( ; ,"
or followers/seekers of "Biblical or Tanakh
baised Judaism", from the Jewish name for the Hebrew Bible
, 'Miqra' מקרא, from the root
'qara' קרא meaning “to read,") is a Jewish movement
characterized by the
recognition of the Tanakh
as its religious authority
. Karaites maintain that
all of the commandments handed down by Moses
were recorded in the written Torah, and that an Oral Law was not given at Mount Sinai.
As a result, Karaite Jews do not accept the
, the Talmud
or Rabbinical decrees as binding. Karaites do not reject the
Talmud, but hold every interpretation of Scripture to the same
scrutiny regardless of its source. Karaite Judaism teaches that it
is the personal responsibility of every individual Jew to study the
Tanakh, and ultimately decide for him or herself its correct
meaning. This is reflected in the Karaite saying "Study the Torah
diligently, and do not rely on my opinion". The movement
crystallized in Baghdad, in present
day Iraq, in the
Gaonic period (approximately 7th to 9th centuries).
When interpreting the Tanakh, Karaites strive to adhere to the
plain, or most obvious meaning (p'shat
) of the text.
Karaite Jews do not take the Tanakh "literally", the p'shat meaning
is what would have been understood by the ancient Israelites when
the books of the Tanakh were originally written. The p'shat is
derived from textual clues such as language, and context. In
contrast, Rabbinical Judaism also employs the methods of
(implication or clue), drash
), and sod
(deep, hidden meaning,
identified with the Kabbalah
), which can
often appear to be in discord with the p'shat meaning.
At one time Karaites were a significant portion of the Jewish
population . Most Karaites today have made Aliyah to Israel, having
immigrated from Arab countries such as Egypt and
Today it is estimated that there are as many as 30,000 Karaites or
more worldwide, with 20,000-25,000 of them living in Israel.
estimates of the size of the modern Karaite movement put the number
at 4,000 Karaites in the United States , about 100 families in Istanbul , and about 12,000
in Israel , most of
them living in Ramla, Ashdod and Beer-Sheva.
early 1950s, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate originally objected to the
immigration of Karaite Jews to Israel, and unsuccessfully tried to
Today, Rabbi David Chayim Chelouche, the chief
rabbi of Netayana is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: "A
Karaite is a Jew. We accept them as Jews and every one of them who
wishes to come back [to mainstream Judaism] we accept back. There
was once a question about whether Karaites needed to undergo a
token circumcision in order to switch to rabbinic Judaism, but the
rabbinate agrees that today that is not necessary." [May 22, 2007,
"Laying down the (Oral) law
by Joshua Freeman"]
, one of the Egyptian
Jews executed in 1954 for planting bombs at Cairo in the service of
Israeli Military Intelligence (the Lavon
) was a Karaite. Marzouk was considered a hero and martyr
in Israel; however, his Karaite identity was downplayed in official
publications, which usually just described him as "an Egyptian
In Israel, the Karaite Jewish leadership is directed by a group
called "Universal Karaite Judaism". Most of the members of its
Board of Hakhams are of Egyptian Jewish descent.
There are about 4,000 Karaites living in the United States.
Synagogue, KJA Congregation Bnei Israel, is located in Daly City, California which is a suburb of San
It is the only Karaite synagogue in the United
States with a permanent dedicated facility. See, 
of the congregation are of Egyptian Karaite Jewish background. One
notable congregant, Mark Kheder, the Synagogue's treasurer, has
described his internment in an Egyptian prisoner of war camp during
the 1967 Six Day war. The congregation's Hackam Joe Pessah was also
amongst those who were arrested by the Egyptian government.
On 1 August 2007, some members of the first graduating class of
Karaite Jewish University
were converted, representing the first new authorized members into
Karaite Judaism in 500 years.
At a ceremony in their Northern
California synagogue, ten adults and four minors joined the Jewish
people by taking the same Oath that Ruth took. Their course of
study lasted over one year. This conversion comes 15 years after
the Karaite Council of Sages reversed its centuries-old ban on
accepting converts.On 17 February 2009 the second graduating class
of converts took the oath this included 11 adults and 8 minors. One
of these, Isaac Kight, an attendee of the KJA synagogue in Daly
City had previously practiced Rabbinic Judaism.
about 80 Karaites living in Istanbul, Turkey, where the
only Karaite synagogue in Turkey, the Kahal haKadosh be Sukra
bene Mikra, is still functional in the Hasköy neighbourhood in
the European part of the city.
Karaites believe they observe the original form of Judaism, as
prescribed by God in the Tanakh, and do not accept later additions
to the Tanakh such as the Oral Law
. They place the
ultimate responsibility of interpreting the Tanakh on each
individual. Karaism does not reject Biblical interpretation but
rather holds every interpretation up to the same objective scrutiny
regardless of its source.
