A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 5, 2010

Death of Samaritans' High Priest

The High Priest of the Samaritans, Elazar ben Tzedaka, has died at age 83. His official obituary at an English-language Samaritan site is here. That site identifies the new high priest (kohen gadol) as Aharon ben Ab-Hisda.

The Samaritans are one of the smallest of the Middle East's many small relic minorities, groups that once flourished but today hold on tenuously. Divided from Judaism since the Babylonian exile and still claiming to be the rightful heirs of ancient Israel, and familiar to most people from the New Testament (the Good Samaritan, Jesus and the Samaritan woman), they live mostly either on their historic Mount Gerizim, which rises above Nablus in the West Bank, or in Holon near Tel Aviv. The Wikipedia article says they numbered only 712 in 2007.

Unlike mainstream Judaism, they have retained the institution of the High Priest, who claims direct descent from Aaron, as well as animal sacrifices and an archaic version of the Hebrew alphabet.

Like many other Middle Eastern minorities — Mandaeans, Yazidis, to name a couple — they retain their own identity despite the small size of their community.

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