How Would Count von Count Count the Omer?
For more than 40 years, Sesame Street has helped children around the world learn how to count. And as a child, I watched the famous Sesame Street character Count von Count: “One ha ha ha; Two ha ha ha; Three ha ha ha . . .”
Religious Jews everywhere are currently “Counting the Omer,” which is a fifty-day period leading up to Shavuot. But if Sesame Street were around in antiquity, Karaites and Rabbanites would still disagree about how to count to 50.
It turns out that Sesame Street can teach both Karaites and Rabbanites how to count; but we need to turn to a different source to know when to start counting.
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.
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.”
In his bestselling book, the Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell sought to explain how social epidemics spread. According to Gladwell, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”
Gladwell suggests that every social epidemic needs three types of people: (i) connectors, who know just about everyone; (ii) mavens, who learn about and expose others to new types of information; and (iii) salesmen, who are mesmerizing in personality and are persuasive in nature.
Theology and faith aside, religious movements are a type of social epidemic. I doubt that anyone has undertaken an analysis of the Karaite Jewish world to determine whether at present any of these three types of people exist within our communities, but the internet has certainly made the spread of religious, social epidemics easier.