Only part of my proof that Karaites are awesome.
My law school classmates know that I’m not one to throw around a highly-technical term like “proof” willy-nilly. And I certainly would never use a phrase like “beyond a reasonable doubt” without good reason.
So, when I say that the Aleppo Codex is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that Karaites are awesome, I mean it in the most legalistic way possible. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, as a Karaite, I have to tell you not to rely on my opinion.
The gift that keeps on giving.
The new moon was sighted in Israel on May 11, 2013 – two days after the calculated Rabbinical calendar sets rosh chodesh (i.e., the start of the new month). As a result, most observant Karaites celebrated rosh chodesh on a different day from observant Rabbanites.
1100 years ago, though, (at least some) Palestinian Rabbanites set their calendar by the actual sighting of the new moon – and even observed “Rosh Hashanah” on a different day from the Babylonian Rabbanites.
Let’s face it: it’s April 11, 2013, and the only viable Jewish movements are Rabbanite ones. Even secular Jews operate completely within the Rabbinic framework.
This lack of religious diversity doesn’t bode well for historically non-Rabbinic movements such as Karaites. At some level, non-Rabbinic movements can only survive if (religious) Jews are open to adopting interpretations that, while differing from mainstream views, are consistent with the Tanakh.
But, fundamentally, it takes much more than “open-mindedness” on behalf of the Jewish community. It takes clear resolve and dedication on behalf of minority Jewish movements.
Several months ago, I wondered aloud: “What’s the difference between Kol Melacha and Melechet Avodah?” I still laugh at the response I got: “If only there were a book in which wise men discussed these issues and wrote it down.” Of course, the “book” referred to in the response is the Talmud and the “wise men” are the Rabbis.
Perhaps, I have Talmud envy – not in the 10th Commandment sense, of course. And definitely not in the “binding law” sense. But I would so love books that were highly-regarded expositions of Karaite thought and were widely available. I recently discussed this with someone whom I’d met through the Karaite Jewish University. His views were telling about the accessibility of Karaite literature: “Shawn, you can go into just about any major bookstore and find books on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which relate to a movement [i.e., the Essenes] that hasn’t existed for over 1000 years; but you can’t find a single book on Karaism, a movement that exists to this day.”
Karaites celebrating Purim in March 1987
Source: Mourad El-Kodsi, Karaite Jews of Egypt (p. 307)
Last week, I received an invitation to the Karaite Jews of America’s annual Purim Party. Karaites, at least those of Egyptian descent, have some unique Purim customs.
Professor Zvi Ankori, one of the most influential scholars in the field of Karaite Judaism, passed away last month.
Professor Ankori authored Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years, 970-1100, considered by many to be his magnum opus. The work is on the recommended reading list for the Karaite Jewish University.
In the introduction to the bibliography of Karaites in Byzantium, Professor Ankori wrote, “A comprehensive, classified, up-to-date bibliography of Karaitica is an urgent desideratum.” It was this sentence that, in part, inspired Professor Barry Dov Walfish to compile his recently-published Bibliographia Karaitica: An Annotated Bibliography of Karaites and Karaism.
Professor Ankori’s passing reminds me that one of my goals for this blog is to interview researchers and scholars in the field of Karaite Judaism. Perhaps we’ll do a handful of such interviews in the coming year.
Karaites and academics are indebted to Professor Ankori for his many contributions. I recently received the following necrology for Professor Ankori.
(Editor’s Note: This is the first of what I expect to be many posts relating to women in Karaite Judaism. It is my hope that one day soon this series will be authored by a woman or – better yet – a group of women. If you are a Jewish woman with sincere interest in contributing in this manner, please contact me at Shawn@abluethread.com.)
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“When [a certain Karaite Jew] passed on to hell, he was survived by his accursed wife, whom [his adherents] used to address as al-Mu’allima and on whom they relied for authoritative tradition. They would ask each other what Mu’allima’s usage was, and they would follow suit.”
– Abraham Ibn Daud, Sefer ha-Qabbalah (English: The Book of Tradition)*
(12th Century Spain)
Abraham ibn Daud was an ardent Rabbanite Jew living in Spain during the 12th Century and his brief rendition of the history of Karaites in Spain has always intrigued me. According to Ibn Daud, the Karaite Jews of Spain once had a female leader. The Karaite community referred to this leader as “the Teacher” (Arabic: al-Mu’allima) – which, interestingly, is one of the translations of the word “Rabbi” – and the Karaite community relied on her for authoritative tradition. For now, I’ll address just two of the many thoughts that come to mind.