My kids were curious about what was written on the various signs and inscriptions in the synagogue. I figured that if I took the time to sit and decipher them, I might find some interesting things. I wasn’t disappointed. It occurred to me that others might be interested too, so I’m sharing them here.
To interpret the text, I used this document ( a proposal for inclusion of the Samaritan alphabet in Unicode, accepted a few weeks ago), written by Michael Everson and Mark Shoulson. (Mark Shoulson, by the way, is an expert in Samaritan and Klingon – he is Assistant Director of the Klingon Language Institute, and once translated sefer Yonah into Klingon.)
First, let's take a look at the inscriptions above the doorway of the synagogue. (Click on the picture to see a higher resolution image.) These are verses from the Torah, placed above the doorway in accordance with the Samaritans' literal interpretation of the commandment "וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ" ("And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates") [Devarim 6:9 and Devarim 11:20]. The “mezuza” above the outer entrance contains two psukim, the top one in larger letters, and the lower one in smaller. The two verses are Shemot 25:8, and Shemot 20:20, both of which turn out to be good illustrations of the differences between the Samaritan text of the Torah, and our own Masoretic Text. For both verses, I show the Samaritan version as it appears on the synagogue’s “mezuza” above labeled as ש, and the Masoretic version below labeled as מ. The differences in the Samaritan text are highlighted:
- “Mezuza” engraving above outer entrance, top:
ש ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוככם
מ ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכ ם
- “Mezuza” engraving above outer entrance, bottom:
ש ובמקום אשר אזכרתי את שמי, שם אבוא אליך וברכתיך
מ בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי, אבוא אליך וברכתיך
My 13-year-old daughter astutely pointed out that the difference in 20:20 is probably a subtle reflection of the Samaritans’ belief in the centrality of Har Greizim.
- Stylized golden flame design beside outer entrance:
שמע ישראלI found this particularly interesting. This is exactly the same sort of text-as-artwork design one often finds in modern Jewish synagogues – with the twist that this uses Samaritan paleo-Hebrew script instead of modern Hebrew. (Image at right added by Jameel.)
- Golden menora plaque [“mezuza”?] above inner entrance:
Now let's see what's on the synagogue's bulletin board. (Click for a higher resolution image.)
- Bulletin board, top right [chart]:
These seem to be decorative, Pesah-related words superimposed over the chart, which I suspect is a schedule for the korban Pesah.
Also, get a load of the Samaritan letter samekh (or singaat, as they call it) in the word "פסח" ("Pesah"). It looks like a hieroglyphic bird, or one of the letters in Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra. (See here, particularly the letter glikk [U+E635] J )
- Bulletin board, bottom right:
[סמל מדינת ישראל]
חג שמח וכשר ]באותיות אשוריות]
This appears to be an official letter of holiday greetings from an Israeli government ministry. At the top is the official emblem of the State of Israel, and in the text of the letter, most of which seems to be in Samaritan script, you can see the words “Hag sameah v’kasher” (“A joyous and kosher holiday”) in modern Hebrew letters.
- Bulletin board, top middle:
3646 = ישראלי
This lists the numbers of the current year (or last year, actually) on the Samaritan, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian calendars, respectively. The Samaritan year is shown here as 3646. They date their calendar from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel at the time of Yehoshua; as opposed to the Jewish calendar, which is dated from the creation of the world. Note that the Samaritan year is labelled as "ישראלי" ("Israelite"), and the Jewish year is labelled as "יהודהי" ("Judahite").
This one is a little weird. Firstly, why do they need a sign to remind people what year it is? Secondly, if they actually do need this, well, then they probably should update it to the current year already…
- Bulletin board, bottom middle:
ש את החג המצות תשמר, שבעת ימים תאכל מצות כאשר צויתיך
מ את חג המצות תשמר, שבעת ימים תאכל מצות אשר צוית ך
Note, once again, the variations in the text (Shemot 34:18).
- Bulletin board, top left [beside red circle]:
I imagine this had been put up once about an event some evening, which had appeared below it. I have no idea what the big red ball with lines is supposed to be.
- Bulletin board, bottom left:
ערב שבת החג המצות:
This one seems to be zman knissat Shabbat for the previous Shabbat. We would call it zman hadlakat neirot, except that the Samaritans don’t light Shabbat candles, of course. But why do they call it Shabbat Hag HaMatzot? Shabbat was Pesah (using their nomenclature); Hag HaMatzot didn’t start until motzaei Shabbat. Hmm…
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד