MIDDLE EAST

Palestine’s Samaritans make pilgrimage to Mt. Gerizim

PALESTINE’S SAMARITANS MAKE PILGRIMAGE TO MT. GERIZIM

Dozens of Samaritans, a small religious sect based in the West Bank city of Nablus, performed their annual Sukkah pilgrimage Wednesday morning to the nearby Mount Gerizim.

Samaritans perform the ritual every year to commemorate the Exodus of the Beni Israel ("sons of Israel") -- the true Israelites -- from Pharaoh's Egypt.

Clad entirely in white, male members of the sect ascend to the top of the mountain before dawn, where they perform a series of rituals and chant hymns in the ancient Hebrew language.

During Wednesday's pilgrimage, Abdullah Wasef, the sect's high priest, carried an ancient copy of the Torah (known to Christians as the Old Testament) which is said to be one of the oldest in the world.

Samaritans see Mount Gerizim as the most sacred place on earth, where God ordered Prophet Abraham to slaughter his son Isaac (although he later retracted the order).

Unlike the Samaritans (and the Jews), Muslims believe that God ordered the prophet to slaughter his son Ishmael, not Isaac.

Samaritans also revere the mountain because they believe it was the site of King Solomon's temple, which modern-day Israeli Jews claim had once stood in Jerusalem.

Describing themselves chiefly as Palestinians, Samaritans adhere to an Abrahamic religion closely related to -- but distinct from -- modern Judaism.

While claiming to be the true descendants of the ancient Israelites, Samaritans deny the sacred nature of Jerusalem and see contemporary Rabbinic Judaism as a deviation from the original faith of Moses and the Old Testament prophets.

The Samaritans, who claim to possess the oldest extant copy of the Torah -- reportedly dating back 3,600 years -- speak both Arabic and Modern Hebrew.

Due to their unique geopolitical circumstances, most Samaritans hold Palestinian citizenship, although some also hold Israeli or Jordanian nationality.

In a gesture of solidarity, they have collectively refused to relinquish their Palestinian citizenship in exchange for full Israeli nationality.

The total population of the Samaritan community currently stands at a mere 785, scattered between Mount Gerizim near the cities of Nablus and Holon, located near Tel Aviv in central Israel.

Considered one of the smallest religious communities in the world, Samaritan researchers say the community's total population stood at 146 in 1917.

The Samaritans perform pilgrimages to Mount Gerizim three times a year: for the Passover, Shavuot and Sukkah holidays.

The sect celebrates the seven Torah holidays, which include Passover, the Matzo Holiday, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur, Sukkot (Sukkah) and Simecha Torah.

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