Six Questions & Answers: Moshe Firrouz, Chief Neighbor of the Karaite Community

Moshe Firrouz receiving The Prof. Naphtali Wieder Prize for Scholarship in Medieval History and  Exegesis, Ben Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East

Moshe Firrouz receiving The Prof. Naphtali Wieder Prize for Scholarship in Medieval History and
Exegesis, Ben Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East

Today, I catch up with Moshe Firrouz. Although I’ve known Moshe personally for almost 10 years, it is still a bit odd for me to refer to him without a title. After all, he is the Chief Hakham of the Karaite Community.

But Moshe cares more about serving Hashem than he does about titles.

As I was preparing this story, I asked Moshe how he wanted me to refer to him: Hakham? Chief Rabbi? Hakham Rashi? He told me that the title was not important and that we all simply needed to love and respect each other as we love ourselves, as it is written: “Love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18.)

Well, if we are all neighbors, then I’d elect Moshe as Chief Neighbor in a heartbeat.

Moshe is involved in some super interesting things these days, including receiving an award for the research he is doing for his Ph.D. at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. So, I thought it was time to connect with Moshe formally for A Blue Thread.

1. What was your path towards becoming a Hakham?

From my early childhood, my father took me and my brother to pray at the Karaite synagogue in Bat Yam. The Karaite synagogue in Bat Yam is named “Petach Tikvah.”

The prayers instilled a peace within me, and keeping Shabbat was key to my development in the spiritual world. Observing Shabbat – the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people – makes you feel God’s blessing upon you.

So, I wanted to learn more about my relationship with God. After a few years of studying Torah and reading religious works, I decided to serve God in a much more active way. My goal was always to help others to know the Torah of God and to become close to Hashem.

I first became a hazzan (cantor) and joined a study group in Be’er Sheva. After 10 years of studying with my two teachers Rav Yosef Morad and Rav Magdi Shemuel, I received my degree – so to speak – as a Hakham.

2. I previously wrote that (according to Eli Shemuel) you believe that we should give something to every homeless person we see. When did you form this belief?

I did not invent the idea of helping others – and I certainly did not invent the idea of helping the poor. God commands us to help our brothers and not to ignore those in need. For example, in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, we see that we must open our hearts and hands to the needy within our gates.

When, as mankind, we fulfill these (and other) commandments of God, we shall finally ascend to the level of morality and humanity that our creator desires.

[Personal Note: Last week, I was eating at Mexikosher in L.A. and I had the opportunity to fulfill this commandment by helping a homeless man.]

3. You are also a Ph.D. student, and recently won an award for your work on Judah Hadassi’s Eshkol HaKofer. What is the most interesting thing about Eshkol HaKofer and what is the focus of your work?

Even a cursory review of Eshkol HaKofer reveals Judah Hadassi’s wisdom. The entire book is written in poetic form, and the opening letters of each verse are in alphabetical order, and then reverse alphabetical order. The work includes a lot of information on the opinions of Karaite sages who preceded Hadassi. And Eshkol HaKofer quotes the Tanakh, the Talmud (as well as many other Rabbinic sources), historical works and even the New Testament.

My work focuses on Theodicy – which is generally the question of why God permits evil to exist. I am analyzing Judah Hadassi’s understanding of Theodicy in relation to the views of other Karaite sages, including Yusuf al-Basir. I am approaching these texts as an academic – not as a theologian – and all of my analyses are based on academic principles and accepted research tools.

4. Why is it important to read the works of the Karaite sages?

The Karaite sages have a unique way of thinking and our sages have developed tools to analyze the Tanakh. These tools help focus the intellectual framework of Karaite Judaism, and are important because the Karaite sages are developing this framework from a Tanakh-only perspective.

5.  Tomer Mangoubi is undertaking an ambitious project in creating an English language abridgment of Adderet Eliyahu for the Karaite Jews of America. Which Karaite works would you like to see translated into English?

As with any text, it is best to read Karaite works in their original language. For example, the acrostic and poetry from Eshkol HaKofer would be lost in translation. But there are some works that have valuable information regardless of the language and I would love to see them translated into English. I know I’m biased, but I would start with Eshkol HaKofer (“The Cluster of Henna” by Judah Hadassi), followed by Kitab al Anwar wal-Marakib (“The Book of Lights and Watch Towers” by Jacob al Kirkisani) and AlKitab alMuhtawi (“The Comprehensive Book” by Yusuf al-Basir).

6. Where is Karaite Judaism headed?

I believe that we, as a community, are at one of the most important stages of development. The world is now open to the exchange of ideas and knowledge between people of all religious backgrounds – especially the various Jewish movements. Almost every week, I receive emails from many Jewish and non-Jewish people expressing their desire to learn and to join Karaite Judaism.  The Internet is one of the most powerful and important tools to help make people aware of Karaite Judaism. The Internet has given Karaite Jews the ability to educate the Jewish people about the true foundations of Judaism, and it can help us open the eyes of all Jews (including Karaites ourselves) to love God and accept his Torah.

If you are interested in hearing Moshe Firrouz’s views on halakhic questions posed by academics, check out this video, which I’ve blogged about here and here.

4 Comments

Filed under Judah Hadassi, Moshe Firrouz, Yaqub al-Qirqisani

4 Responses to Six Questions & Answers: Moshe Firrouz, Chief Neighbor of the Karaite Community

  1. Zvi

    R. Firrouz is citing Devarim 15:7-8 which applies to members of our people (and indeed, it is logical for Torah keepers living abroad to perform the Miṣwah where they reside). It does not behoove us to help needy non-Israelites.

    Judging from the literary achievement known as Everett Fox’s translation of the Torah which preserves the beauty of the original Hebrew as oral poetry and does not lose the puns, parallels, rhythms and rhymes, I somehow doubt that the poetry from Eshkol HaKofer would be entirely lost in translation.

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