Are the Historical Karaite Jewish Objections to Hanukkah Still Relevant Today?

Farag Menashe (still living in Cairo at the time) with the Cairo Codex.

Farag Menashe (still living in Cairo at the time) with the Cairo Codex.

In 1979, Hadassah Magazine visited the last remaining Karaite Jews of Cairo, Egypt. The magazine provides this tidbit regarding the shochet of the community, Farag Murad Yehuda Menashe:

[H]e will read a Haggada based on biblical texts, free of all Talmudic references. He will have no seder plate, no four questions, and no four cups of wine. His Shavuot will always fall on Sunday, and instead of fasting on the Ninth of Av, he will fast on the seventh and tenth. He has never heard the shofar blown, never put on tefillin, and never affixed a mezuzah to the doorpost of his home, and never lit a hanukkiya. (Indeed, Hanukkah is totally absent from his calendar.)[1]

My family, which hails from the Karaite community in Egypt, also never did anything for Hanukkah until coming to the United States. Yes; even Karaites are susceptible to assimilation. Here, we are not simply talking about assimilation toward non-Jews; we are talking about assimilation toward a larger Jewish population within which we are living.[2]

But how is it that this group of Jews did not observe Hanukkah while in Egypt?  Let’s examine the two main historical Karaite objections to Hanukkah: (i) the lack of authority to create a religious holiday; and (ii) the victory was short-lived. After each discussion, I’ll let you vote whether the objection is still relevant.

The Rabbis Lacked Authority to Create a Religious Holiday:

The first historical Karaite objection to Hanukkah is rather simple. Historically, Karaites only observed the holidays in the Tanakh. And historically the Karaites rejected the Rabbinic authority to create laws and holidays. An episode from the life of the 10th century Karaite sage Hakham Jacob al-Qirqisani reveals how seriously the Karaties objected to Rabbinic holidays.

Qirqisani asked one of the students of Sa’adyah Gaon why the Rabbanites of his day would marry the Issawites – adherents of a seventh century messianic leader – but would not marry the Karaites. The Rabbanite student’s response was telling:  “Because [the Issawites] do not disagree with us over the festivals.”

Kirkisani interpreted the response to mean that the Rabbanites “regard open apostasy [i.e., the Issawite adherence to a messianic leader] more favorably than disagreement [by the Karaites] over a festival of [the Rabbanites’] own invention.”[3]  And the Rabbanites acknowledge that Hanukkah (in its religious form) is a completely Rabbinic holiday.

Although the lack of Rabbinic authority to create a holiday is (in my opinion) a completely acceptable basis on which to reject the observance of Hanukkah, the Karaites of the Middle Ages had a problem. As far as I am aware, every Karaite of the Middle Ages held that Purim was a binding holiday. But Purim was not a holiday instituted by God in the Torah. That is, the events of Purim – like the events of Hanukkah – took place well after the Torah was given.

So, how did the Karaites of the Middle Ages believe that Purim was binding but that Hanukkah was not? Some Karaites like Hakham Ya’aqov ben Reuven and Hakham Aharon ben Eliyahu believed that Purim was binding because it occurred during the time of the prophets and was ratified in some way by the prophets:

  • And we [too] became obligated and took [the observance of both days of Purim] upon ourselves for this was in the time of prophets and the prophets affirmed [this practice]. However, the Hanukkah that the Rabbanites profess, we have not accepted upon ourselves for this was not at that same time of prophets. Also [although] miracles were performed during each and every era, even those performed in the time of prophets were not [always] set as days for rejoicing and [Hanukkah] is like these [other miracles].- Hakham Aharon ben Eliyahu’s Gan Eden Inyan Yom HaKippurim Ch. 5; Daf 64B Col 1.[4]

For more on whether Purim is binding see my article at TheTorah.com.

Is the Lack of Authority Still a Valid Basis to Object to Hanukkah on Religious Grounds?

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A Short-Lived Victory

The second historical reason that Karaites did not embrace Hanukkah is because – at its heart – the miracle of Hanukkah is that the Jews reclaimed that Temple and were able to start worshiping again.

By now, we all know that the story of the oil lasting for eight days does not appear in the earliest sources, and that the first written source to record this is the Talmud (or perhaps earlier rabbinic writings incorporated into the Talmud). If you don’t believe me read someone else’s article on this.

So if the heart of the miracle is that we were able to defeat the Seleucids and reclaim our Temple – Hanukkah itself means “dedication” – then it seems rather ironic to be celebrating the holiday, when we no longer have our Temple.