Karaites believe in an eternal, one, and incorporeal God, Creator
of Universe, who gave the Tanakh to humankind, through Moses and
the Prophets. Karaites trust in the Divine providence and hope for
the coming of the Moshiach.
Views on the Mishnah
Karaites do not accept the existence of an Oral Law because:
- The Mishnah quotes many conflicting opinions.
- The Mishnah doesn't go on to say in which opinion the truth
lies. Rather, the Mishnah sometimes agrees with neither one nor the
other, contradicting both.
- They argue that the truth of the oral law given to Moses could
only be in one opinion, not many opinions.
- They question why the Mishnah does not solely speak in the name
- The Oral Law is not mentioned once in the entire Tanakh.
- When God told Moses to come up to Mount Sinai to receive the
Torah He said: "Come up to me into the mountain, and be there: and
I will give you tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments
which I have written;" (Ex 24,12). The text states the
commands are written, and no mention is made of an Oral Law.
- The Tanakh reports that the written Torah was both lost and
completely forgotten for over 50 years and only rediscovered by the
Temple priests (2Ki 22,8; 2Chr 34,15). It is inconceivable that an
Oral Law could have been remembered when even the written Law was
- The words of the Mishnah and Talmud are clearly the words of
men living in the 2nd-5th centuries CE, stating "Rabbi Eliezer says
this... while Rabbi Akiva says that..." in contrast to the Torah
which states "YHWH spoke to Moses saying, speak to the Children of
Israel that I command them saying..."
- The Torah states "You shall not add to the word which I am
commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the
commandments of YHWH your God which I command you." (Deut 4:2) It
is forbidden to add an Oral Law to the Torah, since it is the
opinions of rabbis, not commands from God.
- Joshua 8, 34-8, 35 states:
וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן, קָרָא אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה,
הַבְּרָכָה, וְהַקְּלָלָה—כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב, בְּסֵפֶר
הַתּוֹרָה.לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה מֹשֶׁה—אֲשֶׁר
לֹא-קָרָא יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, נֶגֶד כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַנָּשִׁים
וְהַטַּף, וְהַגֵּר, הַהֹלֵךְ בְּקִרְבָּם.
After that, he (Joshua) read all the words of the
Torah, the Blessing and the Curse, according to all that is written
in the Torah scroll. There was
not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua failed to
read in the presence of the entire assembly of Israel, and the
women, and the little ones, and the strangers that walked among
Since Joshua read from the Torah every word Moses had commanded, it
implies that Moses had not given an Oral Law, since Joshua couldn't
have "read" an Oral Law from the written Torah. Joshua was able to
read out from the Torah, every single law that Moses gave to
Israel. There could not have been additional commandments outside
of the written Torah, since all the commandments which existed,
could be read from the Torah scroll.
In addition to this, Joshua 1, 8 states:This book of the law is not
to depart out of your mouth, but you are to meditate on it day and
night, so that you may observe to do according to all that is
written in it
Karaite interpretations of the Torah
Theoretically, most historical Karaites would not object to the
idea of a body of interpretation of the Torah, along with
extensions and development of halakha. In fact, several
hundred such books have been written by various Karaite sages
throughout the movement's history, though most are lost today. The
disagreement arises over the perceived exaltation of the Talmud and
the writings of the Rabbis above that of the Torah, so that, in the
view of Karaites, many traditions and customs are kept that are in
contradiction with those expressed in the Torah. This is seen
especially by the fact that the Karaites also have their own
traditions that have been passed down from their ancestors and
religious authorities. This is known as "Sevel HaYerushah", which
means "the yoke of inheritance." It is kept primarily by
traditional Egyptian Karaites, and any tradition therein is
rejected if it contradicts the simple meaning of the Torah.
Those Karaites who do not have such an "inheritance" or "tradition"
tend to rely heavily upon just the Torah and those practices
mentioned in it, and to adapt Biblical practices to their cultural
context. One reason for this lack of tradition is that many modern
Karaites spring from the Karaite revival due largely to the revival
group, the World Karaite Movement, founded by Nehemia Gordon and Meir Rekhavi in the early 1990s. Another reason
is that Karaite communities are so small and generally isolated
that their members commonly adopt the customs of their host
country. In Israel too traditional Karaites tend to be culturally
assimilated into mainstream society.
Karaites use the observational form of the Hebrew calendar used by Jews in the Land of Israel until at least the end of the
Second Temple period. Under that
system, a new month (Rosh Chodesh)
commences with the observation of a new
moon in Israel, and the start of new year in the first biblical
month is based the observation of the ripeness of barley (called the Aviv). Before quick
worldwide communication was available, Karaites in the Diaspora used the calculated form of the Hebrew
calendar used by Jews in general, for convenience.
