Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Plight of the Samaritans

The Samaritans are a small and ancient sect, half of them living near Nablus, Jordan, and the other in Holon, Israel. They are growing now in number but, around the time of WW I, there were less than 200 souls existing among them. The Samaritans broke with the Jews many centuries ago when the tribes split into separate kingdoms, that of Israel/Samaria [north] and that of Judah [south] but. like the Jews, they continue to revere the Torah.
Because the Samaritan people rejected the idea of marrying anyone outside their own group for a very long time, when their number began to dwindle precariously all this inbreeding began to take a terrible toll. Although I have studied the Samaritan culture for many years and knew there were some problems, I never realized how many severely handicapped persons were living within the culture until I saw a fascinating documentary, "New Samaritans", ten minutes of which can be seen on You Tube here:
High Priest Shalom Cohen [above] was part of the documentary and dies during it. This was about seven years ago and a relative is now the High Priest or Cohen Gadol of the Samaritans, their undisputed leader. Shalom Cohen was a very remarkable man who looked like someone who had just stepped out of the Old Testament. He was fluent in several languages and a member of the Palestinian Parliament. According to the documentary, it was up to him to decide whether Samaritan men could marry foreign women and his answer was apparently "yes". However, quite a few years ago, once the state of Israel was established, there were so many more Samaritan males than females that it was deemed justifiable for the men to marry Jewish women as long as the wives were amenable to living according to Samaritan ways. But there were not very many modern Israeli girls who were willing to accept the terms which included living in seclusion during menstruation. Now, it appears, some Samaritan men are beginning to marry Ukrainian women who are much farther removed from their culture than Israeli women ever could be and this worries some of the Samaritans considerably. Even watching ten minutes of the documentary will make one aware of the dilemma these people face.

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