On Sunday night, 3 other ulpanists and I drove to a checkpoint near Nablus, then took a bullet-proof bus up to Mount Gerizim to watch the Samaritan’s annual Passover sacrifice.

View from Mount Gerizim at dusk.

The Samaritan people number around 750. They are split between two towns, around 400 in Holon (near Tel Aviv, in Israel proper) and about 350 Kiryat Luza (below Mount Gerizim in the last wholly Samaritan community). Tiny! I wonder how they maintain their numbers, since traditionally they have allowed no converts or marriages outside the Samaritan community. We did see some very blonde women in Samaritan dress during the sacrifices, and I heard that the Samaritans, thinking practically, have allowed a few women to marry into the community. Men, however, cannot marry in. We arrived as the sun was setting.

View from Mount Gerizim at sunset.

There were men on a raised stage chanting, and many other men were standing apart in a blue-framed area, holding down their sheep alongside a trench. MVI_9372 In the below movie, you get a glimpse of the trench and the slaughtered sheep: MVI_9410 Everyone was dressed in white, and had a red (blood?) smudge on their forehead. I spoke with a Samaritan elder, who told me this was to equalize everyone. Poor, rich, young, old: everyone wore the same color. There were some elders dressed in different colors, though, probably to signify status. IMG_9438 IMG_9504 The men let the sheep’s blood drain into the trench, then hung them by their hind legs to drain the remaining blood; they then skinned the sheep, gutted them, and tied the carcasses to pointed stakes:

preparing the sheep.
preparing the sheep.
Gutting the sheep.

The offal was burned on a particular fire, after a man (the one in the red hat) said some prayers over it:

Burning the offal.

Then the men stoked fires in 5 separate pits, over which the sheep were to be cooked (they slaughter the sleep at sunset, and the feast begins at midnight. We weren’t eager to wait around for 3.5 hours until the sheep were cooked, and I had work in the morning besides, so we drove back before the feast began).

A roasting pit.


A group of men and a boy (whose job it was to twist the wire mesh closed) prepare a sheep for roasting.
The grounds of the ceremony, after many tourists had cleared out. Before the sun set, it was packed.

The Samaritans have been performing these sacrifices in, more or less, the same manner for thousands of years. Their head priests can be traced in a direct line to Shelemiah ben Pinhas in 1613 C.E. The priest before him was descended directly, it is said, from Aaron, brother of Moses. People were very gracious about discussing Samaritan culture (except for one man at the gate who wanted a bribe before letting us in. I ended up talking him out of it). We have a feeling that this ceremony will soon draw larger and larger crowds of tourists, so if you want to see the Samaritan Passover sacrifices, go soon. And please stay for the feast, I wish we were able to have done so. Maybe I’ll see one of you at the feast next year.

Carrying the sheep past the burned offal to the pits.
An Arab reporter covering the sacrifices. There were a lot of media at the ceremony.

One thought on “Samaritan Sacrifices

  1. When I read your remarkable blogs, I think of you and also of my sister, Tauna. She, too, had a zest for life and an amazing capacity to accomplish anything she set her mind to. Also I see in your face many similarities to hers.
    Thank you so much for sharing. I am passing your blogs onto my children.
    Enjoy Passover. Our dog, Kesher, found the afikomen and was eating it. Joel had hidden it under the buffet table. Not a wise choice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s