“Sigh. Even when we’re right, we can’t even agree how to be right.” That was my initial reaction when confronted with the reality that this year well-meaning Karaites will be split regarding the date to celebrate Shavuot.
Since then, I realized that this is exactly what we need to unify the movement. Bear with me. . .
Let me give you some background. If the Karaites had a poster child in the Rabbanite v. Karaite debate it would undoubtedly be the timing of Shavuot.
As I’ve chronicled several times over (see here and here) and as Tomer Mangoubi explained in his Mikdash Me’at and as Nehemia Gordon explained in the Truth about Shavuot, Karaites start counting the omer (i.e., the 50 days that lead up to Shavuot) on the Sunday morning that falls out during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (i.e., Hag Hamatzot or “Passover”). In contrast, the Rabbanites start counting the omer on the evening of the second night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
If you’re still with me, I need to give you another piece of background. For better or worse, the Karaite Jews of America currently follows the Rabbanite calendar in everything except for the timing of Shavuot. For example, if Passover starts on a Monday night according to the Rabbinic Calendar, the KJA will observe Passover on a monday night; but whereas the Rabbanites will start counting the omer on Tuesday night, the KJA will start counting the omer on Sunday a few days later.
So what does this all have to do with Shavuot 2018?
Well, it just so happens that this year the “Rabbanite” date for Passover is on Friday night March 30 and the KJA is using this date for its holiday; this means that the Karaite Jews of America will (likely) start counting the omer on April 1, 2018.
But based on the New Moon sighting (both in Israel and in the U.S.) Passover *should be* on Sunday night April 1, and the Karaites in Israel (and Karaites in the U.S. who celebrate according to either the local or Israeli moon) will start counting the Omer on Sunday April 8.
This means that the Karaite Jews of America (if it indeed starts counting the omer on the Sunday during the holiday of Passover) would celebrate Shavuot on May 20th, a week before the rest of the Karaites in the U.S. and the Karaites in Israel, who would celebrate on May 27th. And in the greatest plot twist of all, the Karaites in the U.S. would be celebrating Shavuot on the same date as the Rabbanites (because the Rabbanites would start counting on Saturday night, and the KJA would start counting on Sunday morning).
And while this full week separation of the date of Shavuot is not a desirable result by any stretch of the imagination, I think this is actually good for the Karaite movement – because it will give us the chance to finally have constructive, positive dialogue as to how to bring all Karaite practices into a more unified movement. Note that I did not say a more “conformed” movement.
I had initially tried to plan a shabbaton inviting all Karaites everywhere to the KJA’s newly renovated headquarters for Memorial Day Weekend. But the Sunday during Memorial Day is May 27th, the date that many Karaites in the U.S. (but not likely the KJA) would be celebrating Shavuot. So, I chickened out. I didn’t want a calendar controversy. As a friend suggested to me here, it is possible that the reason why the Karaite movement lost its momentum the first time was because it could never get the calendar figured out.
But I shouldn’t have chickened out. I should have held the shabbaton and I should have held Shavuot services for those Karaites who believed it was Shavuot.
Don’t get me wrong, I continuously pray that Karaites all observe the holidays on the “correct” dates, but if the Karaite movement cannot sustain this strange calendar occurrence, then there actually is no movement to sustain.
* * *
[1.] There is actually a circumstance in which even if Karaites were observing on the “correct” dates, this problem of two Sundays of Shavuot would exist. The situation occurs as follows. In the opinion of most of the historical Karaite sages, the local new moon (not the moon in Israel) is what dictates the start of the month. Because the moon becomes more visible as you move westward along the same latitude, it is conceivable that the new moon would be seen in the U.S. (and especially in Daly City) before it is is seen in Israel. Two Sundays of Shavuot would be the “correct” practice when, for example, this variation in the sighting of the moon happens result in the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on a Saturday night in the U.S. and a Sunday night in Israel.