A House Eternally Divided?

Seinfeld taught us that “A house George divided against itself cannot stand.”

Many, including Star Trek Borg Drones, have wondered whether Karaite Judaism will forever be divided against itself, because everyone is entitled to his “own small opinion.”

To be frank, Karaite Judaism needs a unifying force. I’m not speaking of religious unification; I’m speaking of creating a cohesive movement. Such unification has occurred before.

Anan ben David, whom many (wrongly) consider to be the founder of Karaite Judaism, was actually someone who began the unification of various Tanakh only movements.

What Anan ended up achieving was quite remarkable given how much of a polarizing figure he was within the non-Rabbinic circle. The great (Karaite) Jewish historian of the tenth century, Yaqub al-Qirqisani tells us that Anan’s followers referred to Anan as the “Head of the Enlightened” (Hebrew: Rosh Hammaskilim) whereas some Karaites who disagreed with Anan’s interpretations referred to Anan as the “Head of the Fools” (Hebrew: Rosh Haksilim).

Regardless of what any Karaite today (or even historically) might think of Anan, Karaite Judaism desperately needs another Anan.

As I see it, today’s Karaite Judaism is sharply divided between two camps: 1) the historic Karaites* (whose leadership is feverishly working to reenergize the movement) and 2) the neo-Karaites* (who are new to the Karaite movement and are also trying to create vibrant Karaite communities).

The problem is that the traditional Karaites have not set up the infrastructure to maintain their own numbers or integrate neo-Karaites into the Karaite tent. As a result, traditional Karaite tent is shrinking (due to assimilation and attrition) and the neo-Karaites are erecting their own small tents throughout the world.

Various online fora have granted the traditional Karaites and the neo-Karaites a means to share ideas with each other. Of course, you know by now that I believe these online groups have limited long-run potential.

Karaites need to learn from our Rabbanite brethren and need to provide meaningful resources to live a Karaite life. The movement could benefit from someone to get us organized. We need conferences, chevrutot, book clubs, children’s books and music.

Who knows? Despite our resolve to search the Scripture well, we may find that more unites us than divides us.

* I use the terms “historic/traditional Karaites” and “ne0-Karaites” without intending to suggest that either has more legitimacy to the name Karaite or the future of the Karaite movement. I chose these terms because I lacked any better terms.


Filed under Anan ben David, Yaqub al-Qirqisani

17 Responses to A House Eternally Divided?

  1. Art Phillips

    Shalom Shaun Is the kJu the only method you have for producing neo-karaites ?

    • From what I know, as of now, the only way that a non-Jew will be recognized as a Karaite by the Council of Sages (Moetzet Hakhamim) in Israel would be to take the KJU course, then convert through the KJA in Daly City. As far as I understand, persons of Jewish extraction, can be recognized by formally applying to the Moetzet Hakhamim. For those living outside of Israel, this is not practical, and the best way would be to take the KJU course – since the Moetzet Hakhamim has approved the course. Jews do not need to convert.

  2. Dev

    As a neo-Karaite, though I am not currently able to live among my ‘historic’ Karaite brothers and sisters in community, I have enjoyed going to Daly City synagogue on as many occasions as possible and have always been treated as gold. It has always blessed me that they are so warm and welcoming. I am very thankful of the vision so many had to make my life as a Karaite possible. It is my hope and fervent prayer that we can all work together to prosper the Karaite movement as a whole. I think the Karaite movement has a very bright future!

    I tend to see more “sharp divisions” among the neo-Karaites, maybe because I am not in Daly City or Israel, currently. It’s something worth working on as well.

    Unity begins with the man in the mirror and living out the humility the Tanach teaches us.

  3. Gershom Ben Naftali

    Shawn, as someone who has spent many years in the Karaite community as well as the rabbinic one, I have to say that there are several key issues.
    One is that there are several rather well-known neo-Karaites who make it a habit to needlessly provoke their rabbinic counterparts simply for the sake of making a name for themselves by starting trouble. This paints the entire Karaite community in a rather negative light.
    Another issue is that many of these so-called “converts” to Karaism are still very much involved in their former cultures, and are openly hostile to rabbinic Judaism.
    I, for one, would love to see Karaite leaders reign in the renegade elements and work toward becoming a legitimate, vibrant community which can live harmoneously alongside it’s rabbinic bretheren. I want to see the Synogogue in the old city open for tours to other Jews, so that they can see what beautiful, ancient traditions are carried on inside, and not only rely on rumors and gossip for their information about the community.

    Gershom Ben Naftali
    (former student of Nehemia Gordon)

  4. Yelena

    This reminds me of the suggestive posts I made on the Karaite group on facebook for what NEEDS to be done if Karaism is to continue even into the next century, lest it be lost to Rabbinical Judaism.

  5. Shalom, I am a grad of Feb. 2009 KJU class and convert to Karaite. Judaism . I pray that there will be more unity among Karaites and dialog with rabbinics and especially outreach and publiciity about Karaism to secular Jews who dont realize the Karaite option . It is challenging enough to just live the TANAKH..without the burdens of rabbinics ‘adding and taking away’ from TANAKH..DEUT. 4.2.. I think there needs to be more dialog and challenge to the Rabbinics re their assertion that they are the Judges or Levitical priests of Deut. 17.8-13/ Greater numbers or wealth or publicity do not necessarily mean correctness or legitimacy, or our Creators Favor. nb… Noah,, 8 people only left after the Flood, , Return from exile in Egypt… only 2 million, return from Babylon… few thousands, return from Europe after WW2… and slaughter of 6 million,,, mostly very religous ‘orthodox ‘ jews…..returned..a half a million more secular Jews. There is a need for alot more dialog, esp prayer to our Creator to raise up HIS True TANAKH LEADERS… especially as there is getting to be more talk of a Sanhedrin,,,
    We need Karaites on it! Katya Hana Simcha,,,, Minnesota

  6. Bob Radus

    FOR ANY KARATIES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: At lest Shawn is trying to organize the flock. As for me, I fall into the neo-Karaite-Jewish strain. I have been working on a plain (literal and figurative) translation of the Psalms for about 6 months (this project are a discussion for a totally unrelated reason and another time). I came across Karaism and realized it is what I have been looking for a LOOOOONG time. When I asked my Rabbi about Karaism, he looked at me with a blank stare and not much interest. Oh well. Here is my email and phone # if you would like help being a community: Bob Radus srr@actforensic.com 714 271 2865

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