Crazy Pills and the Heresy of Plain Meaning

Can Karaites Finally Claim Victory?(Source:

Can Karaites Finally Claim Victory?

Sometimes “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.”

For thousands of years, Karaites (and their intellectual predecessors) have urged Jews to follow the “plain meaning” of the Scripture. This plain meaning, according to Karaite tradition, is the interpretation that the average Israelite would have had upon reading or hearing a verse 3500 years ago.

Karaites have long maintained that the plain meaning of the Scripture does not allow for many of today’s widely-held interpretations. And, apparently, prominent Rabbis agree.

Earlier this week, I came across a blog post on Daas Torah explaining what transpired when Jews were exposed to the “plain meaning:”
“[W]hen the Torah was translated into Greek then Jews began [to] be aware of the plain meaning of the verses. As a consequence heresy developed and people were not interested in hearing the explanations of our Sages. This in fact is still a concern today.” (Emphasis added.)

Karaite Judaism practices the “heresy” of plain meaning and (thank God) we are still a concern today. Of course, Karaite sages (reading Scripture in Hebrew) have developed their own explanations of the commandments and Karaite Judaism has a rich interpretive history. But the end purpose of the Karaite search through the Scripture is to determine the plain meaning of the text. Sometimes that plain meaning is literal and sometimes it’s figurative. And in quite many cases, room for debate exists.

I confess that, at first, I didn’t know how to respond to the Daas Torah post. Was I delusional? Here it was, as clear as day: the Rabbis were stating that many of their interpretations are not in accord with the plain meaning of the Scripture. This is what Karaites have been saying for thousands of years. To quote Johnny Drama, “Thank you, God. Victory!”

But, as with much of religion, this Karaite-Rabbanite divide comes down to faith. Karaites believe with all their hearts that the Torah itself was a complete document. And Rabbanites similarly believe with all their hearts that God gave an oral accompaniment to the Torah. No amount of logical appeal will sway the most ardent followers of either group.

As I’ve matured over the years, I’ve developed a profound respect for the faith and devotion of Rabbanites, even though I disagree with them on many fundamental issues. That respect is the reason why A Blue Thread seeks to be a light and easily digestible resource for people interested in Karaite Judaism. A Blue Thread is not intended to be a refutation of Rabbanism.

So, I’ll just continue taking these crazy pills and perpetuating the heresy of the plain meaning. Someone’s bound to notice.

Here is the link to Daas Torah post: Daas Torah – Issues of Jewish Identity: Rav Sternbuch: Tradition is not to teach Tanach – why?


Filed under Daas Torah, Johnny Drama, Plain Meaning, Zoolander

4 Responses to Crazy Pills and the Heresy of Plain Meaning

  1. I must be on the same Crazy Pill Rx.

    Great article. It’s all about freedom and power. With religion if you control interpretation of sacred texts (or even what texts are considered sacred) then you have power over the people. Authority always usurps the truth because authority is truth to them. The rabbi said it so it must be truth because the rabbi has authority. That is why Karaism are a threat to the Rabbinic authority because they proclaim that authority is only found in the Torah/Tanakh and not in the rabbi.

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  4. Ben Connel

    I found the plain meaning of Nehemiah 8:7-8, to mean that the Israelites needed teachers to interpret the law for them. Although some versions translate this to mean they needed the Hebrew scrolls translated for them, the plain meaning in Hebrew suggests they needed a teachers authority. Am I reading this verse incorrectly? If not, how can it be applied?

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