As with other Jews, during the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), Karaites attend synagogues to worship and
to offer prayers. However, most Karaites refrain from sexual
relations on that day. Their prayer books are composed almost
completely of biblical passages. Karaites often practice full
prostration during prayers, while most other Jews do not pray in
Unlike Rabbinic Jews, Karaites do not practice the ritual of
lighting candles before Shabbat (lest one
unintentionally violate the Shabbat, as kindling a fire is
a prohibition on Shabbat). This ritual may also have been
instituted as anti-Karaite Rabbinic 'halachah' in the Middle Ages.
[Ref: Jewish Book of Why V.1](this seems to be a contradiction,
since the second chapter of Tractate Shabbat in the Mishnah as well
as in the Talmud discusses the idea of lighting candles.) The
written Torah does not contain the commandment, as the rabbis have
decreed, to light Shabbat candles. Additionally, Karaites interpret
the biblical prohibition against kindling a fire on the Shabbat as
prohibiting a fire from continuing to burn that was lit prior to
the Shabbat. Historically Karaites refrained from utilizing or
deriving benefit from light until the Sabbath ends, but modern
Karaites use fluorescent light power hooked up to a battery that is
turned on prior to Shabbat. Many observant Karaites either unplug
their refrigerators on shabbat or turn off the circuit breakers.
Purchasing electricity that is charged on an incremental basis
during the Shabbat is viewed as a commercial transaction that the
Tanakh prohibits. Theoretically these practices are not universal,
since different readings of the scriptural Sabbath prohibitions
could yield a variety of points of view.
Sefirat Ha'omer and Shavuot
The Karaite method of Counting of
the Omer is different from the Rabbinic method. The Karaites
understand the term "morrow after the Sabbath" in Leviticus
23:15-16 to refer to the weekly Sabbath, whearas Rabbinic Judaism
interprets it as referring to the day of rest on the first day of
Hag Ha'matzot. So while Rabbinic Judaism
begins the count on the 16th of Nisan and
celebrates Shavuot on the 6th of Sivan, Karaite Jews count from the day after the
weekly Sabbath to the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath and
celebrate Shavuot on the calendar date which it happens to
Karaite Jews wear tzitzit with blue threads
in them, though it is very important to note that not all tzitzit
with blue threads are from Karaite origins. In contrast to Rabbinic
Judaism, they believe that the techelet
(the "blue"), does not refer to a specific dye. The traditions of
Rabbinic Judaism used in the knotting of the tzitzit are not
followed, so the appearance of Karaite tzitzit can be quite
different from that of Rabbanite tzitzit. Contrary to some claims,
Karaites do not hang tzitzit on their walls.
A karaite Tzitzit with blue threads
Contrary to the beliefs of some, 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"… "And thou shalt
bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets
between thine eyes." (Deuteronomy 6:5,9) Since words cannot be on
one's heart, or bound on one's hand, the entire passage is
understood metaphorically. Furthermore, the same expressions ("And
thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand" as well as "and they
shall be for frontlets between thine eyes") are used in Exodus
13:16 to refer to the ritual of redeeming the first born,
indicating that, from a Karaite perspective, they must be
metaphorical in nature (because one could never tie the actual
ritual to themselves).
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. This is
because the previous commandment in the same passage is the source
for Tefillin for Rabbinic Judaism, and is understood metaphorically
due to the language. As a result, the entire passage is understood
as a metaphor. Therefore, they do not put up mezuzot, although many Karaite Jews do have a small
plaque with the Aseret haDibrot on
However there are exceptions. An account in the 19th century, tells
of a Karaite synagogue in Constantinople that had a mezuzah. In Israel, in an effort to make Rabbinic
Jews comfortable, many Karaite Jews do put up mezuzot.
In both Deuteronomy 23:2, and Zechariah 9:6, the Hebrew word
"Mamzer" is referenced similar to that of the nations of Ammon,
Mo'av, Edom, Egypt, Tyre, Zidon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Philistia, and
etc. From such, Karaites have come to consider the most logical
understanding of the Hebrew word "Mamzer", which modern Rabbinical
Jews understand to refer to either children born from adultery or
from incest (Talmud, Masechta Yevamos), to actually speak of a
nation people. Karaites think that such an understanding fits
perfectly into the context of both Deuteronomy 23 and Zechariah 9,
and several Medieval Rabbinical Jewish sages felt it necessary to
debate this topic with Medieval Karaite Jewish sages.
