I was recently having a discussion with a fellow Karaite regarding the various stages of Karaite thought. In brief, he summarized that there were (in his estimation, as well as others) three main periods of Karaite halakhic literature: (i) early; (ii) late; and (iii) very late. Today, I am going to use the example of women and techellet and demonstrate how each of these periods approached this issue.
In my opinion, we can trace the decline of the Karaite movement by looking at the methods these sages employed in explaining our religious conclusions, regardless of whether we agree with the ultimate conclusion itself. At the end, you get to vote who got it right.
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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.)
Breaking News: Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court of the State of Israel
ruled in favor of the Karaites in a court case against the State’s religious authorities, who had tried to prevent Karaites from slaughtering in independent slaughterhouses that were under the Rabbanut’s supervision. I dedicate this post to everyone who worked so hard on that case.
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In the Rabbinic community, there are famous debates concerning the minhagim (and halakha) of Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews. Everyone is familiar with the Passover/kitniyot debate. And historically it was the case that if you were from an Ashkenazi family, you followed your own minhag; and your Sefardi friends followed their own.
Geographic divisions like this, tend not to exist in the Karaite community. But historically there was one debate that divided the Karaites on theological lines, and caused a rift among geographical lines that somewhat reflects the Ashkenazi/Sefardi divide in the Rabbinic community.
Are Karaites the original Food Detectives?
The Karaites of the middle ages actually conducted experiments to determine whether the flours of grains and kitniyot (usually translated as “legumes”) can become hametz (leaven). And with the help of Yochanan Labombarbe, the Dean of Students for the Karaite Jewish University, we’ve recreated (most of) those experiments.