchor date for Bible Chronology of Hebrew kings. http://biblechronologybooks.com/hebrewkings.html

    “MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4.1-42&version=NIV ““Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.(N) 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,(Mt Gerizim)(O) but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

  2. A very intriguing story, which clarifies certain facts regarding the Samaritans that I must shamefacedly admit I did not know despite years of bible study, even though it is all essentially described in the biblical text.

  3. Reading from today relates https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//daily.php?year=A#id163 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Kings+17&version=NIV Key to Faulstich’s Chronology as it differs with commonly accepted Thiele Chronology. http://biblechronologybooks.com/ Quote relates, “Thiele needed to hypothesize “scribal error” in the biblical text of 2 Kings 17 & 18 to make his kings chronology harmonize. The overall result of his methodology (accepting that parts of the Bible were in error) was a faulty chronology and the propagation of the idea throughout academia (after all, he did have a PhD!) that the biblical text as we have it today cannot be trusted to be a totally accurate expression of the mind of God, especially in matters of history and chronology. The damage since done to the credibility of the Bible as God’s word has been subtle but massive.” Haven’t read in full. Gene agrees with error of Thiele. http://www.prophecysociety.org/?p=5948


  4. For interest: John 8:48; John 4:9;Nehemiah 6:1–14;

  5. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+8%3A48%3B+John+4%3A9%3BNehemiah+6%3A1%E2%80%9314%3B&version=NIV
    Don’t see connection of Nehemiah 6 to Samaritans. You left out v 15 which is good chronology.
    “Nehemiah 6:15New International Version (NIV)

    15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.”

    Interesting that they call Jesus “Samaritan and demon possessed”.

    Also https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+9.51-56&version=NIV


  6. It was the Samaritans who tried to make them stop building the wall in Nehemiah 6.
    My understanding is the Jews and Samaritans did not get along. If you remember the story about the woman at the well, she commented on Him talking with her, as she is Samaritan.
    Thank you for the links, but I don’t open links from people I don’t know. Blessings.

  7. Samaritan Opposition
    51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven,(A) Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.(B) 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan(C) village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John(D) saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[a]?”(E) 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

  8. Interesting: “Jesus’ Claims About Himself
    48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan(A) and demon-possessed?” NIV

    What does it mean to be a Samaritan? Demon-possessed? Then? Now?

    New Jerome Commentary has interesting discussion on Nehemiah 6.1-14 “R J Coggins (1975) “intent on tracing a simon-pure “Samaritanism” of the Gospel era that he denies the name not merely to Ezra’s “people of the land”, but even to Sanballat, “not ‘a Samaritan’ in terms of this study” p.58

    They were questioning Jesus parenthood/Father as he was their’s.

    Googled “Samaritans Nehemiah 6” & found “The Samaritans: 720 BC The pagan half-Jews of the Old Testament” bible dot ca/archeology/bible-archeology-samaritans.htm (Link address without link. You can google find it on your own to avoid concerns.)
    From this week’s Torah parsha Noach
    Comment Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad dot org October 7, 2013
    Re: James
    With regards to the question whether Abraham was Jewish see the article Was Abraham Jewish? As for what happened to the Ten lost tribes see The Exile of the Ten Lost Tribes, which can be found at Chabad Noach in a Nutshell
    Google “khazars Anti-Semitism” which is belief of some that Jews are not Jews but Khazars. “Is Jesus Really a Samaritan?” manassas church dot org

    Noach haftarah at Chabad dot org is also of interest.

    The Future Glory of Zion (Jerusalem)
    54 “Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
    burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
    because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
    says the Lord.
    2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
    stretch your tent curtains wide,
    do not hold back;
    lengthen your cords,
    strengthen your stakes.
    3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
    your descendants will dispossess nations
    and settle in their desolate cities.
    4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
    You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
    5 For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
    the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    he is called the God of all the earth.
    6 The Lord will call you back
    as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
    a wife who married young,
    only to be rejected,” says your God.
    7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
    8 In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
    but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.
    9 “To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
    So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
    10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
    yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

  9. Hmmmmm,…… this article has me wondering; if a culture this oppressive to women gently fades into the larger community, does the benefit outweigh the loss?

  10. Here we go again……. For the umpteenth time, a reporter unaware of the fact not all Jews consider the “oral” Law holy; the Qaraites and their like-minded only consider the Miqra holy. When will we finally merit to witness a break with this damned ignorance and laziness?????
    Why oh why can the reporter not perform some elementary research and then write, “Unlike the Rabbinical Jews, who consider both Jewish Torah law and oral (rabbinical) law to be holy, Samaritans follow another version of the Torah and their own sacred texts.” ?

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