Karaite Judaism maintains that the four species (Date Palm, fruit
of the splendorous tree, Myrtle, and thick branch) must be used to
construct the roof of the sukkah, they are not made into a Lulav, and shaken in four directions, as is the
Rabbinic practice. Olives on their branch are used instead of the
Etrog. In the book of Nehemiah (8:15),
Israel is instructed to construct their sukkot out of the four
species, and Pri Eitz Hadar or "fruit of the splendorous
tree" is identified as an olive on its branch in the same passage.
See also Etrog haKuschi.
Nehemia 8, 15
וַיִּמְצְאוּ, כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה: אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה
בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה, אֲשֶׁר יֵשְׁבוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּסֻּכּוֹת בֶּחָג
בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי. וַאֲשֶׁר יַשְׁמִיעוּ, וְיַעֲבִירוּ קוֹל
בְּכָל-עָרֵיהֶם וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר—צְאוּ הָהָר וְהָבִיאוּ
עֲלֵי-זַיִת וַעֲלֵי-עֵץ שֶׁמֶן, וַעֲלֵי הֲדַס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים
וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת: לַעֲשֹׂת סֻכֹּת, כַּכָּתוּב.
And they found written in the Torah, how YHWH had commanded by
Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in Sukkot in the
feast of the seventh month; and that they should publish and
proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth
into the mountains, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild
olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of
thick trees, to make Sukkot, as it is written.'
Who is a Jew?
Karaite Judaism follows patrilineal
descent, meaning a Jew is someone whose father is Jewish, or who
has undergone a formal conversion. If someone's mother is Jewish
but their father is not, unless they have joined themself to people
of Israel through conversion, they are not Jewish. If a person's
father is Jewish and their mother is not, then they are a Jew. The
reason being that all descent in the Tanakh
is traced patrilineally. The rule of patrilineal descent applies
for multiple generations, meaning if every one of a person's
ancestors were Jews, except for their paternal Great grandfather,
then they are not Jewish. Likewise, if a person's father's father's
father is a Jew, they are a Jew, even if they have no other Jewish
There are instances in the Hebrew Bible
of Israelite men marrying non-Hebrew women, and the children,
without question, are Israelites. Often
there is no indication the women converted to Judaism, some even coming from pagan priestly
families. Examples include, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher whose
mothers were Bilhah, and Zilpah, non-Hebrew concubines. Ephraim and Manasseh, whose mother
was Asenath, an Egyptian and the daughter
of a pagan priest. Judah's sons, Er, Onan and Shelah whose mother
was Shua, a Canaanite woman. Gershom and
Eliezer, the sons of Moses, whose mother was the Midianite,
Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest of Midian (Moses then also married a Kushite woman,
Tharbis). Obed, the grandfather of King David, whose mother was Ruth the Moabite,
who had joined herself the people of Israel. Absalom, a son of
David who almost assumed the throne, was the son of Maacah, the
daughter of King Talmai of Geshur. The first King of Judah under
the divided kingdom was Rehoboam, whose mother was Naamah, an
All of the aforementioned offspring of mixed marriages involving
Israelite men and gentile women were considered Israelites,
including the founders of six tribes of Israel, and Rehoboam who
rose to become the first King of Judah. The Children of Israel are the direct
descendants of Jacob, regardless of whether
their mothers were or were not Israelites. This is evidenced by the
patrilineal genealogies given in the Tanakh, and statements from
the Torah such as "...in order to establish
you today as a people for Himself, and He Himself be your God, as
He has spoken to you, and as He has sworn to your fathers, to
Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob".
Furthermore, in instances where a person is the offspring of a
Hebrew mother and an non-Israelite man, they
are not called one of the Children of Israel, as the children of
mixed marriages involving an Israelite father are, but are referred
to as someone whose "mother is an Israelite, and whose father is a
____". Implying that children whose whose father is descendant from
Jacob are counted as Children of Israel; and those with gentile
fathers are not counted as such. However it should be noted the
People of Israel are made of both native born Children of Israel,
and foreigners who have joined themselves to them, there being no
distinction made between the native born and the stranger, and one
Torah applying equally to both.
of non-Israelites with an Israelite mother and gentile father
include the son of the Egyptian man and Israelite woman who
blasphemed the name, and Hiram who helped construct the first
Temple, whose mother was a widow from the
tribe of Naphtali and whose father was a Phoenician from Tyre.
However, anyone who formally accepts YHWH the
God of Israel as their own God, the people of Israel as their own
people, and is circumcised (males only), is a fully established
member of the people of Israel (Jew), most Karaites believe this
should be done in the form of a vow, see Exodus 12:43-49, Ruth
1:16, Esther 8:17, and Isaiah 56:6-7. Ezekiel the prophet states
that strangers who have joined themselves to the Children of Israel
will be given land inheritance among the Tribes of Israel during
the final redemption.
