SHAVUOT IN ISRAELITE SAMARITAN TRADITION
The Date of Samaritan Shavuot
The Torah teaches that the holiday of Shavuot (Assaba’ot in Samaritan (2) parlance) should be observed seven weeks after the Shabbat (ממחרת השבת) following the waving of the omer [Leviticus 23:11, 15-16]. According to the Samaritan interpretation, since the Torah discusses the waving of the omer immediately after the description of the Festival of Matzot, the omer is waved immediately after the Shabbat of Matzot, namely on the following Sunday. Thus, in the Samaritan calendar, Shavuot always falls on a Sunday.
Such disparate groups as the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sadducees, the Karaites and the Falashas, share this understanding of the verse. All of these groups understood the term Shabbat in Leviticus 23:15-16 as Sabbath. In fact, understanding the term Shabbat as a reference to the first Yom Tov of the Matzot festival is unique to Rabbinic Judaism.
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Seven Days of Shavuot
The Samaritan sages, of blessed memory, determined that Shavuot should be seen to be equal in status to the other pilgrimage holidays. Thus, they resolved that the festival of Shavuot, marking the climax of the fifty days of counting the omer, should also last for seven days, making the length of this holiday comparable to that of the festivals of Matzot and Sukkot. This elongation of the festival reflects its etymological connection with shavua, a week, and it is preceded by six special weeks.
This decision to extend the festival is in some ways comparable to the decision of the rabbinic sages to add an extra day of Yom Tov to every biblical festival. In both cases, the Jewish and Samaritan sages ended up adding six festival days to the calendar. For the Samaritans, the seven-day festival of Shavuot begins on the Monday of the last week of the omer, and ends with biblical Shavuot on the following Sunday (3). During the first five days of the festival week, work (melacha) is permitted.
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Themes of the Weeks Leading up to Shavuot
Each of the seven weeks leading up to Shavuot has a specific biblical theme in Samaritan tradition:
1) Week of the crossing of the (Reed) Sea [Exodus 14:26-15:21]
2) Week of the changing of the water of marah [Exodus 15:22-26]
3) Week of elim, where the Israelites found twelve water springs and seventy palm trees [Exodus 15:27-16:3]
4) Week of the manna, which fell down upon them from heaven in the desert [Exodus 16:4-36]
5) Week of the water welling out from the rock [Exodus 17:1-7]
6) Week of the battles against ‘Amalek [Exodus 17:8-17]
7) Week of the Decalogue [Exodus 19:1 ff.]
Thus, the week of Shavuot overlaps with the week of the Decalogue (beginning on the second day of that week). Like the rabbinic community, the Samaritans connect Shavuot to the giving of the Torah.
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Laws and Customs of the Seven-Day Festival
For the Samaritans, the holy site upon which God chose to rest God’s name is not Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but Mount Gerizim-Bet El (4). In Samaritan belief, this was the site of the binding of Isaac (5) and the site of the Tabernacle (6); it is the site of the future Garden of Eden and the future Temple (7).
Day 1: The Day of Assembly (יום קהלה)
Samaritans call the opening day of the festival The Day of Assembly. It marks the day when Samaritans gather for the second pilgrimage of the year (the first being Matzot and the third Sukkot). We devote the day to visiting, with song and prayers, the sites that mark the parameters of the future Garden of Eden.
The following four places demarcate the area:
(a) The Everlasting Hill (גבעת עולם) on Mount Gerizim.
(b) The Parcel of Land in Shechem, which according to Samaritan tradition, Jacob the forefather bought.
(c) Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (according to Samaritan tradition).
(d) Kiryat Eburta (currently known as Awwarteh) and, according to Samaritan tradition, the burial place of the High Priests Elazar and Itamar, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, Pinchas ben Elazar and his son Abisha. In Samaritan tradition this was also the burial place of the seventy elders and Samaritan High Priests.
Day 2: The Night of Reading the Torah (ליל מקרתה)
On Tuesday, the second day of the festival week, the people are sanctified in preparation for the Day of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. In the evening, people gather in the synagogues for a special prayer service. Before every prayer, Samaritans wash their hands, face, nose, ears and feet with water, as Moses and Aaron did [Exodus 40:31].
Day 3: Memorial Day of the Sinai Assembly (יום מעמד הר סיני)
On the third of the seven festival days, from midnight (8) until the following evening, we read the entire Torah and sing a variety of hymns. We devote the prayers to remembrance of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. In Samaritan tradition, this day marks the day when Moses received the Decalogue from God at Sinai.
Days 4 and 5
Samaritans who live in Neveh Marqeh, a neighbourhood in Holon, move to their second homes at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim to prepare for the pilgrimage. (Today, most Samaritans who do not live in Kiryat Luza have a second home there).
Day 6: Shabbat of the Decalogue (שבת עשרת הדברים)
On the sixth day, the Sabbath, we devote the 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 giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. According to custom, Samaritans share the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments with their families.
