There are few communities in the world more ancient than the
Samaritans. For centuries, the Samaritans have lived
in isolation. But now as their numbers diminish, some are looking to
the outside world to replenish their numbers. VOA's Jim Teeple has
more in this report from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
nearly 3,000 years, Samaritans have recited their prayers here
on Mount Gerizim near the city of Nablus on the West Bank. The prayers,
in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, were once recited by more than a million
Samaritans. Now there are only 750 left, on Mt. Gerizim and in the
Israeli city of Holon.
These ruins overlooking the West Bank
are all that remain of the ancient Samaritan temple. Samaritans who
live here in Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim are descended from Jews who
escaped deportation to Babylon when Assyrians conquered the area in 721
BC. Now they are sandwiched between Palestinians in the city of Nablus
and Jews in a nearby settlement.
Isolation has taken a toll. Inbreeding has left many Samaritans lame. Others are deaf and dumb.
boy and his grandfather, Elazer Sadaqa, say they are direct descendants
of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Sadaqa is the Samaritans' high
priest. He says his family has lived here for some 150 generations.
agreed to let Samaritans marry outside the community as a way of saving
because I am the high priest, gave them permission to marry from where
they want to let the blood get good," Sadaqa said. "Also we do not have enough
Sadaqa's son Yair was supposed to follow
Samaritan tradition and marry his cousin. But Yair has two deaf and
dumb brothers. So he called off the marriage and instead married
Alexandra, a young woman from Ukraine. He met her through a
"Since I have two brothers who are deaf and dumb, I decided to bring in help, make us stronger," Yair said.
For Alexandra, the move to Mount Gerizim has not been easy.
women here in this family have received me very well," she said. "I now have a
family here, but I really miss my family in the Ukraine."
far, Alexandra and a woman from Russia are the only foreign women to
marry into the community. Several more women from Russia and the
Ukraine have married Samaritans in the Israeli city Holon. And there
are several new babies, all healthy.
Overall there are four
Samaritan single men for every three women. Here in Mount Gerizim, the
ratio can approach two to one in some age groups. Some Samaritan men
never marry. Even so, some Samaritan women say marrying outsiders is
not the answer.
Nawal says young people can now undergo tests
before marrying and while pregnant to reduce the risk of birth
defects. She says Samaritan culture cannot be understood by outsiders.
think the coming of these women into the Samaritan sect is more
negative than positive because we grow up learning about our
traditions, and those women are not going to be able to explain to
their children about our culture," Nawal said.
must live with the Samaritans for six months before they marry -- to
see if they can adapt to Samaritan customs, like being separated from
others during menstruation.
Isolation and loneliness is a
problem for the outsiders. But with the gender ratio in Samaritan
communities out of balance, men in this ancient tribe will likely
continue looking outside for brides.