November Book Review & Give-Away: The Karaite Jews of Egypt

I don’t believe I’d ever met Mourad El-Kodsi (at least not when I was old enough to remember), but everyone says he had a special spirit. Despite his failing health, he worked tirelessly to finish the Second Edition of his magnum opus, The Karaite Jews of Egypt (1882-1986). He passed away just a few months after the book went to print, and today his work is a must have.

The Karaite Jews of America has generously donated 18 copies of the book’s Second Edition for A Blue Thread’s November 2013 give-away.

Books about the Karaite Jewish community written by a member of the community do not surface everyday. But when they do, they have information that only an insider can provide. This book is packed with pictures, anecdotes, and copies of otherwise inaccessible historical documents.

And it seems like every time I give someone a copy, he or she finds something remarkable that I glossed over. For example, someone recently used the book’s map of the Karaite Jewish Quarter in Cairo to locate an old Karaite synagogue. [1.] She sent me this picture of the sealed-off Simcha synagogue just a few weeks ago:

Exterior of the Simcha Karaite synagogue, where my mom's family worshiped in Jewish Quarter of Cairo, Egypt. I'm told the Arabic reads: "Important Notice. This property is listed architectural heritage: Jewish synagogue. The sale or rental of the property, or any other use for profit, is forbidden."  (Photo by K.H.)

Exterior of the Simcha Karaite synagogue, where my mom’s family worshiped in Jewish Quarter of Cairo, Egypt. I’m told the Arabic reads: “Important Notice. This property is listed architectural heritage: Jewish synagogue. The sale or rental of the property, or any other use for profit, is forbidden.”
(Photo & Translation by K.H.)


And I only recently noticed that book contains a letter written in Arabic, which Mourad el-Kodsi explains is from the High Priest of the Samaritan community in Israel. According to El-Kodsi, the letter indicates that the Simcha synagogue once belonged to the Samaritans. [2.] I don’t know whether that is correct as a factual matter, but I do know that the book is filled with historical gems such as this letter.

And because Karaite Jews of Egypt touches on it, I think this would be an opportune time to mention the Karaite community’s somewhat recent  historical (and, in my opinion, shameful) practice of prohibiting former Rabbanites from formally affiliating with the Karaite community. [3.] This has changed gradually over the past 25 years, but we still have a long way to go with respect to making Karaite Judaism more accessible to Jews who are looking to affiliate (formally or informally) with the Karaite community.

I obviously could not interview Mourad El-Kodsi about his book, but I recently spoke with one of his daughters. After we spoke, she emailed me the following: “My mother and father were both actively working [to] preserv[e] the Karaite [tradition]. My father wanted to share his knowledge and wisdom about the Karaites and he wrote the book to share with the community.”

*   *   *

[1.] M. El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt: 1882-1986 (2nd Edition).

[2.] Id. at p. 148.

[3.] Id. at 299.

*   *   *

A Blue Thread is giving away 18 print copies of The Karaite Jews of Egypt (2nd Edition). A Blue Thread will even cover the shipping. To be eligible for the give-away, simply comment on the post below. Your comment could be anything from “Choose me!” to “I love this book.” I’ll hold a random drawing on November 11th, and will notify the winners via email. My only hope is that after you read the book, you will post your thoughts to the comment section below. (If you’ve already read the book, feel free to do so now.)

This is our last give-away for our Fall 2013 Book Club. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and we hope to do something similar again.


Filed under Book Club, Karaite Jews of America, Karaite Rabbanite Relations, Karaite Synagogues

38 Responses to November Book Review & Give-Away: The Karaite Jews of Egypt

  1. maurice

    We should welcome reformed rabbanites.

  2. Gabe Moskovitz

    I am fascinated by the Karaite tradition. It may be the best clue to religious practice by Sadducees dating to the 2nd Temple and much closer to common practice before Rabbinic influence.

  3. George

    Choose me because I have enclosed $5 in this comment (somewhere)!

  4. Thank you for offering such useful and meaningful giveaways so often! Still enjoying my Karaite fact cards & hoping to win one of these books :).

  5. Noach

    :sounds like a must read …. enter me into draw…if mazal does not shine on me how can it be purchased ? Thanks for the information.

  6. Matityahu

    I hope to add this book to my library soon!

  7. Vincent Calabrese

    Can’t hurt to enter another drawing!

  8. TrueBlue

    Looks like a very interesting read, history always fascinates me.
    Enter me in the draw please.

  9. willem

    Maybe this book will provide insight in true Judaism!

  10. Sha'ul Bentsion

    Pick me! Pick me! 🙂

  11. Noam Davids

    I bought that book As It Is written. It would be cool if I could get one of these. Thanks!

