Save The Karaite Jewish Archive

What will be the fate of the Karaite Jewish archive? Pictured: Restoration of the Iraqi Jewish Archive Still Image Video:

What will be the fate of the Karaite Jewish Archive?
Pictured: Restoration of the Iraqi Jewish Archive
Still Image Video:

Saving rare Jewish manuscripts is all the rage these days, with the Jewish community’s attention rightly focused on the fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive. The United States spent $3 million restoring the thousands of books and documents from the Jewish community in Iraq. Today, no Jewish community to speak of exists in Iraq; but Jews had resided there since Biblical times. (And there was a Karaite community in Iraq from the 10th century until at least 1951. [1.])

The Iraqi Jewish Archive was found in the basement of a flood-damaged Saddam Hussein intelligence building and the United States is planning to send this invaluable archive back to Iraq, much to the chagrin of Jews throughout the world.

But a lesser known Jewish archive also has experienced water and moisture damage and desperately needs your support. It is the Karaite Jewish Archive in Ramle, Israel, the headquarters of Universal Karaite Judaism.

I spoke to a representative of the UKJ, who told me that the archives contain numerous, one of a kind, handwritten documents. I’ve seen an abridged copy of the archive’s catalog. The manuscripts include, by way of example, (i) a handwritten Megillat Esther with considerable damage throughout; (ii) a handwritten book (potentially a copy) of a work of the 18th Century Karaite Simchah Isaac Lutski; and (iii) records of the Karaite Bet Din of Egypt from 1901-1904 and 1920-1972, some of which have moisture and humidity damage.

According to a letter the Karaite Jews of America received from the UKJ, the manuscripts were damaged by flooding and subsequently experienced damage from fungus and spores. The State of Israel has contributed 100,000 NIS (about $30,000) to the project and the UKJ has contributed an additional 114,000 NIS to preserve these rare manuscripts. The first phase of the restoration project is nearing completion, with the UKJ completing the obligations it made to the Israeli government when applying for the grant of 100,000 NIS.

But the Israeli Karaite community needs to raise a lot more money to preserve its rare manuscripts and purchase appropriate equipment with which to maintain and store these documents.

If you would like to donate money to help save the Karaite Jewish Archive, you may do so through the Karaite Jews of America’s GENERAL / TEMPLE FUND. At the end of the 2013, the Karaite Jews of America will send a check to the UKJ of all funds received for the archive. To make your donation, click here; just add the following note in the “special instructions to seller” link: “Karaite Manuscripts Project.”

Here is a copy of the letter the actual Karaite Jews of America received from the community in Israel. Please excuse any typos and items which were lost in translation, as the letter was not written by a native English speaker.

Rare Karaite Manuscripts Preservation Project Letter

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1. Goldshmidt, Fried, Steinberg, and CohenThe Karaite Community of Iraq in Israel: A Genetic Study; Am J Hum Genet 28:243-252, 1976, p. 243.


Filed under Karaite Jewish Archives

12 Responses to Save The Karaite Jewish Archive

  1. Hi Shawn, Can I mail you a money order? I really am not happy using Paypal.

  2. Good news.

    I wrote this back in 2011…

    >>Since the German-Jewish “wissenschaft das judentum” movement, which pioneered the field of Karaite studies, scholars have decried the deplorable state of this discipline at institutions of higher learning.

    Just last week I attended a lecture series at Yad ben Zvi (an institutiton that, to its credit, has stood at the vanguard of Karaite studies among many other things). Most of the speakers remarked how a thorough study of karaite judaism remains a scholarly desideratum.

    In 1937, Dr. Zvi Cahn, in his THE RISE OF THE KARAITE SECT remarked: “It is deplorable that the study of Karaitism had not received by a great number of scholars its due attention. It seems that other epochs and events in Jewish history were more attractive to the Jewish research mind than the struggle between the Karaites and the Rabbanites…”

    Leon Nemoy, a foremost expert on Karaitism, likewise lamented the lack of scholarship in this field in his landmark work KARAITE ANTHOLOGY, published in 1987.

    As of yet, no university has set up a Karaite Studies department.

    It is likewise disgraceful that the 17,000 manuscripts that make up the Firkovich collection at the library of St. Petersburg in Russia have still not yet been deciphered and catalogued (compare this to the work on the Genizah). In addition to those manuscripts, there are countless other works by Karaite hakhamim, poets and historians that remain in manuscript form and are scattered around the world, in libraries and in private collections. Some of them are damaged beyond repair and further eroding because of improper storage.

    Who will be the new pioneers?<<

  3. Ari Bright

    Simchah Isaac Lutski- the great Karaite Kabbalist who wrote a treatise of Lurianic Kabbalah to the chagrin of modern Karaites who like to claim that Karaism rejects Kabbalah (it in fact doesn’t as I have met a few Karaites who study Kabbalah).

    • There is a difference between “studying” kabbalah and accepting kabbalah (in the sense that kabbalists accept kabbalah).

      I myself study talmud and would have no problem looking to the Kabbalah if someone told me that it was a good source for something I am research.

      • Ari Bright

        From what I have read in my limited exposure to said history it is asserted that Simcha wrote an exposition of Lurianic Kabbalah and attempted to create sympathy for the Kabbalah amongst Karaites. Apparently there wasn’t anything revolutionary in his book on Kabbalah but the fact that a significant Karaite personality studied it and wrote a presentation of it is quite revlutionary.
        I’m not at all interested in promoting the idea that Karaites should take up Kabbalah- I am not a Karaite nor am I concerned with Kabbalah’s dissemination. I do find it curious though that a select few Karaites online write about the supposed “pagan” origin of the Kabbalah and yet seem to completely ignore the “pagan” contributions to the whole Torah itself. For example, the Creation story has its antecedents in Chaldean and Etruscan creation myths in all of their specificity, most of the early stories of Biblical personalities are derived from those of Egyptian narratives with minimal modifications, the Jewish holidays were originally Caananite agricultural holy days, the titles of God are derived from Caananite deities, and the whole of Judaism is an ecclectic mixture of Near Eastern customs and cultures. The confusion that I have is in the expressed interest of Karaites (or any other group) which insists on the primacy of literal interpretation whenever a literal reading clearly is not a valid position of history. It would seem that not unlike Israel’s ancient neighbors whom we shared the same language and culture with, that the legends and myths that we shared with them were used to develop a cultural and ethnic consciousness but were never intended to be taken as factual. A previous Orthodox Rabbi of mine once stated: “If the Bible were meant to be a history book then it would be the worst history book ever written” (Rabbi Rubenfeld). He is right and the only purpose, IMO, that the Scriptures can serve for us today is to look at the myths and legends for the allegories that they represent. This would be similar to a Philoan process of interpretation. In other words, the Scriptures are more relevant as a metaphorical guide to lead us on the path of spiritual development than to be read literally as a true source of anthropology. I would love to hear your thoughts. Todah.

        • This actually is not surprising. Yehudah Gibbor, a Karaite, wrote a poem that has many kabbalistic principles (I’m told). The poem made its way into the Egyptian Karaite Liturgy. The poem is several pages long and has verses that correspond to each Torah Portion.

  4. Ari Bright

    I wasn’t aware of Yedudah Gibbor. I did a brief search on him and the Jewish Encyclopedia has an entry which states: “Gibbor also wrote the following works, which are no longer extant, but are mentioned by Simḥah Luzki, namely: “Hilkot Sheḥiṭah,” Karaite laws concerning the slaughtering of animals; “Sefer Mo’adim,” on the feasts of Rosh ha-Shanah, Sukkot, and Purim; “Mo’ed Ḳaṭan,” a theological treatise in six volumes dealing with the mysteries of the Law, metaphysics, the elements of the speculative Kabbalah, etc.” It’s a shame that so many Karaite works have not survived and come down to us.

  5. I added your blog to a new blog I am trying out. I hope you don’t mind.

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