Ezekiel 47, 17
וְחִלַּקְתֶּם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, לָכֶם—לְשִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
וְהָיָה, תַּפִּלוּ אוֹתָהּ בְּנַחֲלָה, לָכֶם וּלְהַגֵּרִים
הַגָּרִים בְּתוֹכְכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-הוֹלִדוּ בָנִים בְּתוֹכְכֶם; וְהָיוּ
לָכֶם, כְּאֶזְרָח בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל—אִתְּכֶם יִפְּלוּ בְנַחֲלָה,
בְּתוֹךְ שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
So shall you divide this land unto you according to the tribes
of Israel. And it shall be that you divide it by lot as an
inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who sojourn in
your midst and who bear children among you. And they shall
be to you as native-born among the children of Israel – with you
they have an inheritance in the midst of the tribes of Israel.
And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger sojourns,
there you give him his inheritance,” declares the Master
Pronouncing the Name
Explicitly saying the name of YHWH, the
God of Israel, is a controversial
issue among Karaite Jews today. Traditional Karaites view the
pronunciation of God’s name to be blasphemous, and adhere to the
rabbinic tradition of substituting “Adonai”, while coming across
‘YHWH’ while reading. Karaites mostly coming from a rabbinical
background, as well as the majority of converts to Karaite Judaism,
do not consider it a prohibition to pronounce the Name, some
viewing it as a mitzvah (commandment) to do so. There exists no law
in the Tanakh that prohibits one from saying the name of YHWH.
Israelites from the Judges period having used it as a greeting,
‘YHWH be with you, and ‘YHWH bless you’, as is shown in the
Book of Ruth.
Nehemia Gordon argued that, though modern scholars "universally"
take the pronunciation of YHWH to be "Yahweh", the proper
pronunciation is "Yehovah" (with the stress on the last syllable).
He claimed that the Masoretes belonged to
the group of Karaites who did not pronounce the name and for that
reason omitted (as seen in the earliest complete manuscripts of
Scripture) the middle vowel O, "to prevent their fellow Karaites
from simply reading the name as it was written". The same Nehemia
Gordon translated from the Hebrew a study by Mordecai Alfandari,
according to which the proper and original pronunciation of the
Name is "Yihweh"
See Tetragrammaton, Yahweh, Jehovah.
Rabbinic Judaism's scholars, such as
Maimonides, write that people who deny
the divine origin of the Oral Torah are
to be considered among the heretics. However, at the same time
Maimonides holds (Hilchot Mamrim 3:3) that most of the Karaites and
others who claim to deny the "oral teachings" are not to be held
accountable for their errors in the law because they are led into
error by their parents and are thus referred to as a tinok shenishba, or a captive
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. Some recent scholars have held
that Karaites should be regarded as Gentiles in all respects,
though this is not universally accepted. They hasten to add that
this opinion is not intended to insult the Karaites, but only to
give individual Karaites the option of integrating into mainstream
Judaism by way of conversion.
In response to the position taken by the Karaites in regards to the
authority of the Talmud, Orthodox Judaism counters by pointing to
the innumerable examples of biblical commandments that are either
too ambiguous or documented in such a concise fashion that proper
adherence is absolutely impossible without the details provided by
For Karaites, in sum, the rabbinic interpretations above, as
codified in oral law, are only one form of interpretation. They are
definitely not divinely ordained for them, and therefore are also
not binding as 'halacha' or practical conduct religious
- Tefillin: As indicated in Deuteronomy
6:8 among other places, tefillin are to be placed on the arm and on
the head between the eyes. However, there are no details provided
regarding what tefillin are or how they are to be constructed.
- Kosher laws: As indicated in Exodus 23:19
among other places, a kid may not be boiled in its mother's milk.
In addition to numerous other problems with understanding the
ambiguous nature of this law, there are no vowelization characters
in the Torah; they are provided by the masoretic tradition. This is particularly relevant
to this law, as the Hebrew word for milk is identical to
the word for fat when vowels are absent. Without the oral
tradition, it is not known whether the violation is in mixing meat
with milk or with fat.
- Shabbat laws: With the severity of
Sabbath violation, namely the death penalty, one would assume that
direction would be provided as to how exactly such a serious and
core commandment should be upheld. However, there is little to no
information as to what can and cannot be performed on the Sabbath.
Karaites, nonetheless, do keep the Shabbat according to their own,
different traditions and interpretations, as described in detail in
the special section above.
- Mezuzah:As indicated in Deuteronomy 6:9,
a mezuzah needs to be placed on the doorposts of your house.
However, there are no details regarding where on the doorpost, if
it is all doorposts or just one, what words go in it, how the words
should be written or how the mezuzah should be constructed.