In this regard, I actually would propose that all Jews who light the “menorah”, refer to it as a hanukkiah. By calling it a menorah, we allow our subconscious to forget that the Menorah – the one in the Temple – is no longer a part of our daily lives.

Is the Short-Lived Nature of the Victory Still a Valid Basis to Oppose Hanukkah on Religious Grounds?

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My Personal Hanukkah Miracle

When I was a sophomore in college, and very much coming into my identity as a Karaite Jew, I first learned that the story of the oil lasting for eight days on Hanukkah was not attested to in any early source. The next year, as a junior, the InterFraternity Conference at the University of California, San Diego scheduled my Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, to play a football game on the first night of Hanukkah.

Now, as you can infer from this post, I did not have any particular religious connection to Hanukkah. But being one of the most outspoken advocates for the Jewish people in the chapter, I could not in good conscience do nothing. So we organized some brothers to light the hanukkiah on the sidelines of the football game. (The wind ensured that the candles did not stay lit for very long.)  I, of course, did not participate in the candle lighting.

Instead, I read aloud during the football game from The First Book of the Maccabees. No joke. I was weird. But I was also trying to prove a point. (In hindsight, I am not sure exactly what the point was. But it definitely made sense at the time.)

Anyway, so as I started to read aloud from Maccabees 1, my very good friend fielded a punt and proceeded to take the ball all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. As my fraternity brothers ran up and down the sidelines pumping their fists, the chapter president grabbed my shoulders and said, “Keep reading!”

You have to understand here. At that time, in the context of IFC football at UCSD, Alpha Epsilon Pi were equivalent to the historical Maccabees trying to defeat a much larger and much more talented fraternity.[5] So, when the president (and others) told me to keep reading, I really wanted to. As an observant Jew, though, I started to become uneasy that some people had superstitiously connected the reading of Maccabees 1 with the mini victory we had on the football field.

Regardless, I decided to read the selections I had marked in my book. I read and read and read. And the more I read, the more we lost. We got crushed in that football game. It was not so much a crushing on the scoreboard; rather, it was that we really could not muster any offense that night.[6] It turns out like the real story of Hanukkah the “victory” we experienced on the football field was also short-lived.

*  *  *

[1] Rabbi Boruch K. Helman, The Karaite Jews of Cairo, Hadassah Magazine, March 1979.

[2] To be fair, the observance of Hanukkah by most Jews in the United States is not actually a religious observance. It is a secular observance. So, in this respect, the Karaite assimilation towards this Rabbinic custom is also assimilation towards American secularism. But that is a topic for a different day – and probably for someone else’s blog.

[3] See Heresy and the Politics of Community: Jews of the Fatamid Caliphate, Marina Rustow, pp. 63-65 (interpreting the response to refer to the addition of Yom Tov Sheni); see also Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar 2nd Century BCE – 10th Century CE, Sacha Stern, pp. 19-20 (interpreting the response to refer to either Yom Tov Sheni or Hanukkah, “both of which the Karaites rejected but which the [Issawites] might have observed).

[4] I thank Tomer Mangoubi for this translation, which appears in Chapter 23 of Mikdash Me’at, in its section on Oaths. See also Zvi Ankori’s Karaites in Byzantium, in which he records a line from Hakham Ya’aqov ben Reuven’s Sefer Ha’Osher that also states that Hanukah was not binding because of the lack of prophecy at the time.

[5] As I write this, I see the irony of posting about the historical significance of Hanukkah – fight against Hellenization – while touting struggle of my Greek-lettered organization to find a way to signify Hannukah. But I am a huge fan of the work of Alpha Epsilon Pi. So much so that my first job out of college was working as a traveling consultant for AEPi – making $1000 a month. (Yes; you read that right.)

[6] Before anyone starts the “Jews can’t play sports” jokes. I’ll just add that a few years later, Alpha Epsilon Pi won IFC football.  The whole thing. Not just a game.

39 Comments

Filed under Aharon ben Eliyahu, Hanukkah, Jacob ben Reuben, Mikdash Me'at, Purim

39 Responses to Are the Historical Karaite Jewish Objections to Hanukkah Still Relevant Today?

  1. Marty

    Hi,
    I don’t understand why the article says that Purim was sanctioned as a holiday during the time of the Prophets. The last prophets were Ezra and Nehemia, and some say they are one and the same but that is another matter. But they lived around 450 BC. Isn’t it believed that Purim occurred about 200 years later, in the 3rd or 2nd century BC, that is, after the prophets?
    How is that reconciled?

