Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Karaites- Our Historic Jewish Protestants


The Karaites- Our Historic Jewish Protestants

 May 1 Discussion

You can follow the recorded session here:




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 handful.


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, Anan,

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-Miwot," and the commentary on Genesis. He marks, therefore, a new epoch in the development of Karaism.

Golden Age

in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The representatives of this epoch are: Abu Yusuf Ya'ub al-irisani, Sahl ibn Malia, Solomon ben Jeroham, Yafith ibn 'Ali, David al-Fasi, Abu al-Faraj Harun, Yusuf al-Bair and his pupil Abu al-Faraj Furan.

Al-irisani 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 academies.

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 Karaism 

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 world Jewry.


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.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wojsyl


Karaim kenesa in Trakai. Kenesa, from Bebrew for “ gathering”, cognate of “Knesset”, bet knesseth.

Eupatorian Kenassas of Crimean Karaites.

 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.( Eugenmakh)

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 KohensLevites, 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.


Karaites Today:

Estimates of the size of the modern Karaite movement put the number at 1,500 Karaites in the United States,[45] some 80 Constantinopolitan Karaites in Turkey,[46] 30,000 in Israel,[47] the largest communities being in RamlaAshdod 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.[48]

The Congregation B'nai Israel is located in Daly City, California, which is a suburb of San Francisco. It is the only Karaite synagogue in the United States with a permanent dedicated facility. 

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.[52] 

Karaite synagogue in old city Jerusalem

By Ori~ - Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24757196


Key principals:

 The 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 Inheritance." 

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 distinct.

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

SS Obergruppenfuhrer Gottlob Berger wrote on November 24, 1944:

"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.[39] 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.[40]

According to some sources, Nazi racial theory asserted that the Karaites of Crimea were actually Crimean Goths who'd adopted the Crimean Tatar language and their own distinct form of Judaism.[4

So, are 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 (AshkenaziSephardi and Mizrahi Jews), while finding that the Crimean Karaites are genetically unrelated to non-Jewish Turkic-speaking peoples of the region.[64][65]



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 them.

Some images of Karite Jews:


Note kneeling, as in  Moslem usage, with Tallit, as with conventional Jews.



 Karaite women


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 a Rabbanite.


Ki Eshmera Shabbat, a popular song among Jews, by ibn Ezra, who was a Rabbanite, but whose commentaries they use:


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