This week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the long-time spiritual leader of the Sephardi movement, passed away. The reactions of the Jewish world have been far-ranging and I don’t intend to express any opinions on his legacy or his halacha.
But Rabbi Yosef’s passing reminded me that he has encouraged marriages between Rabbanites and Karaites so that Karaites would eventually accept the Oral Law.
So, I thought this would be a good time to review some historical details regarding Karaite-Rabbanite marriages.
An interesting tidbit comes to us via the tenth century Karaite Sage Jacob al-Kirkisani, arguably the greatest Jewish historian of his era. As Kirkisani records, one of Sa’adyah Gaon’s students said that Rabbanites would marry Isfahanites (but would not marry Karaites) because the Isfahanites “do not disgree with us [i.e., the Rabbanites] over the festivals.” According to Kirkisani, the sticking point for the student was the Karaite refusal to observe the Rabbinically mandated extra day for the Jewish holidays in the diaspora. Amazingly, the Isfahanites, whom the Rabbanites would marry, were adherents to the seventh-century messianic (Jewish) leader Abu ‘Isa al-Isfahani. 
But we know that Karaites and Rabbanites (at some point) did marry each other. A quick survey of marriage documents from the middle ages reveals some interesting ways Karaites and Rabbanites dealt with their religious differences (and it didn’t always play out as Rabbi Yosef hoped):
- at least one “betrothal contract” shows that a Rabbanite man agreed to adopt the Karaite tradition of his fiancee upon marriage; 
- a Rabbanite married a Karaite (potentially for her political connections) and promised not to force his wife “to sit with him by the light of the Sabbath candle, nor to eat the fat tail, nor to desecrate her festivals, on condition that she observe with him his festivals;”  and
- another Rabbanite, similarly, promised not to force his Karaite wife to desecrate her festivals, not to “bring the fat-tail . . . or the flesh of a pregnant animal” into their home and also not to light a Sabbath candle or have fires burning in their house on Shabbat. 
These last few items (the permissibility of slaughtering pregnant animals and having fires on Shabbat) are significant differences between the historical Karaite and Rabbanite halakhot. Perhaps, I’ll post about them at some point.
For now, I just note that even with these stark differences, Karaites and Rabbanites found ways to coexist and even marry – and presumably (if the couple wanted) were able to keep their separate traditions. Of course, over time, the majority erodes away the minority if the minority is not diligent and does not have a proper infrastructure to support education and growth. Perhaps this is what Rabbi Yosef was banking on.
After the footnotes, you will find the official response of Universal Karaite Judaism (i.e., the organization of historical Karaites in Israel), regarding Rabbi Yosef’s passing.
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 Rustow, Marina; Heresy and the Politics of Community, pp. 63-64.
 Id., pp. 250-251.
 Id., p. 335-337.
 Ankori, Zvi; Karaites in Byzantium, p. 297.
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By: Neria HaRo’eh, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Universal Qaraite Judaism (Israel)
The passing of Rav ‘Ovadyah Yosef is a sad and dramatic occasion to thousands of believers among our people who saw him as their Rabbi and leader.
Despite all the fundamental religious differences that the Qaraite Jewish movement has with the approach of ‘Ovadyah Yosef; despite the fact that Qaraite Judaism does not see his way as “Derekh HaTorah [the way of the Torah]”; and in spite of his various rulings and controversial ways of expressing himself – we will neither forget his humanity and compassion, the time that he took care of the needy, the ‘Agunot [wives seeking a divorce], and those undergoing conversion. Nor will we forget that he labored, under a heartfelt conviction, for the betterment of society.
In these moments we send our condolences to our fellow mourners – a large part of the Israeli public – and hope that the Holy One, Blessed is He, will remedy their wounds and will heal their whole body.
Nevertheless, we must remind ourselves that the manifestations of mourning which we now see – such as Sha”s Party leader Aryeh Der’i’s remarks that “sunlight has been extinguished… we have become orphans without a father” – are the result of a Rabbinic worldview which has excessive veneration for this Rabbi, to the extent of treating his words as holier than those of the Living God.
We, speaking for Qaraite Judaism, respect a person’s opinions insofar as he is a human being, and believe that every person, even if he is a grand Rabbi – is only a human being.
Based on this philosophical principle, we disagree with venerating him whether alive or after his death. Yet, along with this view, we share a brotherly empathy for the serious grief experienced by thousands of mourners, and seek to stand by them.
We hope followers of Rav ‘Ovadyah Yosef will continue the positive aspects of his activities, according to Derekh HaTorah [the way of the Torah].
Translated by Ya`aqov Walker HaDani.