    Personally, I’m in favor of celebrating Purim but I don’t think it should be mandatory and I have the same opinion about Hanukah. Regarding the latter, we should do our best to encourage celebrants to tell the true story, that it was a military victory and re-dedication of the Temple. Though there wasn’t any miracle regarding oil, the Maccabees continually prayed for victory over their more numerous enemies and gave God credit for their victories. That is sufficient reason to celebrate it throughout the ages…voluntarily.

    • Tomer

      Ezra 4:6 suggests that Achashverosh (from the Purim story) ruled immediately after Darius (who let Ezra and Nehemia bring the people back to Israel). Thus, it is likely that at least one of Zecharia, Chagai, and Malachi (see Ezra 5:1) who lived at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah were still alive during the events of Purim. There may even be historical evidence or verses proving this even more conclusively that I am not familiar with.

    • Henry Mourad

      Celebrating Hanukkah is possible by the Karaite based on Israel’s gaining part of the Temple back (the wailing Wall) after the Six Day War. If anything, it provides us with unifying mechanism with our Jewish brothers of all denominations.
      I myself celebrate with my family every year and light a Hannukiah with my daughters when they were growing up. And now, that they have children of their own, we celebrate at least one evening together as a big family.
      It’s an opportunity to be joyous during the Jewish Festival of Lights.

  2. Isaac s

    This “holiday” has no connection to biblical holidays–even among Rabbanites. (Work is permitted etc.) It’s just a happy time as we celebrate the rededication of the Temple. The point of a “holiday” isn’t necessarily to celebrate an ongoing and present event. Rather, the point is just to thank God for the wonderful events he has done for us in the past.

    The “lighting” custom probably came about because of the following: Hanukkah means dedication. This word appears in Numbers chapter 7. (Hanukkah was established because of the rededication of the temple. That’s why it’s called Hanukkah.) And the verses in Numbers immediately after the dedication, speak about Aaron lighting the Menorah. Seeing the lighting of the Menorah right after the dedication, someone made a connection between dedication and lighting of the menorah and said that Hanukkah too, which was a rededication, had to do with a menorah lighting. Thus came about the oil miracle. That is my opinion. Feel free to argue.

    • Very compelling theory. It is about as good as I have heard.

      Another theory is that the Rabbanites believed that the Hasmoneans/Maccabees were affiliated with the Saduccees and tried to steal the victory away from them.

      Yet another theory is that the Talmud was written at a time when the Jews were under a foreign ruler, so they needed to downplay the military victory.

    • Zvi

      There is no denying that the ancient rabbis who concocted the “flask of miraculous oil lasting for 8 days” tale had and operated on a stroke of genius. But historical research has convincingly shown that it was invented in order to provide a Rabbinic excuse for borrowing the pagan observance of kindling lights during the winter solstice, which conveniently occurs approximately around the days when Ḥanukah is celebrated.

  3. Rhiamom

    Even today, the rabbanites will tolerate outright heresy before they will tolerate any questioning of rabbinic authority. Take, for example, the Chabad Messianists who pray dailt to the empty chair of their late rebbe, who believe he has been/will be resurrected as Moschiach. This goes beyond normal Jewish Messiah candidacy to a worship more akin to Christianity, only of the rebbe instead of Jesus.

    And yet the Karaites, Reform, and Conservative Jews are deemed to be”not practicing Judaism” because they do not follow all the rabbanite rules and dogma.

  4. I really have no qualms with the idea of Chanukah/Hanukkah at all. Dreidels? Cool. Latkes? Bring ’em. I’m all about having a party that commemorates victory over persecution and restoration of Temple practices, even if just temporarily. What I do have trouble with is the bracha for lighting a Chanukiah.
    “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.”

    Wait, what? I can’t say that. If I said it and believed it, I would be adding a mitzvah to the Torah. If I said it and didn’t mean it, I’d be lying. That’s why I have no problem lighting a Chanukiah on Chanukah, but refuse to use the designated bracha for candle lighting.

    • Very interesting. By this logic, though, you could lead a completely rabbinic life – without saying the blessings. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think the Hanukkiah is beautiful. The problem is where to draw the line.

      When are you coming out to visit us again!

    • Zvi

      By even lighting a Ḥanukiyah you are engaging in a pagan (Zoroastrian and Roman) observance that was Judaized by the ancient rabbis. This had been shown and restated multiple times over the past few years in some Qaraite fora of which you are member, so it is profoundly sad that you seem to have already known this but found nothing wrong with it anyway.

