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Gravestones smashed in Samaritan section of Tel Aviv cemetery

Unidentified individuals on Thursday smashed at least seven tombstones in a section of a Tel Aviv cemetery reserved for Samaritans — an ancient but tiny religious group similar to Jews.

A.B. Samaritan News, a community nonprofit, reported the incident to police as a hate crime. In addition to the seven gravestones, a perimeter fence demarcating the Samaritan section of the Kiryat Shaul cemetery was knocked down, according to Yefet ben Ratzon Sedaka, a staffer at the non-profit. There was no word from police as to whether an investigation had been launched.

The Samaritan section of Kiryat Shaul underwent renovations earlier this year that cost the community hundreds of thousands of shekels, community member Ben Sedaka wrote on Facebook. He said that the community suspects that “unidentified radicals” targeted the cemetery.

Former leaders of the Samaritan community are buried at the site, which was established in 1951 thanks to the intervention of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who was then a lawmaker before he became president of Israel.

The Samaritans trace their lineage back to the biblical tribes of Menashe and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph. According to their tradition, they have clung to the land throughout its conquest by multiple empires and managed to avoid the exile endured by much of the population of the Land of Israel to Assyria in 722 BCE.

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Currently, the Samaritan community is believed to number only a few hundred people divided between Mount Gerizim in the West Bank, where Samaritan residents have both Israel and Palestinian nationalities, and Holon in Israel.

Samaritans, whose religion is determined through patrilineal descent rather than Judaism’s matrilineal one, share with Jews multiple beliefs, including in the sanctity of the Torah, but they differ from Judaism significantly, including in the rejection of all Jewish scripture but the Torah and the belief that Mount Gerizim, and not Jerusalem, is a holy site where worshipers must face while praying.

Separately on Thursday, the Kol Ha’ir news site reported that vandals spray-painted over a picture of a woman on her tombstone at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem. The incident appeared to the latest carried out by ultra-Orthodox extremists who oppose pictures of women in public over claims that they are inherently immodest.

טוב – זה כבר חולני: מצבה בגבעת שאול רוססה בגלל דמות אישהלהדרת נשים במרחב הציבורי קשה להתרגל, אבל מישהו העלה בדעתו שהדבר…

Posted by ‎כל העיר‎ on Thursday, August 3, 2023

Such radicals have been known to target advertisements featuring women on buses and benches but the extension of the illicit practice to tombstones appeared to be new.

The story reached the media after the grandson of the woman whose tombstone was vandalized posted about the incident on Facebook and shared photos of the grave.

“This is the tombstone of my late grandmother who passed away 4 years ago and was laid to rest in Jerusalem. On her tombstone is a picture that best represents who she was – smiling and calm… This week her grave was vandalized. Her picture has been blacked out. Someone doesn’t like that a picture of a woman is shown in a public space. My late grandfather’s tombstone with a picture of him right next to hers was untouched,” the grandson wrote.