Celebrating Shavuot with the Samaritans

On Sunday, Israel’s Samaritans—members of a Jewish sect that broke away around the 5th century BCE—gathered to celebrate what on their calendar was the first day of the holiday of Shavuot. The Samaritans recognize the authority of the Pentateuch but not that of the other biblical books or of the rabbinic tradition. Alongside a series of photographs of the holiday rituals, the Times of Israel writes:

[W]hereas Jews celebrated Shavuot last Wednesday, the Samaritans marked the festival, as always, on Sunday. The discrepancy comes from the verse which says that, “You shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, . . . seven complete weeks; until the day after the seventh Sabbath you shall count fifty days [until Shavuot]” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

Rabbinic Judaism interprets “the day after the Sabbath” as referring to the day after the first day of the Passover festival [on which Sabbath-like restrictions are observed]. However, the Samaritans understand it literally to mean Shabbat, so they begin counting their seven weeks from the Saturday during Passover. . . . [F]or the Samaritans, Shavuot is a seven-day festival, and as one of the three [annual] pilgrimage festivals, the faithful all gather on Mount Gerizim, near the West Bank city of Nablus, which they believe is God’s chosen site rather than Jerusalem.

From the nearly 1,000,000 strong Samaritan kingdom that existed in the Roman period, only 750 Samaritans populate the earth today. Half live in the Samaritan village on Mount Gerizim and the other half live in the Israeli city of Holon.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Religion & Holidays, Samaritans, Shavuot

On Thanksgiving, Remember the Exodus from Egypt

Nov. 27 2020

When asked to design a Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a depiction of Moses at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, while Thomas Jefferson suggested the children of Israel in the wilderness after departing Egypt. These proposals, writes Ed Simon, tapped into a venerable American tradition:

The Puritans from whom Franklin descended had been comparing their own arrival in the New World with the story of Exodus for more than a century. They were inheritors of a profoundly Judaic vision, melding the stories of the Hebrew scripture with their own narratives and experiences. . . .

For the Puritans, Exodus was arguably a model for understanding their own lives and history in a manner more all-encompassing and totalizing than for any other historical religious group, with the obvious exception of the Jews. . . . American Puritans and pilgrims like John Mather, John Winthrop, John Cotton, . . . and many others placed the Exodus at the center of their vision, seeing their own fleeing from an oppressive England and a Europe wracked by the Thirty Years’ War to an American “Errand Into the Wilderness” as a modern version of the Israelites’ escape into Canaan. . . . [Thus the] Exodus . . . has become indispensable in comprehending the wider American experience. Through the Puritans, the story of Exodus became a motivating script for all manner of American stories. . . .

We read its significance and prophetic power in accounts of slaves who escaped the cruelty of antebellum plantation servitude, and who crossed the Ohio River as if it were the Sea of Reeds. . . . We see it in photographs of the oppressed escaping pogroms and persecution in the Old World, and in the stories of later generations of refugees. Exodus is an indispensably Jewish story, but what more appropriate day than Thanksgiving, this most American and Puritan (and “Jewish”?) of holidays, to consider the role that that particular biblical narrative has had in defining America’s civil religion?

Read more at Tablet

More about: American founding, American Religion, Exodus, History & Ideas, Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson