Breaking News: Karaites Help Sustain Rabbanite Yeshiva

A gift from friends. And an excellent read!

A gift from friends. And an excellent read!

Whenever heated Karaite-Rabbanite polemics pop up these days, my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and sigh,”It’s not the Middle Ages anymore.”

Although such diatribes were once commonplace – and A Blue Thread has discussed some of them – I really try not to get lost in the rhetoric of yesteryear.

In that regard, I love finding information that turns these historical notions of strife upside-down.

In the early part of the 11th Century, Karaites openly and willingly contributed funds to a Rabbanite yeshiva in Jerusalem. (See Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, pp. 196-200.)

Recall that Karaites had their own Jerusalem yeshiva to support; so it’s peculiar that they would also support a Rabbanite yeshiva.

But with respect to one fundraising campaign for the Rabbanite yeshiva, the donors from the Karaite collection outnumbered the donors from the Rabbanite collection about two to one. (Id. at 197.) And according to Dr. Rustow, by the late 1020s, in certain cities, Rabbanite “survival as a community had become dependent on Qaraite largesse[.]” (Id. at 199.)

Dr. Rustow adds, “What made them [i.e., these Karaites] support the Rabbanites? Did it occur to them or disturb them that the yeshiva they were supporting was the very incarnation of what Qaraism disavowed?” (Id. at 198.)

In Dr. Rustow’s view, the Karaites of the early 1020s did not believe that supporting rabbinic institutions was tantamount to “fraternizing with the enemy.” Rather, “[t]he Qaraite leadership shared bonds of loyalty to other Jews that operated separately from questions of theological or legal differences.” (Id. at 199.)

I’ll admit that this isn’t “breaking” in the sense of “recent” news. But it is breaking news in that it upends the traditional view of Karaite-Rabbanite conflict. Much of Dr. Rustow’s excellent book is dedicated to Karaite-Rabbanite harmonious interaction.

Sadly, as even Dr. Rustow notes, this cooperation was tested in 1029 when “a throng of Rabbanites” tried to excommunicate the Karaites during Sukkot of that year. In fact, it was the Rabbanites of the yeshiva that helped block this attempted excommunication. (Id. at 200.)

So, here’s to hoping that neither Karaites nor Rabbanites view modern dialog and support as sleeping with the enemy.

*   *   *

Today is the 2nd day of the 4th week of seven weeks. Today is the 23rd day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.


Filed under Dr. Rustow, Jerusalem, Karaite Rabbanite Relations, Sukkot

19 Responses to Breaking News: Karaites Help Sustain Rabbanite Yeshiva

  1. Zvi

    This is no cause for happiness for me. These Qaraites were not saving Rabbinic Jews from starvation or certain death threats by gentiles, but raised funds for a Yeshiva! The Qaraites were too myopic to see that they helped undo themselves over the longer haul.

    • Tomer

      In the absence of prophecy we cannot be absolutely certain that our religious opinions are correct. Alternative view points should be given voice and accepted or rejected based on merit not on the physical, numerical, or financial superiority of the community who holds the view point. Therefore, the Karaites of Jerusalem acted justly by allowing Rabbanite ideas to be taught and fairly considered.
      Also, this decision did not necessarily cause these Karaites to “undo themselves”. Indeed, as Shawn notes, it helped them avoid excommunication in the coming years. In general strong ties with Rabbanites have helped not harmed Karaites. For instance, the Rabbanites of Egypt refused to accept aid from an international Jewish agency that wanted to help Rabbanites but not Karaites move to Israel. The agency eventually changed its policy. The Jewish people are a united nation not a set of closely related but distinct religions.

      • Zvi

        Tomer, I have not met you yet online and do not know who you are (I have met another Israeli named Itai Nir on some Qaraite forum) and whether you are a (traditional) Qaraite in particular, nor how many of my musings you have read, but I am not a real Qaraite and am among the first to argue that several Qaraite “religious opinions” are incorrect, but this hardly was reason to salvage a Rabbanite institution of learning that expresses many more wrong opinions such that most of them ca be safely rejected. It is almost certain that these same Rabbanite ideas were taught elsewhere in “Greater” Eres Yisra’el or Syria or Lebanon or Egypt,
        Avoiding excommunication was not paramount for Qaraites as they were boycotted in many other places, so this instance would not have changed their situation for the better in the long run. The start of the mild fraternity among the Rabbanites and Qaraites of Egypt which witnessed a very important expression of solidarity last century does not have to be attributed to this incident where Qaraites saved a Rabbanite Yeshiva.
        Rabbanite ideas were taught and fairly considered throughout all Jewish dispersion, so I don’t see why this particular Yeshiva needed to be bailed out.
        If we disagree, so be it. I stand by my observations.