Halakhic status as Jews
A person whose mother was a Karaite Jew is regarded as halakhically
Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Likewise, someone who is
patrilineally Jewish is regarded as a Jew by the Moetzet Hakhamim,
or Karaite Counsel of Sages. Although it is universally accepted
that Karaite Jews are halakhically Jewish, there is still a
question as to whether or not marriage between the Karaite and
Rabbinic communities is permitted. Two Sephardi chief rabbis,
Eliahu Bakshi-Doron and Ovadia Yosef encouraged such marriages,
hoping it would help Karaites to assimilate into Orthodox Judaism.
The Rambam decreed that Jews raised in a Karaite household are
considered to be tinok shenishba, like babies taken captive by
non-Jews, they cannot be punished for their wayward behavior,
because it is the result of their parents' influence . Rabbi David
Chayim Chelouche, the chief rabbi of Netayana is quoted in the
Jerusalem Post as saying: "A Karaite is a Jew. We accept them as
Jews and every one of them who wishes to come back [to mainstream
Judaism] we accept back. There was once a question about whether
Karaites needed to undergo a token circumcision in order to switch
to rabbinic Judaism, but the rabbinate agrees that today that is
History of Karaism
"In the times of John Hyrcanus, and Alexander Janneus his son,
sprung up the sect: of the Karaites, in opposition to the
Pharisees, who had introduced traditions, and set up the oral law,
which these men rejected. In the times of the said princes lived
Simeon ben Shetacb, and Judah ben Tabbai, who flourished A. M.
3621, these two separated, the latter from the former, because he
could not embrace his inventions which he formed out of his own
brain ; and from him the Karaites sprung, who were first called the
society or congregation of Judah ben Tabbai, which was afterwards
changed into the name of Karaites.", John
Hillel the Elder and Shammai
Karaism appears to be a combination from various Jewish groups in
Mesopotamia, that rejected the Talmudic tradition as an innovation.
Karaites may also be the remnant of the Sadducees, the Second Temple priestly class who
rejected the Pharisees' claim to an "Oral
Law". Some suggest that the major impetus for the formation of
Karaism was a reaction to the rise of Islam,
which recognized Judaism as a fellow monotheistic faith, but
claimed that it detracted from this monotheism by deferring to
In the 9th century CE Anan ben David
and his followers absorbed sects such the Isawites (followers of Abu Isa
al-Isfahani), Yudghanites and the
remnants of the pre-Talmudic Sadducees and
Boethusians. It must be noted that the
Boethusians were an offshoot movement of
the Sadducees that differed on issues of
purity, and calendarical issues. Anan led a polemic with the
rabbinical establishment and later non-Ananist sects emerged, like
The dispute between Saadiah Gaon and
the Karaites helped to consolidate the split between them.
Karaites, Sadducees, and Philo
Abraham Geiger posited a connection
between the Karaites and the Sadducees based on comparison between
Karaite and Sadducee halakha. However Dr. Bernard Revel in his dissertation on "Karaite
Halacha" rejects many of Geiger's proofs. Dr. Revel also points to
the many correlations between Karaite halakha and theology and the
interpretations of the Alexandrian philosopher Philo. He also points to the writings of a 10th
century Karaite who brings down the writings of Philo showing that
the Karaites made use of Philo's writings in the development of
their movement. There is a minority in Karaite Judaism, who like
the Sadducees do not believe in a final resurrection or
The Golden Age of Karaism
The "Golden Age of Karaism" was between 10th-11th centuries CE in
which a large number of Karaitic works were produced in the central
and eastern parts of the Muslim world. Karaite Jews were able to
obtain autonomy from Rabbinical 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
According to historian Salo
Wittmayer Baron, at one time the number of Jews affiliating
with Karaism comprised as much as 40 percent of world Jewry, and
debates between Rabbinic and Karaitic leaders were not
Most notable among the opposition to Karaitic thought and practice
at this time are the writings of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, which eventually led to a permanent
split between some Karaitic and Rabbinic communities.
Aaron Ben Moses Ben Asher
Aaron ben Moses ben Asher lived in Tiberius
during the first half of the 10th century. His family had been
involved in creating and maintaining the Masorah for either five or six generations.
Ben-Asher rapidly gained fame as the most authoritative of the
Tiberias masoretes, and, even after his
death, his name continued to hold respect.
In 989 CE, an unknown scribe of a former Prophets manuscript vouched for the care with which
his copy was written by claimiing that he had vocalized and added
the Masorah "from the books that were vocalized by Aaron ben Moses
Rambam, by accepting the views of Ben-Asher
(though only in regard to open and closed sections), helped
establish and spread his authority. Referring to a Bible manuscript then in Egypt, he wrote: "All relied
on it, since it was corrected by Ben-Asher and was worked on and
analyzed by him for many years, and was proofread many times in
accordance with the masorah, and I based myself on this manuscript
in the Sefer Torah that I wrote"
Since most Torah scribes today continue to rely on the writing
rules of Rambam as their guide, the Masorah as established by Aaron
Ben Moses Ben Asher was influential indeed.
