A Cover of Al-Kalim: Egyptian Karaite Periodical
[This is a guest post by researcher and translator Katharine Halls. This is the second of two posts about Esther al-Tanani. The first post is Too Poor to Marry: Karaite Women’s Activist Passes Away.]
I first came across Esther al-Tanani when I was conducting research into discourses about marriage in Cairo’s Karaite Jewish community in the 1940s. As Hanan Kholoussy demonstrates in her book For Better, For Worse: The Marriage Crisis That Made Modern Egypt, marriage was a topic of immense concern to Egyptians in the early decades of the twentieth century. Egyptian commentators agonised over who, when and why young Egyptian men were marrying, and as Kholoussy shows, this functioned as a vehicle for anxieties about the wellbeing of the nation during a time of political upheaval.
My impression, based on preliminary research, is that it took these ideas some time to filter into the Karaite community. But I’d hate to suggest the Karaites were behind the times in any way, and the matter definitely needs further research. What is certain is that during the 1940s, Karaites in Egypt were concerned about marriage, and specifically the practice of dowry payments—dota in Arabic—which was specific to their community. Many felt that the sums involved had become overly inflated and were skewing young men’s choices, making marriage a sort of commerce which was demeaning and dehumanising to women, and damaging to the integrity of the community. Most obviously it meant that poor women struggled to marry, but it also meant, in the eyes of some, that matches were not being made on the basis of, say, good character, compatibility, love or sound reputation, but on the basis of wealth and greed.
Give us Back our Dignity: Al-Kalim Karaite Periodical (1949)
I had been trying to find her for the past few years. I asked all the local Karaites. I emailed the Karaites in Israel. Still, no one knew Esther Yusuf Farag Al-Tanani or what became of her. And then last week I received an email (unrelated to my inquiries) informing me that someone by that (maiden) name had just passed away.
The reason I had been searching for her is due to Al-Tanani’s status as a strong advocate for the dignity of women in the Karaite Jewish community.
This wonderful book is available at Amazon:
A few weeks ago, I had breakfast with someone who was planning to start Rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. After the meeting, he emailed me about a book called A Delightful Compendium of Consolation by Rabbi Burton Visotzky, who teaches at JTS.
A Delightful Compendium is historical fiction and traces the lives of a Karaite Jewish family as they navigate through the Middle Ages. The family members struggle to hold onto their Karaite identity as a minority in the Jewish world.
Today, I am excited to catch up with Rabbi Visotzky about his book, A Delightful Compendium.
Someone recently told me that he found the Karaite Jewish approach to halakha rather nonintellectual, because Karaites only follow what the Torah says and do not search for the deeper meaning.
Oy! Karaites do not follow what the Torah “says;” we seek to follow what the Torah “means.” These two things are not always the same. Today, let’s look at some of my favorite non-literal Karaite interpretations.
Well, this is a serious bummer.
1000 years ago, the Karaite communities of Ramle and Jerusalem probably would have excommunicated my grandparents.
You see; my maternal grandmother and her sister married my maternal grandfather and his brother, respectively. Two brothers married two sisters (in separate marriages).
I always thought this was beautiful. But from at least the time of Anan and for several hundred years thereafter, the majority of Karaites forbade many types of marriage, including the marriage of two brothers to two sisters.*
And, according to a piece appearing online at the Jerusalem Post this past weekend, some of the Karaites of the 11th Century had no problem tormenting Karaites who violated this prohibition. (See A Problematic Marriage for 11th Century Karaites.)
This is the second (and, for now, final) post related to the Karaite Studies: The State of the Field workshop held in Israel in early 2012.
In this post, we’re picking up where we left off by summarizing and annotating the second half of a question-and-answer session between Rabbi Moshe Firrouz, the Chief Rabbi of the Karaite Council of Sages, and various attendees at the workshop. Based on the number of views, the post on the first half of the question-and-answer session was a hit, and YouTube has a video of the entire session.
A little background is necessary before jumping into this post. A lot questions relate to ritual purity. Karaites generally concern themselves with ritual purity more so than Rabbanites because the traditional Karaite view is that one may not enter a holy place (such as, in the Karaite tradition, the sanctuary of a synagogue) while ritually impure. We’ll discuss this issue in more detail in a later post. Other topics in this post relate to Karaite butcher shops, mikvehs, fertility, and even the permissibility of pets.
Filed under Crimea, Daniel Lasker, Fertility, Free Will, Full Prostration, Head Coverings, Karaite Rabbanite Relations, Marriages, Menstruation, Mikveh, Moetzet Hachamim (Council of Sages), Moshe Firrouz, Mourning, Pets, Prayer, Ritual Purity, Sacrifice, Secular Karaism, What is Karaite Judaism, Women in Karaism