      • Yo-man

        Zvi- The Torah itself borrows from so-called paganism. Most of the holidays are taken directly from the Canaanites (exempting Pesach), the creation myth is Chaldean in origin, the stories of cain and abel as well as jacob and esau are directly taken from Egyptian myths, etc. El is the supreme deity of the Caananite pantheon of gods called elohim, angelology is taken from Zoastrianism, the ancient Temple was an exact replica of Chaldean Temple, the Ark within was inspired by the Egyptian arks, etc. Noah and the flood was derived from the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. So what’s your point exactly? Further what makes the astronomical event of the winter solstice pagan or lighting candles thereon? The Zoastrians lit bonfires not candles. Is the mere act of lighting something pagan? I don’t understand your logic.

  5. Vincent Calabrese

    I don’t think it’s at all clear that Hanukkah is an ‘invention’ of Rabbinic Jews. The holiday is referenced in the Gospel of John (10:22), written at a time when the Rabbinic movement was in its infancy. Hanukkah in all likelihood was a popular practice that the Rabbis simply institutionalized.

    • That is fair and I am familiar. I was trying to differentiate Hanukkah as a “religious” holiday (with actual mitzvot attached to it) from Hanukkah as a culturally significant holiday. Perhaps I was not clear.

      • Yo-man

        The holiday of Chanukah was not founded by the Rabbinites who are ideologically descended from the P’rushim. The holiday was a commemoration mentioned in Sefer Macabi which was carried on by the Hashmona’im who were founded by the brother of Y’hudah HaMacabi, Shimon. This holiday was an institute of the Tzaddikim (Sadducees) of which Karaites are ideologically akin and has an important message of “anti-assimilation” for Jews today and IMO is a good holiday to celebrate, not as a religious holiday but as a commemorative celebration with moral precedent in our modern era.

  6. Davy

    It strikes me that today’s Karaites have not put closure on whether Karaism is anarchistic or whether it does accept a concept of transmission of teachings, and oral interpretations not specified in the Torah itself, and reliance on scholars. In the case of Purim it is not explained WHO decided who were authentic prophets, WHO had authentic prophecies and WHY certain ones should be canonized in a collection of holy books in addition to the Torah. If Aharon ben Eliyahu, Eliyahu Bazyatchi and others take it for granted that Purim is binding because of “the prophets,” it is still is necessary to explain the WHYS of all of this since it was the Men of the Great Assembly who determined the canon of holy books. WHO authorized these men to make determinations of the books, prophecies and prophets in the first place? What gave them this authority if not a transmission of teachings, principles and training not elucidated in the Torah itself? The bottom line is that a careful reading of classical Karaite scholars shows that they did not object to orally transmitted teachings that are associated with specific texts of the Torah, AND accepted a tradition of teachers and of course prophets. This is clear in the writings of Moshe Bayshtazi, Simcha of Lutsk, Tuvia ben Avraham, Yehuda Hadassi, and others. They even accepted that many of the actual teachings of the Talmud (and presumably the midrashim as well) of the “Bnai Qabala” were “authentic” from a Bnai Miqra point of view.

    • Zvi

      No, Davey Yehudi, “the Men of the Great Assembly” were not those who determined the content of Miqra’s canon. Historical research has shown that it was determined by the kohanim and Elders ca. 200 BCE. Even the Mishna or Talmud does not claim that the post-Destruction Yavneh/”Jamniyah” “sinod” decided on the books that were ultimately included in the Canon.

      The “authority” of the “Anshei Knesset haGedolah”, that august body of Pharisees, was no more and no less that of Pharisaic/Rabbinic authority — self arrogated and excused through taking Devarim 17:8-13 out of context.

      Virtually all Orthodox Rabbanites keep on falling back on the supposed “transmission of teachings and principles”, while being unaware that the so-called Chain of Transmission suffers from a few gaps in terms of time and geography between some of the supposed transmitters e.g. 1. at least a few years passed between the death of Pinḥas b. El`azar. and the priest `Eli”s birth; 2. a few decades elapsed between the death of Aḥiyah the Shilonite and Eliyahu haNavi’s birth; 3. a few decades passed between Barukh b. Neriyahu’s death in Egypt to the birth of `Ezrah the Scribe in Babylon; 4. more than 50 years elapsed between `Ezrah’s death and Shim`on haṢadiq’s birth.
      A further issue is that the majority of supposed transmitters were not even of Levitical extraction while the Torah tasks the tribe of Lewi, in so many words, with being the guardians and transmitters of Torah.
      Therefore, said transmission claims amount to propaganda rather than historic reality.

