COMPARING TEFILLIN AND MEZUZOT IN THE SAMARITAN AND JEWISH TRADITIONS
In the tradition of the Ancient Israelites and the Israelite Samaritans, tefillin (Hebrew: תפילין) is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew totafot (reminder) in the Torah. Jews understand the meaning literally. Their tefillin consist of small, black leather boxes containing parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. Jews bind them to the forehead (tefillin rosh) and to the arm (tefillin yad). They adopted this interpretation early in the schism between Jews and Samaritans. Archaeologists found tefillin of the head (tefillin shel rosh) dating from the first century CE at Masada. In Judaism, the tying of tefillin shel yad on the arm originated with the exodus from Egypt. However, the exodus is an account of liberation from slavery, and it is illogical to connect freedom with binding.
Israelite Samaritans understand the commandment in a spiritual sense: “And did you recall all the commandments of God”. They also believe that the story of the exodus is the source of the commandment:
For Israelite Samaritans the binding is a spiritual connection, like that between Jacob and Benyamim:
Mezuzah (doorpost), Hebrew: מְזוּזָה
Mezuzot (plural), Hebrew: מְזוּזוֹת
In the Jewish tradition a mezuzah is a parchment inscribed with particular verses from the Torah. Often, a decorative case protects the parchment. Jews fix the mezuzah to the doorframe of the house to fulfil the mitzvah (Commandment):
Israelite Samaritans select verses from the Torah with particularly holy qualities, a blessing, or an uplifting message. Then, they engrave the verses in ancient Hebrew on panels of marble, and place them in their homes. Alternatively, they write the verses on parchment in elegant calligraphy, and hang them on the walls of their homes. The more mezuzot hanging on the walls, the better!
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Schism Between Jews and Samaritans
The Second Temple Period saw further rabbinic regulations. At that time, Judaism sought to distance itself from the influence of the Israelite Samaritans. In a few cities, and in many villages, mixed populations of Jews and Samaritans lived together. Rabbinic Judaism imposed new regulations, such as the change from Hebrew script to Aramaic; the Pleasures of Shabbat; candle lighting; the timing of the Counting of the Omer; starting the New Year at the beginning of the seventh month; and relaxing the laws of purity and impurity during a woman’s monthly period. (Rather than complete separation, Jewish women continued to cook, and to take care of their home and children).
These Rabbinic regulations contradict the written Torah, in both its Jewish and Samaritan versions. Rabbinic Judaism modified them in what Jews call The Oral Torah. They did it because they wanted to differentiate themselves from the Israelite Samaritans.
I smile sometimes, when reading learned articles about ‘the separation of the Samaritans from the Jews’, written in the patronising tone of these ‘scholars’. Rather, the separation set Judaism apart from the Samaritans, and from many commandments of the Torah. The evidence shows that in the compilation of the Mishna and Talmud, it was the Jewish rabbis who distanced themselves from the Samaritans, and not the other way round.
Today, you can find numerous rabbinic Jews, who patronisingly reject the Israelite Samaritans. They also reject Jewish streams who behave differently from themselves. But not a single Israelite Samaritan will deny that the Jews are an integral part of Israel.
See more images of Samaritan life in the photography of Ori Orhof