Can A Karaite Eat Crow?

Original Source Unknown*

Original Source Unknown*

For much of Jewish history, Karaites (and their intellectual predecessors) and Rabbanites (and their intellectual predecessors) have argued over which movement represents the original form of Judaism.

Karaites believe that the original form of Judaism was characterized by adherence only to the written Tanakh, with no oral accompaniment.** Rabbanites disagree with this notion, and believe that God gave the Jewish people an oral law.

Regardless of who is correct about the divine-origin of the Oral Law, is it fair claim either movement is the original form of Judaism? Almost certainly not.

The original form of Judaism was one in which priests and judges resolved legal and factual disputes among the Jewish people. And the instruction and decrees of these priests and judges were binding. (See, e.g., Deuteronomy 17:8-12.)

Today, of course, we do not have priests and judges filling this role; and (perhaps predictably) Karaites and Rabbanites disagree as to who may interpret the laws in our days.

In the Rabbinic tradition, the Rabbis have this binding authority even when the interpretation is at odds with “Heaven.” (E.g., Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia, 59b.) In the Karaite tradition, absent divinely-sanctioned priests and judges to resolve disputes, we must all “search the Scripture well and . . . not rely on anyone’s opinion.”

This is not to suggest that Karaites have always (or ever) reached the proper interpretation. But the constant search for the correct interpretation forces even the most-learned Karaites not only to keep an open mind but also to change their opinions and practices when they arrive at “better” interpretations. One such learned individual was Daniel al-Kumisi, a ninth century Karaite, who we are told “would write to his followers . . . informing them of any changes which had occurred in his opinions . . . and requesting them to . . . make corrections in their copies of his works.” (Kirkisani, Light and Watchtowers.)

I doubt that such changes of opinion constitute eating crow, because, by all accounts, Kumisi was honest (and humble) enough to understand that others might reach different opinions. As I previously described, Kumisi actively told people to search the Scripture instead of relying on his opinion.

So, while no Torah-observant Jew is permitted to actually eat crow; having humility and an open mind will keep us from needing to.

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*If anyone locates the source of this image, I would be happy to add the proper accreditation.
** Editor’s Note [2/15/13, 3:25 p.m.]: I  should clarify that I mean no divinely given oral accompaniment explaining our system of laws.  Some items, such as what day of the week it is, are not verifiable from the text and Karaites rely on community consensus in those circumstances.


Filed under Daniel al-Kumisi, Plain Meaning, Talmud, What is Karaite Judaism

6 Responses to Can A Karaite Eat Crow?

  1. Though, I am an Rabbinical, Orthodox Jew, it seems correct that we must all look at the Text (Written Torah) as our foundation and use the Oral Tradition, (since both Rabbinical as well as Karaite have written down their traditions and use them as a guide), as a guide, not an overarching stick of control. Humility and intelligence has brought us this far since the Temple;s Destruction; and we should continue to rely of that as well as the Sages as a guidepost toward the future.

  2. Sammy

    Love it! Interesting and honest post

  3. Eddie

    Is eating crow followed by humble pie?

  4. Yes, it’s true, Shawn. But the difference between the Karaites and Rabbanites is not whether we keep the original form of Torah or not, since as you correctly pointed out, that is not possible in this day and age. The real difference between the Karaites and the Rabbanites is over methods of interpretation (“Hermeneutics”): Do we attempt interpret the Torah according to its p’shath interpretation (Karaites), or do we rely on an “oral law” which allows for many non-p’shath and, therefore, non-intuitive, interpretations to take hold. As Karaites, we must take a strong stand that only the p’shat interpretation (and this is not synonymous with the “literal interpretation”) is acceptable, and that any other interpretation is in fact a gross violation of the covenant between Israel and Yehowah, with all the attendant consequences. On this, I believe, there can be no compromise, and all of Israel must be held to the same standards. Now, if we wish to discuss and debate with the Rabbanites as to what the p’shath understanding of a particular miswah in the Torah is, I think that this is a completely worthwhile endeavor, and in certain cases, I believe that the Rabbinical interpretation is closer to the p’shath interpretation (i.e. in the case of fire on Shabbath) than the typical Karaite interpretation. However, we should never, not even for a second, take our eyes off the ball and forget what our goal is: to bring Israel back to a true understanding of the Torah by, first and foremost, promoting p’shath understandings of the Torah.

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