The Samaritans, numbering around 740 people, are an ethno-religious sect split between Holon, Israel, and Kiryat Luza, near Nablus in the West Bank. They have been in the Holy Land for over three millennia and still use a dialect of ancient Hebrew.
Worldfocus: Have the Samaritans really been living in the Holy Land for 127 generations?
Benyamin Tsedaka: The Israelite Samaritans are descendants of the tribes of Levi, Ephraim and Menashe. They have never left the Holy Land since they entered with the prophet Joshua sometime between the 17th century and 13th century BCE.
The Israelites have lived in Samaria — the northern part of today’s West Bank — since ancient times, but they did not emerge as a separate group during until the Second Temple period, around the 4th century BCE. Then, our community became distinct from the people of Judea — who later became known as Jews and whose holy city was Jerusalem. Today, most Israelis refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria.
The number of generations is based on the lineage of the priestly family among the Israelite Samaritans. 127 generations trace back to Aaron, Moses’ brother, as mentioned in the Samaritan historical chronicle.
Worldfocus: Most Americans likely know the parable of the Good Samaritan. How are you preserving the Samaritan heritage?
Benyamin Tsedaka: With our humble efforts we publish the A.B. – Samaritan News bi-weekly magazine in four languages — Modern Hebrew, Ancient Hebrew, English and Arabic — every two weeks for the last 40 years.
In 1981 we established the A.B. – Institute of Samaritan Studies as a home for hundreds of students from all corners of the world. We are encouraging Samaritan Studies all over the world. So far, 7 conferences held since 1988, the last one in Papa, Hungary, in 2008. The next one will take place in Halle, Germany, in 2012.
I myself have published many books and lectured in Europe and the USA. I also conduct the Israelite Samaritan Choir, which sings the most ancient music of the civilized world since 1980. And in a few months, I’ll be releasing the first-ever English translation of Israelite Samaritan version of the Pentateuch [Five Books of Moses]. This will likely call more attention to the Israelite Samaritan community.
Worldfocus: What is the Samaritan Medal for Peace and Humanitarian Achievement?
Benyamin Tsedaka: Our community almost became extinct at the turn of the 20th century, the Samaritans became a bridge between Israel and its neighbors after the Six Day War in 1967.
Two of our main activities are the Mount Gerizim International Peace Center — a place of meeting between Israelis and Palestinians — and since 2006, the Samaritan Medal for Peace and Humanitarian achievements.
The medal is given to the most prominent activists of peace and humanity. Some recent recipients are Palestinian tycoon Munib Masri, King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian Minister of Development Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh. So, in this way, we promote the Samaritan issue all over the world.
Worldfocus: Your community is split between the West Bank and Israel. How do you manage to get along so well with both the Palestinians and Israelis?
Benyamin Tsedaka: We are doing it just in the simplest way. We try to live in peace with all entities in the Middle East, especially with the different Palestinian political groups. So far it is reaping good fruits and full respect to the Samaritans from all groups.
Worldfocus: What is the future of the Samaritan community in the Holy Land?
Benyamin Tsedaka: I have warned my community not to take sides in the region — but to stay neutral and live in peace with all of them. We try to maintain the religious practices that make us special among the family of nations.
As long as we keep this policy of neutrality we will survive in our region and will ensure a good future for the Israelite Samaritans.
– Ben Piven