Steven Fine is professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York, director of Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies, and co-editor of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture.
He wrote the following foreword for Benyamim Tsedaka and Sharon J. Sullivan’s groundbreaking new volume The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version.
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The European discovery of the Samaritan Pentateuch was cause for great excitement for biblical scholars of the early modern period, both Catholics and Protestants. Here they had an alternate Hebrew text to the Jewish Masoretic version, the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate — a new window into the history of Scripture itself. Samaritan manuscripts were procured by the most important European and American libraries, creating a minor boon for manuscript copyists in Nablus. In the nineteenth century Jews adopting German modes of biblical scholarship entered the conversation, most prominently the orientalist, biblical scholar, and religious reformer Abraham Geiger. The first modern Jewish monograph dealing with Samaritanism was published in Hebrew by Geiger’s student Raphael Kirchheim in Frankfurt in 1851. Introducing his pathbreaking Karme Shomron: Introductio in librum Talmudium “De Samaritanis” (Frankfurt, 1851), Kirchheim wrote with great excitement of his own discovery of Samaritanism:
When the Lord called upon me to publish the seven minor Jerusalemite [that is, Palestinian, postrabbinic] tractates, among them Tractate Kutim, whose contents deal with the laws of Israel regulating relations with the Kutim [that is, the Samaritans], I had great difficulty in my attempt to interpret and explain those issues [dealing with Samaritanism] for which I found no aid or support in the books of the Talmud [that is, rabbinic literature]. I searched in later Hebrew books [medieval and early modern rabbinic literature], and even there I did not find any mention of issues relating to the Kutim. These [sources] revealed nothing of their teachings and their laws. Only taunts reverberated from their mouths, and only harsh words were written down.
I turned to the books of the nations and found that many, many stood before my eyes, for their authors had arisen and gone to the houses of the Samaritans and satiated their intellectual hunger. They returned and interpreted what they had found in the language of each and every nation. The most important of these [texts] are the Samaritan version and Targum [Aramaic translation] of the Torah— the book of the Torah of the Lord and its translation, which has been with the Kutim from days of yore.
I said to myself: how is it that only in the soil of foreigners the fruit of the Samaritans may blossom, and from the harvest of [their] toil others [Gentile scholars] collect stalks [of grain, that is, wisdom]? Do we truly consider the Samaritans to be foreigners, and hence do not establish a covenant with them? Do we not all have one Father? They too have Torah and commandments like us, and they serve the Lord our God! . . .
While Jews had been in periodic contact with the Samaritans from Second Temple times until the modern era, this relationship was intensified owing to Zionist interest in the Samaritan community. Like other “lost tribes of Israel,” early Zionist thinkers imagined that the Samaritans were Israelites in need of “redemption” and inclusion in the Jewish national enterprise. Through the scholarly writings and political patronage of Isaak Ben Zvi, later the second president of Israel, and others, the situation of the Samaritan community in Nablus stabilized after centuries of decline. A second community developed in Tel Aviv under the leadership of Yefet son of Avraham Tsedaka, and a Samaritan neighborhood was established in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon in 1955.
Ratson Tsedaka, the son-in-law of Yefet and father of the author of our volume, made it his mission to preserve and publish Samaritan sacred texts, both for use by contemporary Samaritans and to allow access to Samaritanism by Hebrew speakers. He and other members of the Holon community were ready primary informants for Zionist/Israeli and foreign scholars in numerous fields, from the history of the Hebrew language to biblical studies to folklore. Among the most significant textual studies carried out by Israeli scholars were Zeev Ben-Hayyim’s pathbreaking studies of Samaritan Hebrew, Aramaic, and postbiblical literature (especially his edition of the homiletical collection known as Tibat Marqe) and his student Abraham Tal’s editions of the Samaritan Pentateuch and Targum. My own teacher, Dov Noy, the founding father of folklore study in Israel, was deeply involved with the Samaritan community, collecting and publishing a series of Samaritan legends as told by Ratson Tsedaka, a project of the Israel Folklore Archive (1965). Ratson published a number of primary sources in readily accessible editions, including The Five Books of the Torah: Jewish Version Parallel to the Samaritan Version (1961-65). Here he and his cousin Abraham Tsedaka set out the Samaritan text in Jewish square script parallel to the Jewish text, for use by Jewish readers. In this way the Samaritans staked their claim for membership in the developing Israeli culture which the Holon Samaritans were intent upon joining.
While Ratson’s primary audience was Israeli and Jewish, Benyamim Tsedeka has reached beyond the bounds of the Holy Land, the “Sacred Tongue,” and the “Holy Nation” to present Samaritanism to the broader world of scholars and interested lay people. His work has coincided with a period of new prominence for Samaritan studies in Israel and abroad, leading to the formation of the Société d’Etudes Samaritaines in 1985 and the inauguration of periodic conferences and an impressive publications program. Through his own publications, most prominently his Samaritan–Modern Hebrew–Samaritan Hebrew-English and Arabic bi-weekly newspaper, A.B. The Samaritan News, and the establishment of the always hospitable A.B.—Institute of Samaritan Studies in Holon, Benyamim Tsedeka has presented a Samaritan perspective on Samaritan life, culture, religion, and politics as well as a forum for scholarly research on Samaritan history, religion, and culture.
Benyamim Tsedaka’s Samaritan and Jewish versions of the Pentateuch is a continuation of his father’s project of disseminating the Samaritan Pentateuch. This volume is certain to make the Samaritan version accessible to a broad English-speaking audience.
Click to order The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version, edited and translated by Benyamim Tsedaka and coedited by Sharon J. Sullivan.