The tenth commandment in the Samaritan version of the Torah differs from the Masoretic text or the Septuagint, and reads:
And there you shall build an altar to Shehmaa your Eloowwem, an altar of stones. You shall lift up no iron on them. And you shall build the altar of Shehmaa your Eloowwem of complete stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings thereupon to Shehmaa your Eloowwem. And you shall sacrifice offerings, and shall eat there. And you shall rejoice before Shehmaa your Eloowwem. (Upon) that mountain, in the other side of the Yaardaan, beyond the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Kaanannee who dwell in the Aaraabaah, before the Galgaal, beside the plain of Moorah, before Ashkem (Shechem) (11). [Exodus 20:14]
Day 7: The Festival of Weeks, The Harvest Festival
Sunday is the festival of Shavuot. The day begins with a cold meal, mostly salads and cheeses (since Samaritans do not cook on Shabbat, and Shavuot always falls after Shabbat). The prayers begin after midnight in the synagogue at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim. The all-night service is similar to the Jewish custom to learn Torah all night on Shavuot, Tikkun Leil Shavuot. At about 4:00 a.m. the congregation leaves the synagogue and makes the pilgrimage to the mountaintop. On the way up, the Song of the Sea is sung. While singing and praying, they move from station to station.
1. The first station is the Place of the Stones [The Twelve Stones, Deuteronomy 27:4]. In the Samaritan version of the Torah: Mount Gerizim.
2. The second stop is the site of the altar of Adam and his son Seth.
3. The next is the site of God Will Provide [Genesis 22:8], where Abraham saw the ram in the thicket when he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
4. The following stop is the site of the Altar of Isaac.
5. The next station is the Altar of Noah.
6. The next stop is the site of the Everlasting Hill [Deuteronomy 33:15].
(Note: In the past, two monuments of Jacob marked the place and this had been the third station. It is now the last station).
At each one of these six stations, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) will wave the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). We devote the prayers to the Harvest Festival, the main theme of the festival in both the Masoretic and Samaritan Bibles, neither of which connect Shavuot explicitly to the giving of the Torah.
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The Shavuot Festive Meal
Samaritans eat several traditional foods on Shavuot, including the Sarah and Hagar dish, a half white (Sarah) and half red (Hagar) custard dish. We also make labneh cheese balls (made from yogurt), salt cookies called meqamar, and a roasted wheat soup called freekah (the word means “newly plucked wheat”). We combine passages from the Torah, including the Decalogue, with hymns and prayer during this meal.
Other traditional foods include grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, and zucchini stuffed with chicken breast and spices. We do not eat these at the same meal as the dairy foods, since Samaritans do not mix milk and meat (including poultry). We wait 3 hours before consuming meat after dairy, and 6 hours before consuming dairy after meat.
After the meal and our all-night prayers, we sleep. Thus ends the festival of Shavuot and a week’s worth of prayer and Torah study; a fitting way to celebrate the second pilgrimage of the year and God’s revelation to Israel at Sinai, 3 692 years ago by Samaritan reckoning.
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Photography: Ori Orhof
All photographs of the Shavuot celebrations were taken by non-Samaritans, since Samaritans do not use any form of electricity on Yom Tov.
Editorial Notes by Zev Farber and Benyamim Tsedaka
The origin of the Samaritans, and the date of the schism between Samaritans and what became mainstream Judaism is debated. For one view of the Samaritans and their early history, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans. Most significantly, for the Samaritan community, only the five books of the Torah are canonical. These books appear in a form different from that in the Masoretic text, an issue we will explore in the future. It is noteworthy that some of these differences are attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Samaritan community possesses a text of Joshua written in Arabic and dating to the medieval period; it is not canonical and diverges radically in places from the rabbinic Joshua.
For the sake of clarity, readers should know that we do not refer to ourselves as Samaritans, but as “Sons of Israel, Keepers of the Truth of the Torah”. Nevertheless, since we have been called Samaritans from ancient times until the present, we make use of the term when discussing ourselves with members of the the outside world for simplicity’s sake. Thus, I have adopted the same convention here.
This year, 2014 in the Christian calendar, 3652 in Samaritan reckoning (we count from the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land under Joshua), the week of Shavuot falls out from Monday 2 June through to Sunday 8 June.
In Samaritan interpretation, Bet El or Luz is another name for Mount Gerizim in Shechem.
We identify Mount Morayan with Elon Moreh in Genesis 12:6, another name for Shechem.
The Samaritan Book of Joshua ch. 24 describes Joshua establishing the Tabernacle on Mount Gerizim. Chapter 43 describes the Tabernacle in Shiloh as an alternative worship site built by the rebel priest, Eli.
This idea that the mountain of God is also the future Garden of Eden has some Jewish sources as well; see, for example, Ezekiel 28:13-14.
Although the service begins at midnight, the Samaritan day begins at sunset.
Like the Jews, we do not pronounce the Tetragrammaton (four-letter name of God). The term Shehmaa is the Aramaic version of the same locution used by Jews, Hashem, meaning, “the name.”
The Samaritan pronunciation of E-lohim, God.
The translation comes from Benyamim Tsedaka (translator) and Sharon Sullivan (editor), The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version (Eerdmans, 2013). The final piece of the commandment that describes the location of the mountain is referred to as “the seven location witnesses”.
This article by Benny, along with the editorial notes is also published on Rabbi David Steinberg’s www.thetorah.com