Maybe it’s the internet or maybe it’s that we’re all simply more curious these days, but the inertia that once confined Jews to a single Jewish movement our entire lives is eroding rapidly.
The transient nature of Jewish observance and identity was recently on display when CNN’s Belief Blog interviewed Matisyahu. (See Q and A with Matisyahu: ‘Hasidic reggae superstar’ sans the Hasidim.) Matisyahu described how he “started out with the Chabad movement . . . with the idea that ‘this is it.’”* Matisyahu eventually opened up to other Jewish movements.
I’m not saying that Matisyahu would ever explore Karaite Judaism (or even that Karaite Judaism is the right path for Matisyahu), but many Rabbanites are drawn to Karaite Judaism for the same reasons that Matisyahu recently underwent a very public “rebirth.”
Nobody Knows the Way:
According to the Belief Blog, Matisyahu tells his children that “nobody knows the way” to proper observance: “Yeah, there are teachers and people will tell you there is a way, this is like the Torah from God and these rules are from God, but I tell them that you have to decide in your life what’s real for you.”
Matisyahu’s underlying sentiments are similar to those written centuries ago by the Karaite Daniel al-Kumisi who urged his readers to decide for themselves “what’s real.” In Kumisi’s words, “As for you, investigate the matter according to your own wisdom, lest you should do according to my wisdom in reliance upon my opinion.” Kumisi then encouraged his readers not to rely upon modern “teachers” – whom Kumisi referred to as “teachers of the exile” - without investigating matters for themselves.**
The Heavy Burden:
Matisyahu also explains that he felt a heaviness from all of the rules in Judaism: “In Judaism there are a lot of rules – everything from which fingernail you cut first to which side you sleep on in bed, to the way you get dressed in the morning . . . .”
None of these heavy rules appears in the Tanach – although, I definitely could use some more guidance on getting dressed in the morning. And these rules have never been a part of Karaite Judaism. It is for this reason that some religious Jews dabble in Karaism at some point in their lives.
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I am reluctant to admit that I’ve never listened to much of Matisyahu’s music; but it is clear that God has blessed him in many ways. It takes tremendous courage for anyone, let alone for someone in the public eye, to seek out different paths to God. May we each have the same courage and may our curiosity lead us to what’s real for ourselves as well as to what’s real for God.
* I’m actually a tremendous fan of Chabad and everything it has accomplished in a relatively short period of time. Karaites can (and should) learn a lot from Chabad.
** (The Pseudo-Qumisian Sermon to the Karaites; Nemoy, L.;AAJR, Vol. XLIII (1976).)