Keith Hunt - Jewish Festivals - Page Three   Restitution of All Things

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Unusual Passover Observances!

The truth about the Samaritans/Passover

                            JEWISH FESTIVALS #3

                          History and Observance


                              Hayyim schauss


Change of Emphasis

After the destruction of the second Temple, the custom of making
Pesach sacrifice was, of course, discarded. But Pesach did not
lose its status as a great national holiday. The celebration,
however, was exclusively in the home. In some places Jews still
partook of roasted meat on that night, exactly as they had done
before the destruction of the Temple, in certain places outside
of Jerusalem. But in general, only a reminder, a symbol of the
Pesach sacrifice, remained. It was customary in those days for
two main courses to be served at festive banquets of the rich,
and these two courses were served at the Pesach feast of every
Jew. But after the destruction of the second Temple, these two
courses were interpreted as reminders of the Pesach sacrifice and
the "chagigoh," the second or supplementary sacrifice. These two
courses usually consisted of a piece of roasted meat on the bone,
and a roasted egg.
     The holiday still remained for Jews the festival of
redemption. The freeing of Jerusalem from foreign rule became the
main item in the Messianic hope after the destruction of the city
by the Romans, and Rabbi Akiba therefore added a prayer to the
benediction for redemption in which was expressed the hope of the
Jew to live long enough to observe Pesach in a new, free
     Far from declining through the destruction of the Temple,
Pesach now attained still greater importance as the anniversary
of deliverance from the first and as the mdel for delivery from
the last exile.

     The ceremonial of Pesach eve was made even richer and
fuller. Jews would sit till late in the night, repeating and
discussing the story of the Exodus; often the coming of dawn
found them still gathered discussing the miracles of the
occasion. The plagues visited upon the Egyptians grew and grew
from the original ten to hundreds. The Jews spoke of Egypt but
they meant Rome. They spoke of the discomfiture of Pharaoh and
the Egyptians, hoping at the same time for the identical plagues
to be visited upon the Roman emperor, his governors, and his
soldiers, who had laid waste the holy city, destroyed the Temple,
and spilled oceans of Jewish blood
     In the main, the basic rite of the Pesach eve ceremonial
stayed the same as it had been in the days of the second Temple.
But the ritual for the evening became more set and formalized. In
the course of time various items of the ceremony were removed and
others added. We shall discuss this further when we speak of the
customs and ceremonials of Pesach. It is enough to say here that
the Jews of the Middle Ages celebrated the holiday almost as it
is observed by the Jews of today.

The Festival of Fear

     The ceremonial remained the same, but the attitude during
the Pesach festival changed in the latter part of the Middle
Ages. A new and evil force came from the outside and left its
imprint upon the old spring festival and observances, making of
it a time of fear for all Jews, a time of horrible visitations, a
time of terror and panic in the Jewish sections. At that time the
Church had the peoples of Europe completely under its control.
Fanatical priests and dark forces of reaction continually fanned
hatred against the Jews and spread the wildest charges against
them. The most horrible of these was the blood libel.

     The blood libel began to spread in the thirteenth century,
and countless numbers of Jews perished as a result. Due to the
ignorance and superstitious beliefs of the masses of those days,
the blood libel became bound up with Pesach, especially with the
Pesach eve ceremonial. It was charged that Jews killed Christian
children to get blood for the baking of matsos.
     Pesach was, therefore, a time of great fear for the Jews of
the Dark Ages. It was so easy to spread a rumor that Jews had
murdered a Christian child; there were many cases where some
individual enemy of the Jews would plant the body of a dead
Christian child in a Jewish home and give the signal for a raid
on the Jewish quarter on Pesach eve. Such an event is described
in Heine's historical romance, "The Rabbi of Bacharach."
     This superstition that Jews use Christian blood at Pesach is
not entirely a thing of the past. We, of this generation, have
memories of such charges in various European countries, and to
this day there are Jewish enemies who spread this accusation of
the Middle Ages in the very heart of Europe. (Remeber the author
is writing in 1938 - Keith Hunt)

     Even in America, only a few years ago, in Massena, New York,
the rabbi of the town was questioned on the blood ritual libel
when a little girl happened to disappear. The girl was found
unharmed the next day, and the mayor, the instigator of the
questioning, made a public apology.

