I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that David Suissa, President of the Jewish Journal, was paying a compliment to Karaite Jews when he recently referred to us as “rebellious” due to our rejection of the Talmud.
I’ve met Mr. Suissa on a few occasions (though he probably would not remember me) and several years back I actually heard him speak at a Shabbat dinner in a private home in Los Angeles. In every instance, he has shown himself to be a sincere individual and a dedicated Jew. I was, thus, particularly flattered when Mr. Suissa likened Karaites to rebels – especially around this time of year when most Jews throughout the world will soon begin the celebration of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah commemorates one of the most successful rebellions in the history of our people. The Maccabees, as they are commonly referred to, were the heroes and leaders of a rebellion against the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. Because of the Maccabean Revolt, the Jewish people reclaimed The Temple and rededicated it to the God of Israel. The word Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication.”
But the connection between Karaites and the Maccabees is much deeper than my not-so-artful twist on the word “rebellious.”
The Maccabees, who are more properly referred to as Hasmoneans, were closely aligned with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a Second Temple Jewish movement that, like Karaites, opposed the concept of an oral law. While I doubt that Karaites are direct physical descendents of the Sadducees, Karaites are certainly their intellectual heirs – even though Karaite and Sadducean halakha are not in complete accord.
The main group opposing the Sadducees were the Pharisees, who became (for all relevant purposes) the modern Rabbanites. In Mr. Suissa’s world, Rabbinic Judaism is the normative form of Judaism against which all others are compared. Against the Rabbinic backdrop, it is easy to call Karaites “rebellious.” This is particularly so if one’s view is that Karaites stripped the Talmud away from their Jewish canon. In fact, though, Karaites and other historically Tanakh only movements, such as the Sadducees, never adopted the Talmud in the first place.
As Mr. Suissa highlights, one of the implications of the Karaite approach is that we generally permit eating milk and meat together and we do not light Shabbat candles. We’ll touch on milk and meat tomorrow and we’ll eventually get to the issue of fire on Shabbat. In the interim, I invite Mr. Suissa to have a meaningful conversation (with me or someone else) about Karaite Judaism, its contributions to the Jewish world and its unique customs and traditions.