It seems like whenever an orthodox rabbi wants to win a halakhic debate he compares his opponents (or their position) to Karaites (or Karaism). To be honest, these comparisons are sometimes the best publicity Karaites can get. I can name dozens of Karaites whose first introduction to Karaite Judaism was through a rabbi who criticized them for holding Karaite beliefs.
But there’s something deeper and more troubling going on with these comparisons.
Let me start by giving you an example from the historical fiction (heavy emphasis on fiction) book, Savior’s Day, that I reviewed a few weeks ago. In a climactic scene – a fictional trial of Aaron Ben Asher accused of aiding Karaites by penning the Aleppo Codex – Saadia Ga’on and Aaron ben Asher accuse each other of being Karaites in order to curry favor with the crowd. (Savior’s Day, pp. 109-117.) The only reason such a tactic makes sense (even in historical fiction) is if it is rooted, at least somewhat, in real life.
In fact, we see such comparisons all the time. The most interesting examples that come to mind concern two very well-known and highly regarded rabbis: Rabbi David Bar-Hayim and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, z”l.
For years, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim has been trying to convince Ashkenazi Jews that they are permitted to eat kitniyot during Passover. According to one source, the “injunction [against kitniyot] was unanimously accepted by Ashkenazic Jews; many Sephardic Jews, however, continue to eat kitniyot on Passover.” Among Rabbi Bar-Hayim’s arguments in support of the permissibility of kitniyot for Ashkenazi Jews is his theory that the custom of prohibiting kitnityot was a Karaite custom that made its way into Rabbinic Judaism “in France towards the end of the 1100’s.” (See Kitniyot – A Karaite Custom?) Although, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim suggests that this explanation reflects the “documented facts,” he does not cite any examples of Karaites living in France at the time. He simply appears to be using Karaites as a tool to advance his stated agenda.
And the late Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits actively encouraged Rabbanites to re-evaluate their approach to the Oral Law given the Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Apparently frustrated with the strict Rabbinic adherence to codified rabbinic commentaries, Rabbi Berkovits accused his fellow Orthodox Jews of being “Karaites of the Oral Law.” Of course, “Karaites of the Oral Law” is a contradiction; but he too was using Karaites in a less than flattering manner in order to get Rabbanite Jews to re-evaluate their halakhic views. (See Dennis Prager’s Can Halachah Ever Be Wrong;Aaron Wexler’s Just a Thought: On Codification.)
Rejecting a position because it is reminiscent of a Karaite view is not, in my opinion, intellectually honest. A more appropriate approach is to evaluate the merits of the issue on its own terms – rather than evaluating the person or group associated with the opinion. This is actually one of the bases for the fundamental tenet of Karaism which encourages everyone to search the Scripture for answers, rather than relying on someone’s opinion. So, as much as I love the free press, perhaps we can all think twice before invoking caricatures of Rabbanites and Karaites in order to prove our points.
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 I have tremendous respect for the knowledge and wisdom of these rabbis. I pray to be one-tenth as knowledgeable as them one day. My thoughts here are limited to the types of arguments they are making and not the rabbis’ halakhic bona fides or the substance of their positions. For the most part, these debates I mention concern issues internal to Rabbanism.
 It is true that some Karaites did not eat certain kitniyot, so it is possible that the Ashkenazi ban resulted from Karaite influences. But I know of no Karaite community living in France during the time frame mentioned. According to Professor David Lasker, “there is very little indication of Ashkenazic familiarity with Karaism, let alone any actual Karaite communities in Franco-Germany” in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (See Lasker, David, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy; Brill (2008), p. 197.) In any event, the Babylonian Talmud records Rabbinic discussions regarding the permissibility of rice (a type of kitniyot Ashkenazi Rabbanites do not consume) on Passover; so at the very least the issue of kitniyot did not originate from the Karaites. See Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 35a.