Photo by Reinhard Pummer

Synagogue Worship. While Jews pray toward Jerusalem, where the Temple once stood, Samaritans turn their synagogue in the direction of Mt. Gerizim, the probable site of their temple 2,000 years ago. Having lived among Muslims in Nablus for centuries, Samaritans reflect their influence. As in a mosque, colorful carpets cover the floors of a Samaritan synagogue, and visitors must remove their shoes before entering. Some prayer gestures are also reminiscent of Muslim practices.

The celebration of the High Holy Days begins on the eve of the first day of the seventh month, the Samaritan “new year’s day,” as does the Jewish equivalent, Rosh Hashanah. The Samaritan priest puts on a prayer shawl, brings out the Torah scroll in its silver case from behind the curtain, lifts the scroll above his head several times (shown here, compare with next photo) and waves it in all directions to bless the assembly. In contrast to the Jewish Torah scroll cases, which have two parts, the Samaritan Torah scroll case consists of three parts. The congregation stands or sits on the floor, as called for by the liturgy; the synagogue has no pews or other seats.