A Samaritan sukkah. Photo: Ben Sedaka
In Exodus (23:16), we are commanded to keep the harvest festival. The harvest festival referred to is sukkot. To this day, many of us build temporary booths outside, decorate them, and eat or even sleep in them. There also exists an ancient Samaritan tradition of building indoor sukkot. The Samaritans serve their guests unique treats, that hearken back to ancient Israel, during the time before the Babylonian captivity.
Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. They believe that are the offspring of the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE). When the Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia (538 BCE), they rejected the Samaritans, out of concern that their practices and beliefs had diverged during the decades of separation. The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim. They have a Samaritan Torah, and do not accept the Talmud, Mishnah, and Gemara. The Samaritans call themselves “Bnei Israel,” “the children of Israel.” According to the Talmud (tractate Kutim) Samaritans are to be treated as Jews when they practice the same customs as Jews, and as non-Jews when their practice differs. Since the 19th century, the Samaritans have been considered a Jewish sect, and referred to as Samaritan Jews. Today there remain two small communities of Samaritans, one in Holon and one on Mount Gerizim near Nablus.
Sesame Cookies recipe after the jump.
The custom of building sukkot indoors is a vestige of the persecution that the Samaritans endured under the Byzantines. In order to be able to preserve their traditions, they moved their sukkot indoors. They decorate their sukkot in a very exquisite way, with a ceiling that is a mosaic of fresh fruit. Guests who are lucky enough to experience this beauty are also treated to Samaritan hospitality: The Samaritans serve fragrant, savory cookies called Mekamar. They are a wonderful treat with hot mint tea.
Mekamar: Savory Sesame Cookies (Adapted from “The Wonders of the Israelite Samaritan Kitchen” by Benjamin Sedaka)
- 7 cups of unbleached flour
- 3 1/2 cups of semolina flour
- 6 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 1/4 cups vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 3 tablespoons ground fennel
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
- 1 3/4 cups water
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl.
- Pinch off walnut size pieces of dough.
- Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Then, check to see if they are baked through, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary.