Perhaps you remember the Bible story about the good Samaritan, that humble man who helped a stranger that was crippling on the street. That was a long time ago, and many people don’t know that even today, this ancient people from the Bible -the Samaritans- still exists.
A tiny community
That’s no wonder, as the total number of the remaining Samaritans is less than 1000 worldwide. Most of them live in the Palestinian city of Nablus, and a few live in Holon, an Israeli city not far from Tel Aviv. Abod Cohen (21) is one of the remaining Samaritans of Nablus. He is the grandson of the community’s high priest, and hopes to become his successor one day.
The Samaritans’ narrative
Just like the Jewish people, the Samaritans are descendants of the Israelites. According to the biblical narrative, the Israelite kingdom was divided in the northern kingdom Israel (Samaria), and the southern kingdom Juda. The Jewish people descent from the kingdom of Juda, whereas the Samaritans are descendants from the northern kingdom Israel.
Same Torah, different customs
Samaritans use the Torah as their holy book, and consequently their religion is similar to Judaism.They keep shabbat and celebrate the Jewish holidays, but those are not on the exact same dates, as their calendar is somewhat different from the Jewish calendar. Typical of their traditional clothing is the red hats, and long white robes. The high priest wears a green robe. Like Jews, Samaritans traditionally use the talit.
Abod has both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. Although the Samaritans are descendants of the Israelites, they consider themselves Palestinians. Their native language is Arabic, but Abod also speaks Modern Hebrew and English. But besides that, he masters yet another language, one that you might not have heard of before. It is Samaritan Hebrew, an ancient Hebrew that is strongly related to Aramaic.
The logic of the script
Some of the letters of the script look like Hebrew letters, though Hebrew natives cannot read it. Abod explained the practical logic behind the script: “Many letters of our script have a meaning. There is the letter Shan, which means tooth, Yout, which means hand, and Een, which means eye (just like in Hebrew). In our script, the letters actually look like those body parts.” The same goes for the letter “Bet”, which means house, and actually looks like a house.
From right to left: Samaritan, Hebrew, and Latin script. Circled green: the Samaritan symbols representing a house, a hand, an eye, and a tooth.
A rare script
Samaritan Hebrew is not a spoken language anymore, but a reading tradition. It is used by the Samaritans for all religious purposes. The Samaritan Torah scrolls are written in this language, and so is the Samaritan version of the mezuzah. Less than 1000 persons in the world use this language on a daily basis, very little. Imagine how many others will be able to even read it. Not many, I guess.