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    A “Good Samaritan” – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Where do we get the phrase, “A Good Samaritan?”

    A goup of Samaritans c. 1900

    A. The original Samaritans were descendants of the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh with an admixture of foreign colonists brought in by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, after the year 722 BCE, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel.

    Because their capital was Samaria (II Chron. 34:9, Jer. 4:5), they became known as Samaritans.

    They themselves claimed that their name came from shom’rim – “the observant ones”, and that theirs was the true faith.

    Though they accepted some Jewish practices, their religion differed from normative Judaism. Their Bible was the Five Books of Moses with a number of Samaritan variants, e.g. that the place Divinely chosen for the sanctuary was Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritan temple stood.

    They did not possess or follow the rabbinic tradition. They believed that Pesach could be celebrated only at Gerizim, where lambs were sacrificed, roasted and eaten. Their Shavu’ot was always on a Sunday because they interpreted a Biblical verse (Lev. 23:15) as commanding that the seven weeks of the Omer had to begin on a Sunday.

    Lulav and Etrog were not known. Rosh HaShanah was called Yom T’ruah. They had two semi-festivals, 60 days before Pesach and Sukkot respectively, when their priests issued semi-yearly calendars.

    A minor tractate of the Talmud known as Kutim deems them in most respects as non-Jews and rules that Jews may not marry them.

    The tractate ends with the statement, “When will they be accepted into the Jewish community? When they renounce Mount Gerizim and acknowledge Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead” (Soncino ed., p. 621).

    After the first Temple was destroyed, the Samaritans offered help in rebuilding it, but their assistance was rejected as a threat to the religious integrity of Judaism (Ezra 4:2-3).

    Jesus had contact with the Samaritans (John 4:4-5); he cited as an instance of good neighbourliness a “good” Samaritan who came to the rescue of a man who had been attacked, when a priest and Levite allegedly “went past on the other side” (Luke 10:25-37).

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