I have known Azriel Kowtek, online and in person, for some time now. She visited the Karaite Jews of America’s Shavuot extravaganza in 2015. She and her daughters recently came to visit the KJA for family Shabbat this past September.
Her greatest biblical passion is the original source of tekhelet, the color “blue” that the Israelites are commanded to attached to the corners of our garments. The interesting thing about Azriel, and she is very open about this, is that she is not Jewish. She runs a site called “The Ancients’ Blue” where she discusses her process for dyeing tekhelet and tying tzitziot (tassels). From a Karaite perspective, I am fascinated with her work because her product meets two of the historical Karaite Jewish viewpoints on tekhelet: (i) she is using a ritually pure source, and (ii) her tekhelet is (daytime) sky blue.
Today, I interview Azriel regarding her work and her passion.
Ki Eshmera Shabbat, by R’ Abraham ibn Ezra, as printed in the Vilna Edition of the Karaite Prayer Book (Vol. IV)
Virtually, every Karaite respects Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra. He lived in the 12th Century, and he is arguably the greatest of the classical Rabbanite peshatist (plain meaning) commentators. I have even quoted him in my talks. One of the reasons he is such a good peshatist is because he was combatting the then-thriving Karaite movement, which espoused peshat above all.
In addition to writing commentaries, ibn Ezra also penned numerous poems – the most famous of which is Ki Eshmera Shabbat. It is well known that the poem wound up in Karaite prayer books. It is less well-known that the Karaites modified the poem to remove anti-Karaite rhetoric. And it is even less well-known that the version that appears in Karaite prayer book still appears to have anti-Karaite polemics.
A group of Karaites praying at a memorial service for a departed loved one.
Several years ago, I read someone’s advice regarding the news industry. In short, the article was discussing how it is difficult for smaller news outlets to compete with the industry giants who have far greater resources to cover national and international stories. The advice was simple (and I am paraphrasing), “If I went into the news business today, I would go local and I would go local hard.”
The implication is that smaller outlets could compete in an area where the giants cannot – what is happening in any given neighborhood, town or city at any given time.
I do not know whether this was actually good advice for the news industry, but the guidance has shaped my views of how to sustain a Karaite Jewish community.
Please join me for an online course. Thursday 6:30 Pacific time. Register here.
My fellow Threaders,
First, do we like being called Threaders? (Let me know at the end of the post.)
As you know, I have been blogging less than I had originally planned. And indeed, I am blogging less than I want to. There is a simple reason for this. I have been working on several other initiatives that I hope will create long term sustainability for the Karaite movement. Blogging is a great short term investment, but we need something more substantive if we are going to exist in 100 years.
So today, I want to announce two exciting initiatives.
Many Karaites (especially those like me who had a great Karaite awakening in life) feel some discomfort with the number 18. Don’t get me wrong: we don’t lose sleep over it; but we definitely wonder whether Karaites can find a different number to associate with gifting. To-date, the most common number of Jewish gifting remains $18 (and multiples thereof), because in the gematria, $18 represents life. It also represents a whole bunch of other things, but let’s not mention those.
Since Karaites tend to avoid gematria for mystical purposes, I thought our online community can vote for an official number or Karaite gifting.
Source: National Geographic Kids
Let’s start by saying that this post is intended to be fun. It is also intended to explain Karaite Judaism to people who (despite our best efforts) still need some help. So today, I am starting a contest.
Here is how it works. Below, I will create a Karaite version of a famous Rabbanite story. In the comments, I invite you to do the same. I (in my sole and unreviewable discretion) will pick the top three stories from the comments. I will then create a poll in a future post for readers to vote on the best story. The three finalists will receive gift certificates to The Karaite Press in the following amounts:
- Grand Prize Winner: $100
- First Runner Up: $50
- Second Runner Up: $25
- Everyone Else: Will Get What’s in the Box
Almost a year ago, I lost my beloved uncle, Benjamin Pessah, the last Egyptian Karaite Jew actively practicing shehita in the United States. At that time, I made a personal resolution to continue to promote Karaite shehita whenever possible. Last week, the Karaite Jews of America released a new work on Karaite shehita. The work is Ritual Slaughter: A Guide to Modern Karaite Jewish Practice.
Today, I interview Travis Wheeler, the only shohet in the United States to be trained by the Karaite community of Israel. In fact, he was trained by H’ Moshe Firrouz, the Chief Hakham of the Council of Sages. Travis owns Six Star Meat and Poultry and recently released his Passover pricing list.