Details and dates of this year’s Festivals in the Samaritan Calendar:
The First Evening of the First Month
Monday 27 March 2017
The Passover Sacrifice
Monday evening 10 April 2017, between the sunsets (7:11 pm)
The Festival of Passover
Tuesday 11 April
The Festival of Unleavened Bread
The First Pilgrimage
Monday 17 April 2017
The Day of the Sinai Assembly
Wednesday 31 May 2017
The Festival of Weeks
The Second Pilgrimage
Sunday 4 June 2017
The Festival of the First Day of the Seventh Month
Wednesday 20 September 2017
The Day of Atonement
Friday 29 September 2017
The Festival of Sukkot
The Third Pilgrimage
Wednesday 4 October 2017
The Festival of the Eighth Day
Wednesday 11 October 2017
The Samaritans celebrate only the seven holidays mentioned in the Torah:
Pessach (Passover) Separate page
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matzot) Separate page
Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost, seven weeks after Passover) This page
The First Day of the Seventh Month This page
Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) This page
Sukkot (The Festival of Tabernacles, or Booths) This page
Shemini Atseret (The Eighth Day of Assembly) This page
Unlike our Jewish brothers within the People of Israel, Israelite Samaritans do not celebrate the (rabbinic) festival Hanukah, nor do we celebrate Purim. The New Year celebration falls fourteen days before Pessach (Passover).
Seven Festivals of the Israelite Samaritan Year
1. PESSACH (Passover), the Sacrifice and the Festival
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2. THE FESTIVAL OF UNLEAVENED BREAD (Matzot)
3. THE SEVEN DAYS OF SHAVUOT (The Festival of Weeks, Pentecost)
(a) The Samaritan sages of blessed memory determined that the length of the Shavuot festival should, like Pessach and Sukkot be seven days, as written in the Torah. It marks the climax of the fifty days (seven weeks and one day) of Counting the Omer (omer: the first sheaves of barley), which began on the first day of Pessach.
The holiday lasts from the Monday of the final week of Counting the Omer until the feast on the seventh day.
(b) The opening day of the seven-day festival is called the Day of Assembly. It marks the day when the People of Israel who preserve the Tradition gather for the second pilgrimage of the year. This day is dedicated to visiting the sites which mark the boundaries of the future Garden of Eden, the boundaries of the chosen place, Mount Gerizim Bet El, with song and prayers. Each person who makes this pilgrimage, or participates in the Passover sacrifice there, has fulfilled the commandment which states: at the place God has chosen, to rest His name there.
Four Boundary Points
(i) The Everlasting Hill on Mount Gerizim.
(ii) The Parcel of Land in Shechem (Nablus) which Jacob The Forefather bought.
(iii) Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem.
(iv) Kiryat Eburta (currently known as Awarteh), the burial place of the High Priests Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron the High Priest; Pinhas ben Elazar, and his son Avishay. This was also the burial place of the Seventy Elders and Samaritan High Priests.
(c) On Tuesday of the festival week, the second of the seven days, the congregation is sanctified in preparation for the Day of the Revelation (of the Torah) at Mount Sinai. In the evening, people gather in the synagogues for a special prayer service.
(d) The Memorial Day of the Sinai Assembly falls on Wednesday of the festival week.
On this, the third of the seven festival days, from midnight to the following evening, we dedicate prayers to remembrance of the Revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. We sing hymns and read the entire Torah.
During the first five days of the festival week, work is permitted.
(e) On Thursday and Friday, the fourth and fifth days, the Samaritans move to their homes at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim to prepare for the pilgrimage.
(f) On the sixth day, The Special Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, we dedicate prayers to a description of the giving of the Torah, hence the name The Sabbath of the Commandments. In the middle of the prayers, we sing a hymn, composed in the 14th century and describing the handing down of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Share with your family the story of the handing down of the Ten Commandments. Please read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, particularly the Tenth Commandment, which does not appear in the Jewish version of the Torah:
The seven location markers are:
(i) Mount Gerizim
(ii) On the other side of the River Jordan
(iii) Behind the way of the sunset
(iv) In the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arava
(v) Before Gilgal
(vi) Beside the Plain of Moreh
(vii) Before Schehem (Nablus)
(g) Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost, seven weeks after Passover)
Sunday brings Shavuot, the year’s second pilgrimage to the holy sites on Mount Gerizim. The prayers begin an hour after midnight, in the synagogue at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim. At about 4:00 a.m., the congregation leave the synagogue and make the pilgrimage to the mountain top, while singing and praying. They move from station to station.
(a) The first station is the Place of the Stones (The Twelve Stones, Deuteronomy 27:4, understood to be Mount Gerizim in the Samaritan tradition).
(b) The second station is the site of the Altar of Adam and his son Seth.
(c) The third station is the site of the Everlasting Hill (The Everlasting Hill, Deuteronomy 33:15).
(d) The fourth station is the site of God Will Provide (God Will Provide, Genesis 22:8), where Abraham saw the ram in a thicket when he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
(e) The fifth station is the site of the Altar of Isaac.
(f) The sixth station is the Altar of Noah.
(g) The seventh station is the site of the Everlasting Hill. In the past, two monuments to Jacob marked the place, and this had been the third station.
We dedicate prayers to the Harvest Festival. At the end, we enjoy a festive meal.