The Marranos Observe It. 

     At the end of the European Middle Ages there was evolved a
notable method of observing Pesach among the Marranos, the secret
Jews of Spain and Portugal. These Marranos were entirely
separated from Jews and from Jewish life. They had no Jewish
books, and the only book on which they could draw for rules of
Jewish life was the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. Basing
their ideas about Jews and Judaism on this one book, their
conception of Jewish life became an entirely false one. They
tried to live not as the Jews of their day did, but as the Jews
of the time of the Kings and the Prophets. They knew nothing of
the development of Pesach through the ages; they practiced the
Pesach described in the Bible.
     The question arises: How did these Marranos, who had no
Jewish calendars and no contacts with other Jews, know when to
observe the various Jewish festivals? Actually, they did not;
they reckoned the Jewish holidays by the calendar in general use,
applying the Jewish days to the secular month. Thus they observed
Yom Kippur on the tenth day after the New Moon of September and
Pesach at the full moon of March. When the spies of the
Inquisition discovered these observances, the Marranos of Spain
advanced the dates of the festivals, observing Yom Kippur on the
eleventh day following the New Moon of September and celebrating
the Seder (the ceremony of Pesach night) on a Pesach eve that
came sixteen days after the appearance of the New Moon of March,
instead of fourteen days.
     On this sixteenth day they would bake their matsos; on the
two preceding days which, according to their curious
Jewish-secular calendar, were really Pesach, they ate neither
bread nor matsos. There was no ceremony of the burning of the
chomets. Instead they burned a piece of the dough prepared for
the baking of the matsos. In the evening they observed a secret
Seder in their homes, eating an entire roast sheep, all the
participants wearing their traveling shoes and bearing staves in
their hands, exactly as described in the Bible. There were even
Marranos, those of Mexico, who followed the old biblical
injunction to smear the blood of the sheep on their doorposts.

     One noteworthy custom grew up among these Marranos: the
custom of beating the waters of a stream with willow branches,
which they interpreted as a reminder of the separating of the
waters of the Red Sea. It is interesting to note that to this
very day the Jews of Morocco make their way to a stream on the
last day of Pesach and there recite prayers and blessings. It is
possible that this was an old Spanish Jewish custom and that the
Marranos took it over and added to it the ceremony of the willow
branches which rightly belongs to Sukkos. That holiday they could
not observe at all, since one of the requirements of the festival
is to sit in booths in the open.
     The Pesach of the Marranos is not entirely a thing of the
past. There are, to this very day, Marranos in Portugal who still
observe Pesach in the manner just described.
(As this book was written in 1938 I have no idea if this way of
observing Passover is practiced by anyone today in 2010 as I
enter this - Keith Hunt)

The Samaritans and Falashas

     Marranos observed ancient forms of the Pesach ceremonial
because they were forcibly separated from the Jewish life of
their time and were forced to seek instructions from the books of
the Bible. External conditions forced the Marranos to return to a
primitive form of observance. There are, however, in our own day,
groups of Jews that never came in contact with the masses of the
Jewish folk; the never had anything to do with those Jews who are
the bearers of Jewish history and Jewish life. They, therefore,
observe Pesach exactly as it was observed two to three thousand
years ago. Such Jews are the Samaritans of the city of Nablus in
Palestine, and the a Falashas of Abyssinia.

