The Karaites- Our Historic Jewish Protestants
Judaism- a combination of the written books of the Bible,
together with the traditions and interpretations of our Sages, as collected and
formalized in the Mishna and Talmud. That distinguished us from other
Bible-inspired faiths, whether Sadducees( the Priestly and landlord classes),
the Essenes and the Dead Sea movements, the Samaritans, and the early
Christians ( the Ebionites), and later , Christianity & Islam. Even when
the Roman empire oppressed, us they did not so much outlaw Judaism as “ Deuterosis”-
the teachings of the Rabbinic commentaries. A standard of Judaism which
recognizes Torah sh’Ba’al Peh and Torah sh’Bikhtav, written and oral.
This combination of Oral and Written helped Judaism adjust
throughout the ages. Except for Christianity and Islam, which disconnected
completely from the Jewish people, all the others disappeared or shrank to a
Around 1200 years ago, we had our own Protestant
Reformation. Catholic Christianity is built on their scriptures, plus apostolic
tradition ( their version of Torah sh’ bal peh. Martin Luther broke ranks with
concept: Sola scriptura-On the written.
This is our Protestant moment.
( Sources: Jewish Encyclopedia. Direct excerpts in Italics)
Bnai Mikra-Baalei Mikra, Karaim-Hence- Karaite- The one who
follows the Mikra- the written Bible, as distinguished from the Rabbanites,
followers of the Rabbis. Originally identified as “ Ananites” from the founder,
adopted a large part of rabbinical Judaism, either outright
or with more or less modification, while at the same time it borrowed from
earlier or later Jewish sects—Sadducees, Essenes, 'Isawites, Yudghanites,
etc.—as well as from the Mohammedans.
7th. 8th century, with Islam, various
Jewish sects arose as well. Many such groups opposed the authority of the
Rabbis. Looked for one unifying figure.
There was a battle for succession of the Exilarch- Resh
Galuta- Ruler of the Exile.
Anan ben David, had been a candidate for the highest dignity
existing among the Jews at the time—the exilarchate. 760, two brothers Anan and Josiah (Hassan), were next in order
of succession Anan was older and better trained. nevertheless the nomination
was given to Josiah and was recognized as such by the Caliph.
Anan denounced the decision and had himself declared Exilarch
by his followers. This was seen as a rebellion against the Caliph’s authority,
and Anan was thrown in prison. In prison, he became friends with the founder of
the Hanafi tradition of Islam, who advised him how to succeed. At his trial, he
threw himself at the feet of the Caliph and declared his innocence, not as
rebel, but as head of a different religious group! He made the claim that his religion
was altogether in line with Islam! This now gained him political protection.
The new Religion:
He went back to the Bible, but needed a set of
interpretations and practical applications. He took methods found in Talmudic
sources. He also found what may have been documents from the Essenes and the Sadducees
older sects prohibited the burning of any lights and
the leaving of one's dwelling on the Sabbath; they also enjoined the actual
observation of the new moon for the appointment of festivals, and the holding
of the Pentecost festival always on a Sunday.
From Isawites and the Yudganites immediately preceding
this epoch, he borrowed the recognition and justification of Jesus as the
prophet for the followers of Christianity, and of Mohammed for those of Islam;
in this way ingratiating himself with professors of those creeds. From them,
too, came his prohibition of all meat—with the exception of the flesh of the
deer and the dove—in token of mourning for the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. Some of
his methodology was taken form Abu Hanifah. He set about proving that he was
more strict, not less, than the Rabbanites.
between 830 and 890 new, actual intellects arose, who changed
the direction- most prominent: Benjamin al-Nahawendi. The followers went in one
of two directions- either loosening completely the observances, or becoming
very ascetic in practice. The middle road won out, to be called “Karaism”.
Nahawendi shows no trace of Anan's artificial opposition to
the Talmud; on the contrary he often defends the Talmudists against Anan's
attacks. He occupies a highly important position in the history of Karaism, and
he did much for the consolidation of the new sect. He was, moreover, the first
Karaite writer to use the Hebrew language; as far as is known, he composed at
least three of his works in Hebrew—"Sefer Dinim," "Sefer ha-Miẓwot," and the
commentary on Genesis. He marks, therefore, a new epoch in the development of
in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The representatives of
this epoch are: Abu Yusuf Ya'ḳub al-Ḳirḳisani, Sahl ibn Maẓliaḥ, Solomon ben Jeroham, Yafith
ibn 'Ali, David al-Fasi, Abu al-Faraj Harun, Yusuf al-Baṣir and his pupil Abu
Al-Ḳirḳisani was, so far as is known, the first
Karaite writer to defend the dictates of common sense and of knowledge in
religious matters; the second part of his chief work, "Kitab
al-Anwar" (Book of Lights), treats of the necessity of investigation and of
reason, and of the determination of the proofs of reason and analogical
conclusions. He adopts for Karaism without modification the views of the
Motekallamin and the Motazilites.