      • Davey Yehudi

        Zvi, I think you have misunderstood a few things. The Anshei Knesset Hagedola existed at the beginning of the Second Temple period. The acceptance of their authority is found not only in traditional rabbinic sources but in Karaite sources as well. I suggest you read Prof. Astren’s book Karaite Judaism and Historical Understanding and check the footnotes.
        Furthermore, you have to explain by what criteria prophets and prophecies outside the Torah were determined, and WHO was authorized to do that. This is more useful than engaging in polemics against certain teachings. Where did the authority of prophecy come from, and what is the source of what Karaites called ha’ataka, perushim and sevel hayerusha?

        • Davyi

          To Moderator: Please correct my name to Davy. I used the name Zvi called me, but Davy is how I am referred to. Thanks.

        • Zvi

          You would do better to snap out of any delusion you may have had that a non-Rabbinic Jew must accept any claim found in Qaraite sources, no matter how credible any particular Qaraite source seems to you. Certainly no such Jew, Qaraite or otherwise, is beholden by any errors, flights of fancy or deliberate falsehoods in Qaraite writings. This is the way it works in actual fact, no matter how dismayed it makes you feel.

          The notion that the Kohanim and Zeqenim (Elders)plus the three true prophets of the early Second Temple era, enacted under the umbrella name name “Anshei Knesset Hagedola” Pharisaic or Rabbinic enactments or decrees is a ridiculous bit of Rabbinic revisionism.

          Sir, neither of us have to explain by what criteria prophets and prophecies outside the Torah were determined and who was authorized to do that. Especially when you have a debunked Chain of Transmission for your teachings and traditions and you will not settle for the actual answers.
          I know you want to draw me into arguments over subjects unrelated to the blog’s topic, but this will not happen.

      • Davy

        Zvi, unfortunately you have not addressed the issues I raised. But that’s fine. If you have documented statements from Karaite sources that contradict who canonized the books of Tanach please mention them, as I referred you to Prof. Astren’s book.

        • Zvi

          I do not have to cite anything from Qaraite sources to substantiate my claims or make some other point. Historical research suffices, and that is what I have brought to the table.
          My corrections stand.

          • Yo-man

            Zvi is not going to answer the challenge for the simple fact that he cannot. The legitimacy of the Prophets were rejected by many earlier Jewish sect not limited to the Sadducees. It was the P’rushim who are the ideological forefathers of Rabbinism who consecrated their selected Prophets and canonized their writing – albeit these writing can in many cases be demonstrated to be psuedopigraphic in that they werent actually written by the alleged Prophets of which they bare their names.

  7. Edna

    I dislike this holiday and agree with Zvi on many of his comments. What is overlooked is what followed this “victory” by the Hasmoneans. They were right wing extremests who hated the Greeks. The Jews of the time were becoming Hellanistic and that is what outraged the Hasmoneans (Macabees.) They achieved their victory by calling in the Romans for help, and we all know how that eventually ended. But before the Roman sacking, the Hasmoneans were brutal leaders who killed anyone who did not agree with them. And then, at their invitation, they invited the Romans in. There was never a miracle of the lights – yes, as with many of our customs, it had a pagan origin.

    • Zvi

      I do not think that the weight of the Romans was considerable in the Land of Israel’s affairs until the decade in which they invaded Judea at the invitation of one of the two quarreling contenders for the Jewish throne. Blaming the previous generations of Hasmonean rulers for it seems to be pretty unfair. Yehudah the Maccabee and each of his heirs made a pact with Rome that the Romans never exploited as a pretext to militarily interfere in Judea’s affairs until the ’60s.

      The first few Hasmonean rulers were fairly benign toward fellow Jews. This took a turn for the worse with Yonatan Alexander Yannai.

      The Hasmoneans seem to me no more right wing extremists than any Jew who wishes and wished to live according to the Miqra and could manage to undo realities that were in contrast to that, except perhaps in their willingness to use violence to bring fellow Jews in line with the Torah.

    • Katrielncal

      Thank you Edna, you said the point…You stated it correctly, in just one simple beautiful paragraph…This was a great topic.

    • Arik

      More than that is overlooked in order to celebrate the Maccabees. Was Jonathan a legitimate High Priest or a usurper by the Torah? What was the name of his predecessor, and what became of him? And when a little later the same family united High Priest and King in one person, under what authority did they do that? What precedent could be cited in the law to permit such a thing?