***Modern historical research has proved that the Samaritans are
not descendants of the heathen colonists settled in the northern
kingdom of Israel by the conquerors of Samaria, as was once
assumed. Nor are they to be identified with Nehemiah's opponents
of the Persian period. Actually, the Samaritans of today are a
small and poor remnant of an old and great Jewish sect that
appeared in Palestine about the beginning  of the Greek period.
They form the oldest Jewish sect in existence. They were always
strongly religious Jews who beieved in one God and strictly
observed the Law of Moses. The only religious books that they
possess, however  are the Pentateuch and Joshua. They never
recognized the books of the Bible beyond Josh as holy. Moreover,
they denied the sanctity of Jrusalem. They believed that Shechem,
the present Nablus, was the holy city and that the holy mountain
was not Zion, but Mount Gerizim. They built a temple on top of
that mountain, which was later destroyed by the Hasmonean king,
John Hyrcanus. The Samaritans and the Jews became blood-enemies
who hated and despised each other just as in later years the
Karaites and the Rabbinic Jews hated each other.***

(Please NOTE what was just stated by the author, read again
between the *** stars I entered for emphasis. The "Jewish
Encyclopedia" has a many page entry on the "Samaritans" - who
claim they are the descendants of the tribe of Ephraim. That
possibility could be true. It is quite possible that when the
House of Israel [in Samaria] was taken captive by the Assyrian
forces, SOME Israelites escaped, as is nearly always the case
when people are overrun by other people, and taken captive. What
is certain is that the Samaritans of Jesus' day and those of
today, were NOT pagan Gentiles that adopted some strange old
Samaria teachings and observances - Keith Hunt)

     In the days of the second Temple almost the entire central
part of Palestine, between Judah and Galilee, was thickly 
populated with this Jewish sect of Shechem; there were also many
followers of the sect in southern Syria and in other eastern
lands. Today, however, there are barely two hundred left; they
speak Arabic and inhabit a special quarter in Nablus. They have a
synagogue there and a High Priest, who is their teacher and
spiritual leader. (I have not done any research today in 2010 to
see if such Samaritan sect is still in existance, I guess a
search on Google would soon tell us - Keith Hunt)

     These two hundred Samaritans observe Pesach to this day (the
author was writing in 1938 - Keith Hunt) on Mount Gerizim, in a
manner that other Jews ceased practising thousands of years ago.
The custom of offering sacrifices has died out with the
Samaritans, except on the fourteenth day of Nisan, when they
offer the ceremonial Pesach sacrifice.

     Exactly as do other Jews, they clean the "chomets" out of
their homes the night before Pesach eve, according to their
calendar which closely resembles the Jewish. The next day they
make the pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim and there set up their
tents, one for each family, outfitting them with furniture and
utensils. There, on the slope of the hill on whose top once stood
their temple, they observe Pesach, living there for the entire

The Samaritan Practice

     A study of their ceremonies and observances during the
festival is of special interest to us, because they practically
duplicate the rites of the Jews of the very old days. What
certain knowledge we have of Pesach and its rites dates only from
the last century of the second Temple; of what happened before
there are no exact records. We can learn much about the holiday,
however, from the observances of the Samaritans of today; they
are for us a living record and monument of the old life lived by
the children of Israel on Mount of Ephraim.

     Much of the Pesach that was observed in the days of the
second Temple is still unknown to the present Samaritans. They
know nothing of the use of wine, of the "charoses," of eating the
sacrificial animal comfortably from a table, of reclining at
one's ease, and of many other observances, because these customs
came into Judaism in the latter part of the second Temple days,
after the Samaritans had already separated from the rest of

     The main ceremonial in the Pesach observance of the
Samaritans is the sacrifice of a sheep and eating it at night, in
great haste, together with matsos and bitter herbs. They begin
the preparation for the feast late in the afternoon. The Mount of
Gerizim becomes a center of activity. All the males of the sect
are gathered there, dressed in white, festive clothing, stoking
the fires in two huge pits, the one for the roasting of the
sheep, the other for the burning of the offal and all the remains
after the feast. A huge cauldron of hot water is also ready.
Half an hour before sunset the ceremony starts. The High Priest
leads the assembled congregation in silent prayer; the worshipers
fall to their knees, their faces toward the peak of the hill, the
spot where their temple once stood. The High Priest raises his
voice and all join him in a series of chanted prayers.