His vocalization of the Bible is still, for all intents and
purposes, the text Jews continue to use.
Moreover, Aaron ben Moses ben Asher was the first to take Hebrew grammar seriously. He was the first
systematic Hebrew grammarian. His Sefer Dikdukei ha-Te'amim
(Grammar of the Vocalizations) was an original collection of
grammatical rules and masoretic
information. Grammatical principles were not at that time
considered worthy of independent study. The value of this work is
that the grammatical rules presented by Ben-Asher reveal the
linguistic background of vocalization for the first time. He had a
tremendous influence on the world of Biblical grammar and scholarship.
From documents found in the Cairo
Geniza, it appears that this most famous masorete (and,
possibly, his family for generations) were also, incidentally,
It should not be surprising to discover that many masoretes, so
involved in the Masorah, held Karaite beliefs. After all, it was
the Karaites who placed such absolute reliance on the Torah text.
It would be natural that they would devote their lives to studying
every aspect of it.
The surprising element was that being a Karaite didn't disqualify
Aaron ben Moses ben Asher in the eyes of Rabbinic Jews (like Rambam).
With one exception:
It was known that Saadia Gaon had
written against the Karaites. In his critiques, Saadia mentioned a
"Ben Asher." Until recently, it never occurred to Jewish scholars
to associate the "Ben Asher" of Saadia's diatribe with the famous
Aaron ben Asher of Tiberius. After all, Aaron ben Asher was
respected throughout the Jewish world. The Karaites were considered
outsiders. It was unthinkable that traditional "normative" Jews
would accept the work of a Karaite.
Recent research indicates, however, that it is probable that the
subject of Saadia's attack was Aaron ben Moses ben Asher.
In his work Sefer Dikdukei ha Te'amim, Aaron ben Asher wrote, "The
prophets... complete the Torah, are as the Torah, and we decide Law
from them as we do from the Torah." That's pretty Karaitic. It also
has forced scholars to re-evaluate the relationship between
Rabbinic Jews and Karaite Jews in the 10th century despite the
writings of Saadia Gaon. See,
During the 18th century, Russian Karaites spread many myths
externally, which freed them from various anti-Semitic laws that affected other Jews.
Avraham Firkovich helped establish
these ideas by referring to the tombstones in Crimea that bear
inscriptions stating that those buried were descendants of the
Lost Tribes of Israel. Other
deflections included claiming to be among those Jews with a
Khazar origin, or claiming that Karaites were
otherwise not strictly Jewish descended. These actions were
intended to convince the Russian Czar that
Karaite ancestors could not have killed Jesus; that thus their
descendants were free of familial guilt (which was an underlying
reason or pretext given at that time for anti-Semitic laws).
the Russian census counted 12,894 Karaites in the Russian Empire.
Crimean and Lithuanian Karaites
Karaylar) are a distinctive Karaite
community from the Crimea.
Their Turkic language is called
Karaim. According to a
Karaite tradition several hundred Crimean Karaites were invited to
Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas to settle
in Trakai ca.
1397. A small community remains there to this day, which has
preserved its language and distinctive customs, such as its
traditional dish called "kibinai", a sort of meat pastry, and its
houses with three windows, one for God, one for the family, and one
for Grand Duke Vytautas. This community has access to two Kenessas.