      They delegitimized the institutions they controlled, they divided the Jewish people in their homeland against each other provoking civil war, and of course by the end that was not even the worst of it. They were a disaster in every way. Why would we want to celebrate them?

  8. ilan

    Shawn, thank you again for another page of Jewish history you opened here regarding the Issawites. I never really came across them before though I have read of dozens of Messiahs in Jewish History aside from the notorious Shabbatai. Now if my amateur reading is correct, these folk believed the man of Nazareth and the man of Mecca were both prophets and did not command any change to the observance of the Torah. You have opened a scholastic door to shine on many Messianic movements that otherwise barely made dent, Issawites, Yudganites, Shadganites, Malakites, Mishawaïtes.
    (As an Interesting aside though is the response to the question of the Bahai religion which may well have been founded by a Jew, the Baha’ullah, just as some cclaim Zoroaster was a Jew. Here is a link to H.U. the first Doc is regards a response by the late Rabbi Shalom Eliashiv to an inquiry by Moshe Sharon, a noted scholar of Islam and a translator of some Bahai works into Hebrew.)
    http://www.hum.huji.ac.il/english/units.php?cat=3666&incat=3479
    Not a leftist and baruch hashem has the nachas of 22 grandchildren.

    As far as Chanukah, since I am not bound by the canonical siddur or the Nusach it might be written in, I can freely thank Hashem for helping the Hashmonaim in the their battle, its more a conversation with Hashem then a blessing and I think its okay. Till I read 1st Macc very carefully, the horror of what had happened to our people and our Temple had been relegated to Mityavnim and Olympics and Pork, because in Yeshiva, they dont consider the sefer as Mikra and students lose out on discovering how hideous and horrible that era really was was for believing Jews. So I have plenty to say to Hashem in 8 days time and light a candle to honor the dedication to redeem the Temple and the people. And remember, this was not Herods Temple, it was Zerubavels Temple, a more humble structure. It probably did not have the strong defenses that Herod built when he did a makeover of the buildings.

    We thank Hashem every day that we wake up and take a breath of life. I dont think its to ostentatious to take a Rabbinic misuse of history and turn it into something that will enlighten, educate and certainly make for greater appreciation of what Hashems assistance meant during those times. These were our fathers in the thick of these battles and that still means something 2100 years later as any event that occurred in the Tanach.

    Chazak Shawn

    Ok,

    • Davy

      Ilan, it is not really that clear whether the sects mentioned by Yaakov Qirqisani were non-rabbinic. Looking back at Jewish observance all the way to the First Temple times, it is more than conceivable that there was a SPECTRUM of sects. The Talmud says that when the Second Temple was destroyed there were 70 sects! If you have a spectrum, you could have a rabbinic sect that accepts most rabbinic law except for one or two things. At the other end of the spectrum there were probably sects that were apocalyptic but rabbinic, or anarchistic sects, or varieties of sects influenced by Greek philosophy. There were also gentiles who accepted a varying degree of rabbinic teachings as Noahides or G-d Fearers. There were Samaritans (more than one sect).
      What is called Karaism is in my view the final merging of whatever groups did not accept most rabbinical law over many centuries. But in fact, what we find is that Karaism was not an anarchistic movement, but one that did adhere to teachings of rabbis, sages, earlier generations. This is seen in the chain of transmission that I mentioned, which even includes Shammai and Yehuda ben Tabbai.
      I would almost call traditional Karaism “semi-rabbinic” and include in that category Moshe Bayshatzi, Simha of Lutsk, Eliyahu Bayshatzi, Yeshua ben Yehuda, Yosef Ha-Roeh, Yehuda Hadassi, Aharon ben Yosef, Tuvia ben Avraham.
      I have heard it said that we don’t really know what Anan ben David believed because much of the information about him, even contained in his Sefer Hadinim, comes from his opponents.
      As you know, I am interested in the laws pertaining to fire on Shabbat. Did Anan really believe that a Jew should remain in a cold home without lights? Or did he believe that a non-Jew could set up the fire, since the verb used in th Torah is “Thou shalt not burn a fire in your dwellings,” meaning a gentile might (because he is not “thou”)? It seems that most Karaites did not accept historically the idea of not having heat and light on shabbat, and followed the interpretation of Yeshua ben Yehuda and Eliyahu Bayshatzi over the last 1000 and 600 years.
      In my humble opinion, I would label more recent varieties of Karaism as “Neo-Karaism” which do not rely on their principle of accepting teachings of sages. While looking at Gan Eden of Yosef ben Eliyahu one sees his repeated and frequent citation of Yeshua ben Yehuda.