Yafith ben Ali is an important source for the Rabbinic Bible
commentator, ibn Ezra
Karaism in its growth spurt:
During the first centuries of the existence of the sect,
Karaism was widely extended among the Jews, and could boast of making many
converts among the followers of the parent religion, gathering them in Egypt,
Palestine, Syria, Babylonia, and Persia.
Firstly, sectarianism was then rife in the East as result of
success of Islam
In the second place,
unrestricted study of the Bible as the only source of religion was most
attractive also to the more liberal elements within traditional Judaism that
were dissatisfied with the stagnation shown in the methods of the Babylonian
In the third place, the directors of the academies (the
Geonim), who were at that time out of touch with science and all secular
matters, were too short-sighted to recognize the dangers threatening
traditional Judaism on the part of the new sect, and believed that by simply
ignoring it they could destroy it.
Stopped by Saadia Gaon
Saadia al-Fayyumi (892-942),
he was successful also in his polemics against the Karaites. Thanks to
his forceful intellect and his scientific attainments, he entirely averted the
danger threatening traditional Judaism and assured its victory over
From Wikipedia (
excerots in Italics)
Karaite Jews were able to obtain autonomy from Rabbanite Judaism
in the Muslim world and establish their own institutions. Karaites in the
Muslim world also obtained high social positions such as tax collectors,
doctors, and clerks, and even received special positions in the Egyptian
courts. Karaite scholars were among the most conspicuous practitioners in the
philosophical school known as Jewish Kalam.According
to historian Salo Wittmayer Baron, at one
time the number of Jews affiliating with Karaism was as much as 40 percent of
Karaites had spread to Europe as well, especially in eastern
Europe, where they benefited from being apart from the larger Jewish community:
Lithuania, Poland, Galicia, notably Crimea.
During the 19th century, Russian authorities began to
differentiate Karaite Jews from Rabbanite Jews, freeing them from various oppressive laws that affected Rabbinic
Jews. In the 1830’s. the Governor told the Karaite leaders that, even though
the Russian Empire liked
the idea that the Karaites did not accept the Talmud, they
were still Jews and responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and
thus subject to the laws. The leaders…told him that the Karaites had already
settled in the Crimea before the death of Jesus. Abraham Firkovich (1786-1874)…
helped establish the idea among the Russian authorities that the Karaites, as
descendants of the exiled northern kingdom of Israel had already gone into
exile centuries before the death of Jesus and thus had no responsibility for
it. These actions convinced the Tsar that
Karaite ancestors could not have killed Jesus and that thus their descendants
were free of familial guilt.
Despite this, within the community Ḥakhamim still
taught that the Karaites were and had always been a part of the Jewish people;
prayer was in Hebrew, the lineage of Kohens, Levites, and
families of Davidic descent were meticulously preserved, books
printed in Hebrew adamantly identified the Karaites as Jews.
Karaites in Egypt
The Karaite community of Egypt was considered to be well integrated within Egyptian
society. A split emerged around the turn of the century, however, between those
now termed "progressives" and those termed
"traditionalists". The progressives, …a more liberal interpretation
of Halakha, along with societal reforms and greater solidarity with
Rabbanites. The traditionalists were led by Chief Hakham Tubiah ben
Simhah Levi Babovich, called for greater separatism from both Rabbanites
and Zionism. That community
has mostly settled in Israel after being expelled from Egypt under Nasser. One
of their members was a prominent underground figure for Israel and considered a
hero in Israel, like Eli Cohen in Syria.
Estimates of the size of the modern Karaite
movement put the number at 1,500 Karaites in the United States, some
Karaites in Turkey, 30,000
in Israel, the largest
communities being in Ramla, Ashdod and Beersheba, 1,196
in Ukraine (with Crimea), 300 in Lithuania and
205 in Russia. At the Polish census of 2002, only 45 people declared themselves "Karaims",
including 43 Polish citizens.
On 1 August
2007, some members of the first graduating class of Karaite Jewish University
were converts, representing the first new officially authorized members into
Karaite Judaism in 542 years.
Karaite synagogue in old city Jerusalem
By Ori~ - Own work,
disagreement arises over the rabbinic tradition's raising of the Talmud and the
other writings of the rabbis above the Torah. The Karaites believe this has led
to traditions and customs being kept under rabbinic law that contradict what is
written in the Torah. The Karaites also have their own traditions and customs
passed down from their ancestors and religious authorities. These are known
as Sevel HaYerushah, which means "the Yoke [or burden] of
Their leaders were called “
Hakham”, which is also a common Seohardic title for Rabbi ( it is also my
official title from Rabbinical school” Rabbi and Hakham”. Currently, I see the
using the title “ Rabbi” as well.