     Exactly at sunset (Note - it was sunset, not in the middle
of the afternoon; the Samaritans had retained the correct time of
the slaying of the lamb - Keith Hunt) the High Priest faces
westward and reads that portion of the Pentateuch which orders
the slaughtering of the Pesach sacrifice. About twelve or
fourteen of the younger Samaritans busy themselves, meanwhile,
with preparing the sacrificial animals. They form a circle about
the pit of fire, holding the lambs between their legs, and as the
High Priest utters the words, "And the whole assembly of the
congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk," they utter a
benediction and throw the lambs, throats to the pit, where they
are slaughtered by two ritual slaughterers. Six or seven sheep
are slaughtered. An extra animal is available, should a physical
defect be found in one of the sacrificial animals.
     The slaughtering is a signal for general rejoicing.
Greetings are exchanged in the oriental manner; the participants
kiss one another, first on the right shoulder, then on the left.
     This ends the first part of the ceremony. The second part,
which takes place late at night, is the roasting of the animals.
     First, the bodies must be cleaned and spitted and prepared
for roasting. The fire made for the offal burns and smokes as the
insides of the animals are cast therein.
     At about ten o'clock the High Priest issues forth from his
tent and orders the roasting of the sheep. Six or seven men
bear the spitted animals on their shoulders and the High Priest
leads them in prayer; then all the sacrifices are cast into the
pit together. The bodies are covered first with leaves and grass
and then with caked mud. For three hours the roasting process
goes on, the Samaritans meanwhile passing the time in prayer or
in talk. Some go to sleep; but most of them rest on their cots,
for rest is needed so that the participants will feel fresh and
ready for the third part of the ceremony, the eating of the
sacrificed animals.

     At one in the morning all are awake and ready. Hands and
feet are washed and white garments donned. With girded loins and
with staves in their hands, they gather in one assemblage. The
roasted animals are in baskets and placed upon the earth. Matsos
and bitter herbs, that were gathered on the Mount, are placed on
the sheep and later portioned out by the High Priest. When all is
ready, the Samaritans form groups about the sacrificed animals
and, after uttering the prescribed blessing, fall upon the roast
meat, pulling it hastily to pieces with their hands. Portions are
brought to the women and children in the tents. Everybody eats
rapidly and in twenty minutes all that is left is a mound of
bones, which are thrown into the offal pit together with the
baskets and utensils that were used and with any matsos that
happen to be left. Matsoh is not prepared in advance for the
entire festival. The Samaritans bake a fresh supply every

(What we have been reading about the way the Samaritans observed
the Passover is near enough the way of the original Passover in
Exodus 12. It was just about an all night meal ceremony; the
killing, preparing, and roasting and eating of the lamb, would
take many hours. Hence in Exodus 12 THAT NIGHT was the "night to
be much observed" - for it was a special night, wherein the
Israelites would have stayed up all night. With such a meal,
taking many hours to perform, starting at sunset, the death angel
passing over at midnight to kill all the firstborn; with the
miracle and excitement of that night, except for small children,
it is inconceivable that anyone would have slept. This practice
by the Jewish sect of the Samaritans proves the time and night of
how the original Passover was observed - Keith Hunt)

     The burning of the remains does not, however, end the
ceremony. The Samaritans stay awake till dawn, reciting prayers.

(Again, showing that the original Passover of Exodus 12 was an
all night observance - no one was going to go to sleep on that
great and splended night when God would deliver Israel from the
bondage of Egyptian slavery. Truly a night to be much observed -
Keith Hunt)

Another Jewish Sect

     There is still another Jewish sect that makes the ceremonial
Pesach sacrifice: the black Jews, the Falashas, of Abyssinia. Who
these Falashas are we do not know for certain, nor do we know
what percentage of Jewish blood flows in their veins. There are
some who claim that the Falashas are Jews who intermingled with
the Africans. Others, however, contend that the Falashas are
African natives who, a long time ago, became converted to the
Jewish faith. Their Judaism is based on the laws and practices of
the Bible, which they read in an Ethiopian translation, and they
observe, therefore, only the old biblical holidays and festivals,
according to the laws laid down in the Pentateuch. They gather in
their synagogue on the fourteenth day of Nisan, before sundown,
and in the name of the entire community, an animal is sacrificed
and eaten according to the laws of the Bible, to the
accompaniment of chanted prayers. They also clean their homes of
"chomets" and prepare special dishes and utensils for Pesach.
Dramatic Presentations

