The gift that keeps on giving.
A few years back, I met a young Jewish college student at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. He was fascinated by the concept of Karaism. And although he has certain Karaite affinities, he proudly declares, “At no point did I consider myself a Karaite” and at no point did he consider becoming a Karaite.
Among the reasons he is interested in Karaism, is because, as he put it, once you accept that Karaism is an option, “then, everything is on the table.” I’ve thought about this statement from time time. And I realized, there is no point to being a Karaite if everything is not on the table.
So here are some views that I think are supported by the plain meaning of the text – but clearly would put me outside the normative bounds of Karaism (and Rabbanism).
This may be (but hopefully is not) the only bookshelf in the world in which Karaites in Byzantium is next to Artscroll’s Chumash
Oy. Where to begin. Just over a month ago, I spoke at a Jewish high school about issues in Karaite Judaism – particularly as they implicate Shabbat and technology. Speaking with me was a conservative rabbi who happened to grow up at the same conservative synagogue that I did – though we did not know each other previously. This synagogue housed the KJA and our Shabbat prayers from 1984-1990.
After a quick introduction – curses started flying.
“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. . .
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.
The Leningrad Codex
My Chabad envy is well chronicled by now. Today I am taking this envy to new heights by taking the bold steps of proving that the first Chabad Rebbe, Shneur Zalman (1745-1812), was almost certainly right about the spelling of a particular word in the Tanakh. And I relied on some old sources, with a little help from my friends, to do it.