As with other Jews, during Shabbat,
Karaites attend synagogues to
worship and to offer prayers. Most
Karaites refrain from sexual relations on that day since they maintain that
engaging in them can cause fatigue and copulation, in particular, results in
ritual impurity on this holy day. . . additionally, impregnating one's wife is
considered melakha (forbidden work). Their prayer books
are composed almost completely of biblical passages. Karaite Jews often
practice full prostration during prayers.
Unlike Rabbinic Jews, Karaites do not practice the ritual of
lighting Shabbat candles. …The
vast majority of Karaite Jews hold that, throughout the
Tanakh, ba‘ar explicitly means "to burn", while the Hebrew
word meaning "to ignite" or "to kindle" is hidliq.
Accordingly, the mainstream in Karaite Judaism takes the passage to mean that
fire should not be left burning in a Jewish home on Shabbat, regardless of
whether it was lit prior to, or during the Sabbath.
Historically, Karaites refrained from using or deriving benefit
from fire until the Sabbath ends, and accordingly their homes were not lit
during the night of the Sabbath. Many modern Karaites today use a fluorescent or LED lamp powered
by batteries, which is turned on prior to Shabbat. Many observant Karaites
either unplug their refrigerators on Shabbat or turn off the circuit
breakers. Karaites consider producing
electricity to be a violation of Shabbat, no
matter who produces it.
Shavuot and Omer; Rabbinic counts from 2nd day of
festival. Karaites count from the day after the first Shabbat during the
Pesach( Like Saduccees).
Tsitsit- Karaite Jews
believe that the importance of Tekhelet is that the color of thread is
blue-violet and it may be produced from any source, including synthetic
industrial dyes. ( Ours are white, with exception of a few groups who claim
they have the original source of the dye).The tying of the tistit is also
Karaite Jews do not wear tefillin in any
form. According to Karaites, the Biblical passages cited for this practice are
metaphorical, and mean to "remember the Torah always and treasure
it". This is because the commandment in scripture is "And these
words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart".
Like Tefillin, Karaites interpret the scripture
that mandates inscribing the Law on doorposts and city gates as a metaphorical
admonition, specifically, to keep the Law at home and away
Lulav- Karaite Jews have always
understood the Arba`at haMinim to be used for the purpose of
constructing the roof of the Sukkah (pl. Sukkot); they are not made into a lulav and shaken
in six directions,( similar to Samaritans).
Are Karaite accepted as Jews?
During the Holocaust, it was a matter of life or death.
Crimean Karaites or Krymkaraylar ( asopposed to Krimchaks, or
Crimean Rabbanite Jews)
In 1934, the heads of the Karaite community in Berlin asked
the Nazi authorities
to exempt Karaites from the anti-Semitic regulations based on their legal
status as Russians in Russia. The Reich Agency for the Investigation of
Families determined that, from the standpoint of
German law, the Karaites were not to be considered Jews. The letter from the
Reichsstelle für Sippenforschung (de) officially ruled:The Karaite sect should not be considered
a Jewish religious community
"Their Mosaic religion is
unwelcome. However, on grounds of race, language and religious dogma...
Discrimination against the Karaites is unacceptable, in consideration of their
racial kinsmen [Berger was here referring to the Crimean Tatars]. However, so as
not to infringe the unified anti-Jewish orientation of the nations led by
Germany, it is suggested that this small group be given the opportunity of a
separate existence (for example, as a closed construction or labor battalion)..."
When interrogated, Ashkenazi rabbis in
Crimea told the Germans that Karaites were not Jews, in an effort to spare the
Karaite community the fate of their Rabbanite neighbors. Many
Karaites risked their lives to hide Jews, and in some cases claimed that Jews
were members of their community. The Nazis impressed many Karaites into labor battalions.
they historically related to mainstream Jews- or not?
Leon Kull and Kevin Alan Brook led the first scientific study of
Crimean Karaites using genetic testing of both Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA
and their results claimed to showed that, the Crimean Karaites are indeed
partially of Middle Eastern origin and closely related to other Jewish
communities (Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews), while
finding that the Crimean Karaites are genetically unrelated to non-Jewish
Turkic-speaking peoples of the region.
Rabbinic scholars have traditionally held that,
because the Karaites do not observe the rabbinic law on divorce, there is a
strong presumption that they are mamzerim (adulterine bastards), so that marriage with them is
forbidden even if they return to Rabbinic Judaism…. In contrast, in
1971, Ovadia Yosef, who was
then the Chief Rabbi of the Sefaradim and ‘Edot HaMizraḥ of Israel, proclaimed that Egyptian
Karaites are Jews and that it is permissible for Rabbinic Jews to marry with
Some images of Karite Jews:
Note kneeling, as in
Moslem usage, with Tallit, as with conventional Jews.
A Karaite family in Crimea
The article identifies them as the truly indigenous people of Ukraine!
Here is a Karaite group here in USA
A prayer done for Shavuot
The same prayer, redone to popular Sefardic melody for
Havdalah ( likhvod khemdat levavi)
Rock melody set to poem of ibn Gavirol, who is identified as