      • Arik

        “In my humble opinion, I would label more recent varieties of Karaism as “Neo-Karaism” which do not rely on their principle of accepting teachings of sages”

        And I would say that you are ignoring history.

        We can take this right back to Anan Ben David. He had some very odd beliefs that most Karaites did not agree with at the time and still do not. (For instance his dietary rules, and the way he observed the Sabbath, went well beyond what most of us understand the Torah to command, and even in his own day that was true.) Yet there were no schisms over this, no civil wars between Karaites, nor even mutual excommunications, no strife at all. Because he did not demand that other Karaites agree with his judgements on such specifics. His overarching rule was ‘read it for yourself, make up your own mind.’

        Now I realize that it can be difficult for someone used to a more authoritarian religion, and steeped from birth in the rationalizations characteristic thereof, to understand how such an anarchic religion can function, but in reality it’s worked well for centuries, with haShems help it’s quite possible for brothers to have quite fundamental disagreements without needing to schism or fight over them.

        So, in that context, “accepting the sages” simply doesn’t mean the same thing to me. I read the views of the sages of course, but I consider them rationally, I am not required to simply accept them because they are Karaite sages (which would be an impossible rule since they don’t always agree with each other of course.)

        I also read the Talmud, I read works by Christians, by Muslims, by Buddhists and Hindus and Atheists and others. I read them all, but at the end of the day I believe I will be held responsible for my actions and “but these sages mislead me!” is not an excuse that will be honored, because the duty I have is to search for the truth myself, not to believe whatever the sages that went before tell me. So while as a Karaite I have a particular interest in the opinions of the Karaite sages, their opinions are actually no more *binding* than those of the Rabbis or the Imams or anyone else.

        I believe haShem gave us a rational mind for a reason and He expects us to use it.

        • B”H
          As a convert who has lived in Israel for the last 40 years, and followed the way the nation follows the Sabbath and all the Jewish holidays, I go to our synagogue on the days of Purim and Chanukah, and in my heart I do not take them as seriously as the other hoidays. I only do what the rest of the religious people are doing , because what good would it do to even mention it to them? It would have them suspect perhaps I’m not really a true convert in my heart.
          Having only heard of the Karaites in the last few months, I was surprised to find there are a group of Jews who question not only Chanukah as a “religious” holiday, and even Purim, but even question the present rabbinical system, as being the true way God wanted the Jews to follow their Judaism.
          Now I’m not saying I don’t accept them as being part of Jewish history, but I simply don’t think of them as being holidays God gave the Jews to observe. My Israeli wife who is not actually religious think of those two particuar holidays as her favorite ones and especially Chanukah, because she likes the idea of lighting the candles every evening, and her family started a tradition of every family member getting together on the first night of Chanukah and each of them bring a present to someone they picked out of a hat. And we even put a limit of how much we should spend on the present.
          There’s a lot of fun and laughter involved, so its enjoyable. But not being religious she will light candles with our own family the rest of the days, and I go alone with them , but I did notice there was never a year when every night she lit the candles.This year she actually only lit then on two evenings. God expects dedication as far as His holidays are concerned, and in the years we have been together (35) I never missed a Sabbath or “Tora” holiday, when I didn’t go to synagogue. And its strictly because its the observance of a day God commanded us to observe, as Jews.
          To keep this short I will add one thing about the Holidays of Purim and Chanukha, that make me think of them as not really being “religious” or perhaps “spiritual ” could be a better term.
          When Esther became queen, why did Mordaci allow her to be even seen when they were looking for a replacement for Vashti?
          As a Jew he should have hidden his young neice. But instead he sent her to try for the title . And winning it we hear the story of Haman. I guess a lesson is learned that God will always save the Jews, and its a perfect example to be sure. But I thought about this Jewess now being married to the king of Persia, must have had children with him . Well according to God’s law, a Jew is determined by the son, so there is no real problem except we could have lost one of out Jewish women to the non Jews.
          But according to rabbinical law, a Jew is determined by the woman, so her children are Jews. So what happened to them? I’m sure there is some mention my some rabbi that will say her children turned out to follow Jewish law and were obsorbed into the Jewish nation. Its not actually important to me because of the fact its a story that never mentions the word God, and as far as the story itself I ask myself if God would be pleased by Mordachi’s actions? I know I wasn’t.
          So now to comment about Chanukah
          Judah Maccabee did have a “miricle” occur for us to celebrate the great occasion. He gathered an army of 7000 soldiers and succeeded to defeat an army of 25,000 Greeks and Syrians. When you think about it Alexander the Great conquered the known world all the way to India with 25,000 soldiers, and yet here is a family of priests who won a great victory in the year 160 BCE, and that is something that can’t be argued about. But the part about the oil lasting for 8 days could very well been something he allowed to be passed around so the people would feel God had given them some sign He was with them, and would give them courage to take on such a great foe. But if we read what followed this battle, Judah saw he lost over half his army , and found himself in a very weak position.
          And he was now concerned about all the nations around Israel gathering together and destroy the rest of his army. So he decided to send two of his group to the senate in Rome and put in a petiton for Israel to become an ally of the Roman Empire. Before they returned he was killed on the batlefield, but after 20 years in the year 140, the Roman Senate agreed to accept Israel as their ally, and it was forbidden for any of the surrounding nations to attack Israel. Because to do so they would be going against the Roman Empire. Seemed to be a good idea at the time, but 215 years later
          the Romans destroyed the 2nd temple, and 65 years later in 135CE
          the Romans exhiled the remaining Jews they didn’t kill .
          So what Judah Maccabbe actually did was bring the nation God told in the Tora , He would send aginst them if they didn’t run the country according to the law of the Tora. (Deuteronomy 28:49)
          So that is what am really thinking about when I’m observing my family lighting those candles during the days Chanukah, and even when I’m in the synagogue observing it as all religious Jews do.
          If Judah had read that verse he would never have worried about the surrounding nations destroying him. It said in the verse “God would send a nation against them from a “far” country …..”
          History dictates no nation surrounding Israel ever succeeded to drive the Jews out of their land, right up to present time. And that actually goes back to the blessing Isaac gave Jacob. His brother would always be a servant to him. and when Esau came and asked for a blessing Issac gave him one, but added he would be a servant to Jacob, as long as he hated Jacob, and its the reason the Arabs will never beat Israel. Only one nation can beat Israel and its the one they will depend on instead of God. Something for all Jews to think about today.