     The Jews of the Caucasus region observe Pesach night sitting
on the ground, dressed in their festive best, with a spear and
sometimes a pistol by their sides. The women adorn themselves
with jewelry of all kinds and the young girls weave flowers in
their hair. The most interesting part of their Seder, however, is
the dramatic presentations acted there. These are introduced when
that part of the services is reached which states that in every
generation each Jew must feel as if he himself was redeemed from
Egypt. The Chacham (the rabbi), who leads the services, thereupon
wraps a piece of matsoh in an old cloth, places it upon his
shoulder and paces off four cubits, saying, "In this way our
forefathers went out of the land of Egypt, their
kneading-troughs, bound up in their clothes upon their
shoulders." He makes quick gestures at the same time to
demonstrate the haste with which the Jews left Egypt.
     The young men, meanwhile, go to another room and choose one
of their number to play the part of the fugitive Jew who has just
returned from Jerusalem bringing word that the redemption is
near. The others clothe him in rags, place a sack on his
shoulder, put a staff in his hand, and send him out. In a short
time a knock is heard at the door. There stands the masqueraded
youth, begging for permission to enter. The following
conversation takes place:

"Who are you and what do you want?"
"I am a Jew and I wish to observe Pesach, our time of
deliverance, with you."
"How are we to know that you are a Jew?"
"I wear a four-cornered garment with fringes." 
"Anybody can put one on. What other proof have you?" 
"I have not cut the corners of my hair. See my side-curls." 
"That is not enough, either. If you are a Jew, why do you travel
so late at night? Don't you know this is a festival?" 
"I come from Jerusalem, the holy city; the road is long and
filled with obstacles. Everywhere our enemies await us; like an
iron wall they stand between you and me in an effort to keep me
from celebrating the festival with you."

     The masquerader breaks into tears. Those in the household
still make no move to admit him. They remain silent and deep in
thought; occasionally one sighs deeply. Suddenly the leader of
the services gives a sign and the masquerader is admitted. He
stands amongst them with a sword by his side, a belt girt about
his loins, a staff in his hand, and a sack on his shoulders. His
sandals are roughly soled and his clothes are covered with dust.
The household suddenly becomes joyous and the masquerader is
showered with questions: 

"What is happening in Jerusalem, the holy city? How fare our
brothers? Is the Messiah coming soon to free us from exile? Have
any omens appeared pointing to our redemption?"

     The traveler tells them of Jerusalem, of the sages and
saints that live there, of the fields and villages that surround
the city, of the mountains and holy graves; and he assures his
listeners that the sages of the city have seen signs which point
to the coming of the Messiah, who will shatter the iron wall that
keeps them from entering the holy city. They listen with rapt
attention and at the conclusion they raise their hands high and,
sighing deeply, call out again and again, "Amen: So be His will."

     The Jews of Morocco are also fond of dramatization on Pesach
eve. After the reciting of the Seder services, every male in the
household slings a rod and pack over his shoulder. They rush out
of the house and run up and down the street, shouting, "In this
manner our forefathers went out of Egypt, their kneading-troughs
bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders."

     These Moroccan Jews carry away with them from the Seder a
piece of the "afikomon," the matsoh saved for the end of the
meal. They carry it as a safeguard on ocean voyages and throw it
into the waters in time of storm, claiming that it has powers to
calm the sea.
     The last day of the festival is visiting day. The
congregation makes its way to a stream on that day and offers
prayers. Toward evening the people go in groups from house to
house to say farewell to the holiday and to wish each other a
happy year. The day after Pesach they march outside the town and
recite blessings over the trees.     



Keith Hunt

March 2010

To be continued

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