14 June 2009

Samaritans: Technology meets tradition

Reuters provided this interesting look at the Samaritan sect which adopts modern technology along with its strict religious traditions. Half the small community lives in the Israeli city of Holon and half in the West Bank village of Kiryat Luza.

They have their own version of the Torah and holy days similar to Jewish ones. They observe the dietary, Sabbath and circumcision laws in their Torah to the letter. Samaritan means keeper of the law, says one of their 12 hereditary priests, Husney Kohen, in the story.

There are only 750 followers and they use modern methods to keep their tiny community alive.

Internet acquaintances, mail-order brides and pre-nuptial genetic tests have all become familiar to Samaritans trying to plan future generations despite a shortage of young women within their own tight-knit community.

Such openness to the outside world seems baffling in a group that considers itself the original Israelites and upholds rigid traditions about diet, sex and the Sabbath.

Husney Kohen, 65, one of the faith's 12 hereditary priests, saw no contradiction in the lifestyle of a community that numbered more than a million in the late Roman Empire but is now, as he puts it, "the smallest sect in the world."
They trace their ancestry to the northern Israelite kingdom that was destroyed by the Assyrians c720 BCE; their faith is similar to Judaism.
"Samaritans are very religious, but we are also modern," Kohen, 65, explained in the community's small museum here lined with scriptures written in the ancient Samaritan language and lists of high priests going back to Aaron, the brother of Moses.
They were forced to adapt, as 100 years ago, only 146 members remained. Some left to work in Jaffa and started a new community. The tight-knit community married within itself which created genetic defects in about 7%, but pre-marital genetic testing has cut that rate in half.

Women are in the minority meaning that some males must seek wives outside the community. Kohen said they had taken in about 25 Jews, five Christians and three Moslems, and the couples get to know each other via the Internet. The women must convert before marriage and commmit to the religion.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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