For those of you following along, you now know why I have been posting more frequently about the need to revive historical Karaite Jewish literature. In my personal opinion, one part of the decline of the Karaite movement was that we stopped reading our own literature. And when we stopped reading our own literature, we stopped writing our own literature. Writing our own literature is absolutely crucial to the survival of the Karaite Jewish movement.
The Karaite Press aims to take the lead in reviving historical Karaite literature – with the ultimate goals of educating about the unique perspective preserved by this literature and inspiring the creation of new Karaite works. Today, I share some of the vision of the Karaite Press.
First, some disclaimers and acknowledgments:
I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. The Karaite Press was my brainchild; so I am biased. There were many people (whom I will not mention) who gave significant amounts of money to the Karaite Jews of America, which became the seed money for the Karaite Press. I thank them tremendously, because this would not have been possible without them.
With that out of the way, the Karaite Press is in the process of reproducing and translating several historical Karaite texts. These texts were written originally in Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, and Hebrew. We hope to eventually make our way toward some of the Karaite works written in European languages. But that will take time.
The short term goal of the Karaite Press (~3 years) is to produce a curriculum of works for students of Karaite Judaism. Such a curriculum does not currently exist in the English language; and one can argue it does not exist in any language because the best Karaite literature is out of print.
Let me give you an idea of what I mean by a curriculum; just about every Orthodox Jew has a canon of books he or she studies in order to develop intellectually. In addition to Torah and Talmud, Orthodox Jews read Rashi’s commentary on the Torah; they read Rambam’s Mishneh Torah; they have a Miqraot Gedolot. Karaites generally do not have access to any of our own commentaries.
The Karaite Press is starting to change that – albeit slowly. The first work produced by the Karaite Press was Esther Explained, a commentary on the book of Esther, which contains many unique Karaite insights. I am actually not yet allowed to disclose the next few books that the Karaite Press is working on; but I can tell you that one is a historical survey of pillars of the Karaite movement; one is halakhic work on shechita; one is a summary of the differences between Karaites and Rabbanites. And the list goes on and on.
Once all this literature is typed up and translated, we want to move it all online so that it is accessible to everyone forever. That will also take time, but it is an important step toward reviving Karaite Jewish studies.
But reviving historical works is just the beginning. About two years ago, I was chatting with Nehemia Gordon regarding ideas for how to leverage a significant donation I had been offered. I told him that I was hoping to make historical Karaite commentaries available to the masses. He lauded my goal and then provided me guidance (perhaps unintentionally). He told me (something to the effect of): “You see, Shawn; I love producing commentaries on the Tanakh; and as Karaites, we should all be producing commentaries.” So, I want the Karaite Press to be a publishing house not only for translations of historical Karaite literature, but for new Karaite literature as well. We desperately need new literature. (As an aside, I also owe Nehemia Gordon a special thank you for connecting me with an amazing typesetter.)
I’ll return toward more traditional blogging – about incidents and accidents between Karaites and Rabbanites shortly – once the craziness of the Karaite Press launch subsides.