Until recent years the vast majority of Karaites in the world were
Qaraylar. Qaraylar might be the only group which most authentically
preserves the ancient Karaite ideas of Abu
Isa and Jacob Qirqisani. As a
result of Karaites divorcing their movement from Judaism at large
in previous centuries, the Moetzet Chachamim committee promotes the
exclusion of the Karaylar Jews from Universal Karaism and
the 10th and 11th Centuries, Karaite Jews in Spain had become
"a force to be reckoned with." In Castile, high-ranking
Rabbinical Jews such as Joseph Ferrizuel persuaded the king to
allow the persecution and expulsion of Karaite Jews. With royal
assistance, Rabbi Todros Halevi and Joseph ibn Alfakhar
successfully drove out a large portion of the surviving Karaite
Karaism has produced a vast library of commentaries and polemics,
especially during its "Golden Age." These writings prompted new and
complete defenses of the Mishnah and the
Talmud, the culmination of these in the
writings of Saadia Gaon and his
criticisms of Karaism. Though he opposed Karaism, the Rabbinic
commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra
regularly quoted Karaite commentators, particularly Yefet ben Ali, to the degree that a legend
exists among some Karaites that Ibn Ezra was ben Ali's
The most well-known Karaite polemic is Isaac b. Abraham of Troki's Hizzuk
Emunah (חיזוק אמונה) (Faith Strengthened), a comprehensive
Counter-Missionary polemic, which
was later translated into Latin by Wagenseil as part of a larger
collection of Jewish anti-Christian polemics entitled Tela
Ignea Satanæ, sive Arcani et Horribiles Judæorum Adversus Christum,
Deum, et Christianam Religionem Libri (Altdorf, 1681)
(translation: 'The Fiery Darts of Satan, or the Arcane and Horrible
Books of the Jews Against Christ, God, and the Christian
Religion'). Many Counter-Missionary
materials produced today are based upon or cover the same themes as
Scholarly studies of Karaite writings are still in their infancy,
and owe greatly to the availability of the Firkovich collections of Karaite
manuscripts in the Russian National Library following the collapse
of the Soviet Union. The cataloguing efforts of scholars at the
Biliotheque Nationale in Paris and in the United States and England
is continuing to yield new insights into Karaite literature and
- Karaite Anthology (Leon Nemoy) ISBN 0-300-03929-8
- Karaite Jews of Egypt (Mourad el-Kodsi) (1987)
- Karaite Separatism in 19th Century Russia (Philip
- An Introduction to Karaite Judaism (Yaron, et al.)
- Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding (Fred
Astren) ISBN 1-57003-518-0
- Just for the record in the history of the Karaite Jews of
Egypt in modern times (Mourad el-Kodsi) (2002)
- The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Historiography and Self-Image
of Contemporary Karaites (Daniel J. Lasker) Dead Sea
Discoveries, Nov 2002, Vol. 9 Issue 3, p281, 14p-294; DOI:
10.1163/156851702320917832; (AN 8688101)
- Karaites of Christendom—Karaites of Islam (W.M.
Brinner) from "The Islamic World: Essays in Honor of Bernard Lewis"
Princeton University Press 1989
- Heir to the Glimmering World (Cynthia Ozick) A fictional story about a
historian of the Karaism.
- A History of the Jews in Christian Spain (Yitzhak
Baer) Vol 1
- The Jews of Spain, A History of the Sephardic
Experience (Jane S. Gerber)
- The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly
(John W McGinley) ISBN 059540488X
- The History of the Jewish People: Volume II, the Early
Middle Ages (Moses A. Shulvass)
- Dan Shapira, “Remarks on Avraham Firkowicz and the Hebrew
Mejelis 'Document',” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum
Hungaricae, 59:2 (2006): 131-180.
- M. Polliack (ed), Karaite Judaism: Introduction to Karaite
Studies (Leiden, Brill, 2004).
- Kizilov, Mikhail, “Faithful Unto Death: Language, Tradition,
and the Disappearance of the East European Karaite Communities,”
East European Jewish Affairs, 36:1 (2006), 73–93.
- Shapira, Dan, Avraham Firkowicz in Istanbul (1830-1832):
Paving the Way for Turkic Nationalism (Ankara, KaraM,
- Kizilov, Mikhail, Karaites through the Travelers’ Eyes:
Ethnic History, Traditional Culture and Everyday Life of the
Crimean Karaites According to Descriptions of the Travelers
(New York, al-Qirqisani, 2003).
- Daniel J. Lasker, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi:
Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy (Leiden, Brill,
2008) (Supplements to The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy,
4), xvi, 296 pp.
- Karaim language - a Turkic language with Hebrew influences
Karaites - the Turkic-speaking
Jews of the Crimea
- Judah Hadassi —
12th century scholar, philosopher, and grammarian from Constantinople.
- Benjamin Nahawandi — regard
by some as the proper originator of Karaism as it has come down
through the ages.
- Abraham Firkovich — a famous
leader of the Crimean Karaites, a
collector of manuscripts, and was an amateur archeologist.
- Aaron ben Moses ben
Asher — refiner of the Tiberian writing system, regarded as
produced the most accurate version of the Masoretic Text.
- Anan ben David — founder of the
Ananites, a group that became a part of the Karaite movement.
- Nehemia Gordon — arguably the
best known Karaite Jew of this era, an author/scholar, and
co-founder of World Karaite
- Avraham Qanai -
Hakham of the Karaite community "Orah Çaddıqım" in Albany, New
- Abraham Kefeli
- Hakham and Rav in Ashdod, Israel
Qiprisçi - Hakham Bashi of the High
Religious Council of the Crimean/Russian Karaites in the Western Europe, the USA and Israel
- Letter of
the Karaite elders of Ascalon
- List of Karaite Jews
General Karaite links
Karaite Judaism by region
Spanish persecution of Karaites