Recently someone asked me to start posting about the modern Karaite Jewish experience again. You see, the Karaite Jewish experience was the crux of my blog in its early days. For many reasons, I’ve moved away from this – in favor of commenting on news, historical events, and highlighting where Karaite views are different from our Rabbanite brethren or have evolved over time.
But the modern Karaite Jewish struggle is real; and I am here to give a voice to that struggle. So here is a smattering of the things that people have said to my face in the past few months (and a proposed response, in case anyone says the same to you). I should note that most of the time, these comments are not made out of malice. But nonetheless, they sting.
1. Oh, you don’t keep real kosher.
I hear this all the time when I tell people that I don’t separate milk and meat. In fact, as far as I can tell, none of the early Karaites enforced any separation of milk and meat, except when it was the case with respect to the milk of a mother and the meat of the child. (More on the various Karaite views on milk and meat in a later post – I hope.)
- Ill-Advised Snarky Response: “That’s nice. Tell me; is this knuckle sandwich kosher?”
I’m kidding. And I even hesitate to leave that on my blog. So, to be clear, I don’t condone violence.
- More Thoughtful Response: “The Torah only says not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk. I think the main purpose of that law is mercy. The milk of the mother, which is intended to sustain the kid, should not be used to boil the kid. So, I believe the prohibition really applies only to the limited example of a mother’s milk and its child.”
2. So, you’re basically reform.
This statement usually follows any discussion in which I say that Karaites only keep one day for each of the holidays (even in the diaspora). For background, in the Orthodox community, each Torah holiday (except Yom Kippur) is celebrated with an extra day. So for Karaites (like the Reform position), Passover is seven days, where as our Orthodox brethren observe it for eight days.
- Ill-Advised Snarky Response: “So, you’re basically ridiculous.”
- More thoughtful: “I understand that it is tempting to compare a lesser known Jewish movement, in this case Karaites, to a movement you are more familiar with, in this case Reform Rabbanites; but I find that the comparison does a disservice to both movements. I hope through our discussions you will come to understand the foundational basis of Karaite Judaism without needing to force it into a pre-existing paradigm.”
3. So, you pray like the Muslims.
This is a classic line that I hear almost any time I describe how Karaites pray. For the uninitiated Karaites historically have prayed with full prostration on prayer rugs, without our shoes. This does indeed look like how our Muslim cousins pray.
- Ill-Advised Snarky Response: “So, did Moses pray like the Muslims?”
- More Thoughtful Response: “I have great respect for the Muslim adherence to their traditional style of worship. In fact, I wish the young Karaites especially those in Western countries were as devout in this aspect of our tradition. Indeed, both Karaites and Muslims pray with full prostration, and by removing our shoes. In biblical times, prayer was almost synonymous with full prostration. In that regard, the Jewish communities from throughout the Middle East (both Rabbanites and Karaites) prayed with full prostration up until recent centuries. And we recall how God instructed Moses to remove his shoes when he was before the burning bush.”
You can also respond with some form of the “pre-existing paradigm” answer from above.
4. How Can You Ignore the Rulings of the Sages?
This query usually comes from religious Rabbanites. I very rarely hear it from anyone else. In truth, I used to hear this a lot more. Perhaps society is loosening up, or religious Rabbanites have their own battles to fight within their communities, so they are leaving me alone.
- Ill-Advised Snarky Response: “How can they ignore me?”
- More Thoughtful Response: “The Rabbis of the Talmud and later times were wise men, who did everything they could to praise God within the framework in which they were operating. At its core, you are suggesting an argument from authority – that is, the Talmudic Rabbis have the expertise to make these decisions, and we do not. The problem is that if I do not believe in the authority you are citing to, the entire argument falls apart. As a Karaite, I don’t believe that the rabbinic sages (no matter how wise or well-intentioned) had the power to bind me with a particular interpretation. I believe that every interpretation – even traditional Karaite ones – must rise or fall on its own merits.
That should do it for now. I invite you to comment with some of the criticisms (founded or not) you have heard leveled at you for your Karaite tendencies.