From Kaftan To Kippa

Tarbush with turban worn by a Samaritan man during prayers (Israel, late 20th century). Tarbush with turban worn by a Samaritan man during prayers (Israel, late 20th century). TRC 2017.0196.
Published in From Kaftan to Kippa

8. The Samaritans

The Samaritans constitute a separate ethnic and religious group that lives in modern Israel. They claim direct descent from the Israelites and say that their ancestors lived in this part of the world from before the Jewish diaspora.

They specifically identify themselves with the Jewish tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the priestly clan of the Levites. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were traditionally linked to ancient Samaria, which covered much of what is generally called the West Bank. The religion of the Samaritans is closely linked to that of Judaism and is based on the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Ruins on the summit of Mount Gerizim on the site of the Samaritan temple. Wood engraving after Harry Fenn, 1881-1884.

The Samaritans claim that their religion is that of the ancient Israelites before many of them were exiled to Babylonia in the sixth century BC and is different from that of the Israelites who returned from exile.

One of the main differences is the site of their holiest temple. According to the post-exilic Jews, it is located on the “Mountain of Blessing” in Jerusalem; according to the Samaritans, it is on Mount Gerizim (near Nablus).

Nowadays, there are at least 1500 Samaritans remaining, who live in or near Mount Gerizim and in the town of Holon, close to Tel Aviv.

Secular attire

Most Samaritan men and women wear Western-style clothing in public. However, when attending religious services some women wear long-sleeved garments and a cloth over their heads. Many men will put on a long and dark coloured gown and/or a long white gown (both called jallaba) that has 22 buttons across the front. These represent the 22 letters of the script of the (Samaritan) Pentateuch.

In addition, men will often wear a white skull cap, similar to those worn by Muslim men, or a red tarbush. Sometimes the tarbush is covered with a turban. This head covering is made from a piece of cloth that is decorated with chain stitch embroidery (ghabani) and originally came from Syria. Another popular form of head covering is a black beret, which is associated with Samaritan men from the town of Holon, near Tel Aviv.


Priestly attireSamaritans marking Passover on Mount Gerizim, 2006.

The priestly attire associated with the Samaritans varies depending on their seniority. Much of it is very similar to that worn by secular men. Some of the more senior priests, however, wear a jallaba and on top a brightly coloured gown (gumbaz), which is kept in place with a cummerbund (zunnar) of some kind.

Again, the headgear is based on the tarbush and turban combination, but with a red cloth worn during the week and a white cloth worn during services and on the Sabbath. The priest carrying the Torah will wear a silk prayer shawl called a tzitzit-tallit, which is often fastened to his tarbush. The tzitzit-tallit is very similar to the large prayer shawl (tallit) used by Jewish men.

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