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4. THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH
(a) The Festival of the Seventh Month starts the Fallow Year, a year in which cultivation is prohibited, and the soil allowed to rest. The cycle of the Seventh Year begins on the first day of the seventh month. Likewise, the Jubilee Year, (the Fiftieth), begins and ends on the first day of the seventh month, after which the next cycle of fallow years begins.
On the seventh day of the seventh month, at the seventh hour, Moses, the son of Amram, was born, the supreme Prophet, whose equal has not been seen before, during or after his lifetime. Therefore, the seventh month is also the crowning month.
However, the Festival of the Seventh Month is primarily the beginning of the Festival of the Nine Days of Repentance, which precede the Day of Atonement and the Ten Days of Forgiveness, and which climax on the tenth day, the Day of Atonement.
The Festival of the Seventh Month is significant, being the fourth in the series, at the heart of the seven annual festivals. It is a time to meditate on repentance without relapse, renouncing sin permanently.
The feast marks the approach of the Day of Fast, and is the prelude to repentance.
(b) The Sabbath of the Ten Days of Forgiveness.
We recommend a reading of Deuteronomy, followed by family discussion of the value of Atonement and Forgiveness. There is no special Torah portion for this Sabbath.
On the days between the Feast of the Seventh Month and the Day of Atonement, the congregation are sanctified with special prayers each evening and morning, and members prepare to atone for guilt. These are days of mercy, forgiveness, atonement, grace and favour. It is an opportunity to be saved, and to renounce sin.
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5. YOM KIPPUR (The Day of Atonement)
We give highest regard to the Day of Atonement, the crowning Sabbath and festival of grace. He who infuses his soul with total resolve at this time is considered reborn. On this day, the whole congregation stands from one evening to the next in prayer, and reads God’s Torah. The shofar (the ram’s horn) sounds for Israel.
After struggle, release from sin will be achieved. On this day, the king of festivals, Forgiveness radiates. The requirement to fast on this day applies to all, from the recently-weaned infant, to the long-lived grandfather.
The prayer service continues without interruption from one evening to the next. The women of the congregation and their daughters must remember, in the evening and throughout the course of the day, to help the younger children to endure the fast until the reward at the day’s end: the sumptuous feast. Immediately after, preparations begin for the Harvest Festival (Sukkot).
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6. SUKKOT (The Harvest Festival, The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths)
There are no more joyous days for Israelite Samaritans than the days of the Harvest Festival. Following the fast of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the tradition of the sages instils a feeling of rebirth, and each member of the congregation feels imbued with fresh strength and vigour for the building of their sukkah (booth). These remind us in their appearance and complexity of the exquisite Garden of Eden, and the facade of the Tabernacle of Moses. Neither structure is now visible, so every congregation member is free to design his sukkah as he sees fit. Each endeavours to build the most beautiful sukkah.
Short film including Israelite Samaritan Sukkot (YouTube, Hebrew with English subtitles).
The members of the congregation are commanded to make the pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim on each of the three annual pilgrimage festivals. Before they do this at The Harvest Festival they must complete the construction of their sukkot (booths). They started to build them in the evening at the end of the Day of Atonement. At times, the interval is very short, when the holiday follows the Sabbath. At other times, there is a longer preparation period within the four days separating the Day of Atonement from the Feast of Booths.
Building The Sukka
Some attach the four species to the ceiling of the largest room in the home, while others place them on four strong poles. The average weight of the fruit used is about 350 kg. Each wonderful, elegant citrus fruit of the season is hung in the sukkah, dozens of kilograms of each species. Above them we attach palm fronds, alternately spread out, right side up, and upside down. Above these, we place dense boughs of thick-leafed trees, close together to form a thatched roof. Alongside we place willows of the brook, brought from the banks of Israeli streams and rivers. All the species are joined together.
Third Pilgrimage To Mount Gerizim
The different coloured lights suspended among the assorted paper decorations are dimmed, and the congregation sets off on the pilgrimage. This is the third pilgrimage of the year to the Holy Sites on Mount Gerizim. We dedicate the prayers to The Harvest Festival.
Following the pilgrimage, the congregation descend to their sukkot. Joy reaches its peak. The clear arak, produced the previous day at home, is diluted in the waters of the mountain springs until they turn white as milk, and decanted into throats filled with the cheerful songs of Sukkot. Truly, the Harvest Festival is a day of happiness and rejoicing. A large variety of salads, peeled almonds which have been soaked in water, oven-baked broad beans, assorted baked goods, cakes and cookies add to the joy.
Among the festival days, there is also a festive Sabbath of the Harvest Festival, which is called the Garden of Eden Sabbath. This Sabbath comes to teach us that he whose sins have been forgiven on the Day of Atonement is worthy to enter the gates of the Garden of Eden. The sukkah expresses this beautifully. On Sukkot the Samaritans host thousands of guests who come to visit from all over the country and from abroad.
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7. THE FEAST OF SHEMINI ATSERET (The Eighth Day of Sukkot)
The day of Shemini Atseret (the Eighth Day of Sukkot) concludes the festivals of the year. It is the last, but not the least of the annual festivals. At the end of the festival prayer service, we rejoice with Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), and then depart for the sumptuous festive meal. At the end of the holiday, we dismantle the sukkot, storing their poles and nets until the next Harvest Festival. The fruits will be squeezed to make sweet juice, and some will be eaten by the children.
Note: On Shabbats and Festivals the schedule of worship is the same, from sunset the evening before until sunset the evening after. The worshipper may adjust to the time of sunset in his or her location.
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See TOURS for details of accommodation on Mount Gerizim
Photography: Ori Orhof