Cutim (called Samaritans today)
This group was mentioned, currently on our Daf Cycle, on Daf 16 and 17, Masechet Shabbat.
Who are they are why does the Daf mention them explicitly?
They were a historical group of people that start to emerge in our literature around the time of Ezra
when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash. Israel was now filled with some Jews but more importantly with non Jews who settled there 200 years before Ezra. That earlier era was permeated with great empires conquering smaller ones and bringing them into their own rather non-unified Empires. In this case, the northern Iraqi Empire called Assyria broke out of their small geographic location and commenced a powerful conquering policy and procedure known as the “mass deportation policy”. Assyria, led by notable kings like Tiglet-Pileser III, wanted to uproot the newly conquered from their geographic location. In light of this, they would take a group of people, like B’nei Yisrael and settle them in other areas such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. Such a policy was borne out of a need to rip these people from their land, their mother tongues and their support systems and maintain land production in other similarly disrupted areas.
The Ancient World, except for the Jews, believed that “place” was identity. Once you were removed
from your locale you would lose your gods, your language and all else sacred. Assimilation was
expected and undertaken in the host country without much anxiety. In the first chapter of Sefer Ezra, these non Jews begged to contribute to the Beit Hamikdash that was being rebuilt as well as become full fledged Jews. They said: “Let us build with you, since we too worship your God, having offered sacrifices to Him since the time of King Esarhaddon of Assyria, who brought us here.” Not a surprising request.
But the unexpected answer was a resounding “NO!” which created resentment and interference from the rulers of the time with a flurry of letters to the Kings all duly recorded in Sefer Ezra. The “Ten Lost Tribes”, so designated, experienced such displacement on a mass scale around the
eight century BCE. Then, in the typical fashion of the policy, the Land of Eretz Yisrael needed others to reside there as the ruling powers knew that fallow land was unhelpful and it did not yield produce and of course the necessary and ubiquitous taxes.
Enter the Cutim. They probably came from Cyprus or even from somewhere called Kuthia in Iraq.
They settled in the Shomron area (named that today) and wanted to “assimilate” like any other ancient people. One can see the opposing attitude in Sefer Ezra to mixed marriages and the like because the Jewish response to assimilation differs from all other ancient cultures. We also see expressed in Sefer Ezra that these individuals may not have “converted” with proper intentions which have made their process suspect. The Talmud, at so many junctures, is typically suspect of this group’s kashrut, but they are also suspect, as in our Daf from this week, of their personal attention to personal tumah.
I’m sure the Cutim were shocked by the Jews’ “self isolationist” attitudes. However, that approach
became a widespread one in the various Empires throughout the Ages by the Jews, which actually was never fully understood by the Jews’ host country and had various reaction levels through the Ages emerged. Think even the time of Megillat Esther which was fully potentially violent reaction.
Reena Basser has a Ph.D. in Jewish History from the University of Toronto and presently teaches in a Toronto college, has written articles on Jewish History, Literature and gives many shiurim in the Toronto area. She can be reached at: ReenaBasser@yahoo.ca.