  9. Davy

    I am kind of curious about the specific reaction and responses of Karaite communities to the events surrounding Shabtai Zvi between 1666 and 1676, and even thereafter. Presumably in Edirne and Constantinople, as well as Cairo and Jerusalem. Has anyone every seen anything about it.

  10. Ana Carolina Lopes

    Hello!
    I think Hannukah cannot be a binding holyday because it isn’t instructed by the Torah. In this regard, the lack of authority of the rabbis could be an objection to celebrate it.
    But I think we can celebrate it, reading the story of the rededication of the Temple, regardless the short-lived nature of the miracle.
    After all, whatever happens, great deeds are not diminished in value.

  11. Kara

    For Hanukah as an American Jew, my daughter and I read about the Hasmonean Dynasty. I do not view Hanukah as a religious holiday at all. In fact, I use it as a device to teach my daughter a history lesson about a rather under rated part of our Jewish history. The Hasmonean Dynasty is one of the most interesting chapters of the Hellenistic/ Greco Roman period. I think Jews should be familiar with all of their history, there is so much- it is an endless feast. I also feel strongly in the importance to connect this generation with Jewish identity. Learning all aspects of our history is part of establishing a connection to Jewish identity.

    • Raymond

      Hey I’m a proud rabbinate Jew, but I have a question, do karaites celebrate yom haasmaut with any religious fervor? Bec that can be said about us (like in yom haasmaut) or the rabbis (in hanuka) establishing a holiday.
      As for the lights on hanuka, I’ve heard that josefous(sorry for the spelling) wrote that wen the hashmonaim entered the bet ha mikdash they found 8 spares and lit lights in them. And that can be the reason for the lights.
      As for the 8 day” oil lasting” miracle it seems that it was first mentioned in the Talmud which was written a while after the story of hanuka occurred , it wasn’t mentioned in the Mishnah at all (the Mishnah only mentions hanuka in one place).

  12. Ezra Kohn

    My question to you is not about Hannukah , the subject of this article. My question to you is about the matrilineal/ patrilineal aspect of Jewish identity. My father is a holocaust survivor and a Jew. My mother is not Jewish. I was raised as a reform Jew and always considered myself to be a Jew. As you know, Israel and the orthodox rabbinical school does not believe I am a Jew . What is the karaoke teaching on this? How do karaoke Jews relate to the state of Israel since Israel is controlled by the orthodox rabbinate? Please advise!

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