        • Tomer

          I was not suggesting that the funding for the Yeshiva in 1000 CE had anything to do with the fraternity shown in Egypt in the 20th century. I was merely using the example of Egypt as support for my claim that “*In General* strong ties with the Rabbanites have helped the Karaites”.

          In my opinion the donations made are similar to the following scenario: Say I am a liberal political philosophy professor. A conservative professor is a candidate for tenure at my university. Although my life’s work has been to disprove conservative beliefs and although I believe these views would have a substantial negative effect on the nation, I still support the conservative professor because I think he is a capable scholar and I think there is great value in hearing alternative view points. I think most would find my decision here reasonable.

          Of course I might also draw the following analogy: I am a fervent Zionist yet I financially support an anti-Israel Jewish group because I value hearing alternative view points. This group is not violent in any way it is simply politically active.

          I admit that even I would not agree with the conclusion in the second scenario. I am unsure why I feel the first scenario is more analogous to the donations made by the Karaites. So perhaps, as you said, we may have to agree to disagree.

          • One thing to consider is whether the majority is supporting minority opinions or whether the minority is supporting majority opinions. It seems odd for a minority (which the Karaites were) to support majority opinions when the Karaites themselves could have been supporting the existence of other Karaite institutions. I don’t really have a problem with the Karaites supporting Rabbanite instutions. I just wish they had invested more heavily in more Karaite institutions.

          • Tomer

            True. But I thought the Karaites were the local majority in Jerusalem though (and perhaps even in Israel)? And yes, I think Karaites should prioritize funding Karaite religious institutions.

          • Zvi

            Are you by any chance the staunch leftist Tomer Pepsico (spelling?), author of the book entitled “Loophole of the God” (approximately translated)?

          • Tomer

            To the best of my knowledge, no.

  2. You might be surprised to learn that the descendants of Anan B. David stood at the helm of the Eretz Yisrael (Rabbanite) Yeshiva for a long period of time. You may be further surprised to learn that said Yeshibha was hardly the standards Rabbanite type. While not Karaite in the classical sense, they for instance simply did not wear Tefillin (neither the Rabbis nor the students). This was cause for shock and puzzlement by visiting students fromthe sister Academies at Sura and Pumbeditha in Babylonia.

    • I had no clue! I’ll see if this book mentions anything about it. Very fascinating, indeed. (By the way, do you have a source for this? I’m updating the “Karaite-Rabbanite relations portion of a talk I’m giving, and this would be a nice addition!)

  3. Also, I highly recommend getting you hands on this booklet, recently published by JTS
    Some great photos and accompanying info (including a copy of the Genizah find that mentions said excommunication attempt on Mt. of Olives).

    • Yes; so far the only “primary source” I have on the excommunication is Sefer Ha-Qabbalah – which has a stated agenda and speaks in rhetoric that it is difficult to take everything at face value. TODAH!

  4. serge

    When I read the book I got a sense that during the Middle Ages the split between Karaites and Rabinates was somewhat analagous to the split between the Right and the Left in Israel today. Both sides oscillate between strong disagreement to sometime open hatred but yet feel that they’re one people that share one destiny. I think Saadia Al Fayumi laid the ground work for the eventual permanent, rancarous split between the two movements. Al Fayumi was a hard headed no compromises enforcer that picked fights whereever he went. Among his ‘lofty’ deeds was the subjugation of the Palestinian Yeshiva to the Babylonian Yeshiva in primacy amongst the Rabbinates and sowing discord in the Babylonian schools themselves. What a twist of fate that his written invectives against the Karaites didn’t survive.

  5. Yet the Karaite historian Ibn Al Hitti had this to say about Al-Fayumi:

    “Yet when the latter (his Karate nemesis Salman b. Yeroham died Saadiah appeared at his funeral “clad in torn garments, girded with a coarse rope and barefoot. When he was reproved for it, he said, “Both I and he derived great profit from our controversy and there can be no doubt of his great learning; that is why I have done what I have done in attending his funeral”.

    From Ibn Al Hiti’s (lived in the 2nd quarter of the 15th century) Chronicle of Karaite history, cited in Nemoy, Leon. KARAITE ANTHOLOGY, p. 233-4

  6. serge

    Yael, I’m wondering if these are just Karaite literary musings done many centuries after Al-Fayumi’s death; similar to the claims that Karaites originate from the school of Shamai. My impression is that after the golden age, Karaite threshold for provable claims significantly degraded to where you got silly stuff like descent from Shamai.

  7. Pingback: Why I Support the Rabbanut | A Blue Thread

  8. Pingback: The Aleppo Codex: Proof that Karaites are Awesome | A Blue Thread

  9. Pingback: The Leningrad Codex: Rabbanites are Awesome (too)! | A Blue Thread

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *