Will 2013 be a Karaite Tipping Point? (And Our First Reader Poll)

Tipping PointIn 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.

Some might say that the modern Karaite rebirth has been made possible by the Internet. I myself received most of my Karaite Jewish education in a Yahoo Group in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At that time, the main source for Karaite learning was the Karaite Korner and its founder was actively involved in that Yahoo Group.

So, here is what the Internet tells us about the state of the Karaite movement:

Facebook Groups:
As of the time of writing, Facebook currently has several groups overtly dedicated to Karaite thought and at least one group dedicated to biblical principles to which Karaites adhere. For example, there is a group simply called Karaites (495 members) and another named European Karaite Judaism (73 members). There are at least two groups focusing on Karaism in North America:  American Karaite Judaism (233 members) and North American Association of Qaraim (78 members). And finally there is a group named Biblical Calendar Observations (59 members), which is a resource for those who (like observant Karaites) “wish to follow the biblical calendar and begin the month and year according to [New Moon and Aviv] observations in the land of Israel.” (We’ve previously published a Karaite Fact Card on the New Moon, and I plan to do one on the Aviv in the coming months.)

Yahoo Groups:
Today, there is a Yahoo Group called Tanakh Biblical Judaism and Related Topics (146 members).  There is also the Karaite Korner News Group (9142 members), which receives updates from the Karaite Korner.

Karaite Jewish University:
Finally, this year the Karaite Jewish University, an online educational institution, expects to graduate its fourth class of students, with a conversion for some graduates scheduled to occur later this year in California. Just five-and-a-half years ago, in 2007, Karaites welcomed our first known converts in over 500 years. It was reported widely throughout the Jewish world.

*  *  *

With all this positivity, some perspective is needed. First, the number of members in online groups greatly overstate where we are today. Not everyone in these groups considers himself or herself to be a Karaite. Many are not even Jewish. And some consider themselves Karaites, but their actual observance (to say nothing of their belief system) is inconsistent with Karaism. There is, further, significant overlap in the membership of these groups.

Second, there still is only one Karaite Jewish synagogue in the United States. One is the loneliest number. If Karaite Judaism is to spread, it needs to establish more synagogues – or at the very least open up learning centers throughout the world. Of course, congregations are not created out of thin air or out of online groups. Congregations are created when people come together (in person) to pray and study and sing and eat and celebrate life cycle events.

Perhaps, we can all take some comfort in a program sponsored by the Karaite community in Israel. Those Karaites have launched an intensive course for individuals wishing to lead Karaite synagogues or otherwise receive a strong foundation in Karaite Judaism. The course currently has 12 students, five of whom hope to receive the Karaite equivalent of semikha.

Maybe somewhere among these 12 students or somewhere on the web is a connector, a maven and a salesman.


Filed under Karaite Jewish University, Karaite Korner

13 Responses to Will 2013 be a Karaite Tipping Point? (And Our First Reader Poll)

  1. Devorah

    thanks for the info 🙂
    Devorah in Jerusalem

    • You know. . I should have added, “There is even a Karaite Konnection and a Kultured Karaite!”

      • Zvi

        That website is not without merit, though too many of the members listed are Messianic and too few are actual Qaraite Jews.
        -Shabbat Shalom-

        • Shabbat Shalom, Zvi. I have never looked into this and was not aware of it, but my views are well-known. Karaites need to guard closely against the usurpation of our name by groups of people (such as Messianics) who are clearly not Karaites. The importance of emphasizing the Jewish nature of Karaite Judaism (to sound redundant) is one of the reasons why I gave the blog the subheading “A Jewish Blog with a Thread of Karaite Throughout.”

  2. Art Phillips

    To whom it may concern Your right, your gonna need a lot of synagogues ! Internet forums will never replace the need for jewish communitys,and because the karaite jews are getting a late start, they better come up with some good ideas quick. Maybe the karaites should do the same thing that the Chabad movement is doing,train husband and wife teams ,and send them to a certain place in the world, to bring in jews into the karaite movement. And they could do all of this right out of their houses, karaite missionarys ,in a jew

    • Hi Art, I have often said that Karaites can learn a lot from Chabad and I actually think that this is a very good model to follow. We have another problem, though. We don’t have the institutions to train people. Not yet.

      Chabad was founded about 200 years ago (according to its web-site). So they’ve accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time.

      • Art Phillips

        Shalom Shaun Maybe your reaching to high,you dont need karaite rabbis to accomplish this ,but you could start out with observant karaite jews who are willing to volunteer ,their are many jewish congregations with out trained leaders ,they start out small then grow, thanx to the internet, they will always have access to trained karaite leaders to guide them ,and remember that congregations when first starting ,are always a little shakey,but thats part of growing as a congregation.

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  4. maurice

    Defectors from one congregation join together and become a new one. As the ‘mavens’ and ‘salespeople’ within congregations of rabbinic judaism arise and speak, they will either be embraced, at which point a new minyan develops alongside an already established, already accepting congregation, or they will feel so alienated that they will leave. But first, they should know who each other are so a new community can be formed. In any case, be not like Chabad or even associate or acknowledge them except to beat them in their own game of scholasticism. Show them how they are wrong. Show them how their interpretations and translations are wrong, therefore unrepresenting of what it is to be Jewish. This will be a relief to many who really don’t want to be like them except that they can go to services for free if only to be uninterested spectators in their High Holiday services. People will come if learning allows personal interpretation. It will almost feel like Reform, except smarter. When this becomes evident, they will become Karaites and the movement will grow in America.

    • Hi Maurice, Thank you for your comment. One thought is that the personal interpretation (even from a Karaite perspective) must be consistent with the overall biblical narrative. I hope you enjoy the blog and if there are any questions you have, I am happy to see how we can address them on the blog or otherwise.

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