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Almost like Pesach

Text and Photos by Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

The Shomronim have been practicing their Pascal sacrifice for the last 2,500 years, and watching the annual event makes you think you’re in a time bubble. The ancient chanting and ritual of this throwback sect makes us wonder: Is this what our forefathers’ Passover looked like when theTemplestood inJerusalem? And is this what the future will look like when theTempleis rebuilt?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

pushing lambWe could have been in a time warp. Had we somehow landed in fifth-century BCE Samaria? The setting was the SamaritanvillageofKiryat Luza, which sits atop Har Grizim in the Shomron, right next to the Israeli town ofHar Brachahin the environs of Shechem. The event was the community’s annual “Korban Pesach,” and there is indeed nowhere else where one can still see animal sacrifices inIsraelby a group that claims it’s doing it exactly the way the Torah prescribes.

The Samaritans, or Shomronim, have a solar-lunar calendar similar to our Jewish calendar, and indeed offer their annual Pascal sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan. But because they do not accept all of our calendrical rules, their Rosh Chodesh may be off by a few days each month, and they also incorporate leap years differently than does the Jewish calendar. Every six months their high priest announces the calendar for the upcoming half year, and thus, their Pesach can fall around our Purim, Pesach, or Pesach Sheni. This year their Pesach fell approximately a month after ours, on the day before our Pesach Sheni. Next year it will be a day before our Pesach.

The Shomronim have been observing this ritual for at least 2,500 years on MountGrizim, and we wanted to see how an almost-dead religion, claiming to be of Jewish roots, observes the sacrificial rite. Perhaps it would even offer us a glimpse into the beauty and grandeur of what the Korban Pesach in the Beis HaMikdash was like, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days. Recognizing, however, that this was a non-Jewish group offering sacrifices outside of Yerushalayim, we asked several poskim about the propriety of attending the event, and were assured that it was not halachically problematic. We were not disappointed by our visit. 

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