  12. LICHAA

    Hereafter a brief biography of Mourad El-Kodsi :
    Mourad was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1919. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Cairo, in 1942, and a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Rochester – New York, in 1963. In Cairo he was a teacher and principal in both the Karaite Jewish School and Les Ecoles de la Communauté Juive du Caire from 1942 to 1959. As a member of the Karaite community in Cairo El-Kodsi served as the Secretary of the Karaite Religious Council and as chairman of several of its committees. In 1959 he immigrated to the United States. He taught French in Brighton Central Schools, and Arabic classes in both the University of Rochester and St. John Fisher College. In 1987 he published the first edition of “The Karaite Jews of Egypt from 1882-1986.” In the summer of 1991 he visited the Karaite communities in Eastern Europe accompanied by Ben Massoudah from New York USA and Ovadia Gamil from Ashdod Israel; and in 1993 he published “The Karaite Communities in Poland, Lithuania, Russia & Ukraine.” In 2002 he published “Just for the Records in the History of the Karaite Jews in Egypt in Modern Times.” In 2004 he published an article entitled “A History of the Two of Ben Asher Codices.” Following a long illness, Mourad El-kodsi died in December 2007 shortly after the publication of the 2nd edition of “The Karaite Jews of Egypt from 1882-1986.”

  13. I don’t believe in Lady Luck, but I trust God, my Creator, to let me have one of these 18 books provided that is in His plan for my work in His vineyard.


  14. Teresa Drummond

    This looks very interesting. I am still reading An Introduction to Karaite Judaism, and would like to say thank you for the book. I am taking it slow and easy and re-reading everything, so as not to misunderstand.

    I feel so drawn to Judaism and Karaism (?). This book reading you have been suggesting is a wonderful idea.

  15. Patrick

    Its such a shame that such an old Jewish community is no more a Karaite community at that. Oh well must look to building new communities for the future. Oh and pick me please…… Great blog btw.

  16. art phillips

    Choose me!

  17. Janice Guilford

    Please pick me. I need to learn more. Thank you.

  18. Stephanie H

    Choose Me! I would love this book! I am still digesting An Introduction to Karaite Judaism. Really loving this book club idea!

  19. Connie

    “The Karaite Jews of Egypt” sounds like a wonderful and very interesting read. I would be grateful to be chosen to have a copy.

  20. siahou

    interesting Shawn ! Congrats !

  21. Keith Gilbert

    I was born into a Karaite family living in Arkansas, USA, under the radar and unobservant of anything…figuring it all out has taken me a while…but now I/we are Jews once more…finding our identity and being eternally grateful that it was there to find and I only had to look.

  22. Mika'el ben David

    Sometimes greatness exists under the radar, and we are not aware of it’s existence until it is too late. Men like Mourad El-Kodsi who dedicated himself to his people are far too few and in between.

    Mika’el ben David

  23. Aubrey

    This book has been on my must read list for some time now. Thank you for holding the drawing.

  24. Meira Flournoy

    I would love to read this book!! Sounds so good!!!! Thank you for having these drawings to win a book!! ;-D Meira

  25. Johan Schutte

    I would love to get my hands on a copy of this book! Random draw me, please!
    Thank you!

  26. Glenn

    Did the Karaites originate in Egypt? I thought they were from Iraq? I only know of the Karaites because of Nehemia Gordon and I am still trying to learn more about them. Shalom.

    • Well “originate” is an interesting term; Karaites would argue that we preserve the truest form of Judaism (i.e., that the Judaism prescribed to Moses did not consist of an oral law). But the modern rendition of Tanakh only Judaism (known as Karaism), probably has its roots in Iraq in the 8th Century.

      • Glenn

        Yes, orginate was probably not the best choice of words.

        • TrueBlue

          I don’t think of Karaism as a ‘modern rendition’ but rather as a rediscovery of the way things are supposed to be, the way we were told to by YHWH himself, in his own writing. To me, the rabbinical ‘mitzvahs’ are purely politicial and in more than a few cases, I tend to suspect purely for profit…$100 etrogs spring to mind…and sterling silver kiddush cups and special handwashing cups and a great many other things that while nicely made, and far from offensive, are hardly mandatory (not to mention the earlier thread about the cash for conversion or cash for divorce schemes). Yes, I do follow some traditions that might be called mitzvahs but because I choose to and because I feel they lend a sense of ‘thereness’ to my life with G-d, not because some self-appointed council of rabbis told me I had to because they supposedly heard that they had to tell me and yet can’t show me where in the Torah it says to and if I miss or forget one that is a custom or a rabbinical invention rather than a true Torah Law then I don’t feel as if I’ve slighted YHWH or sinned by omission, since He probably wasn’t expecting it anyway 😉

          • Glenn

            I believe the same. I started as a christian until one day my morther-in-law said that she hoped that my neice did not marry a “jew”. It made me mad and I said, “Oh? You mean one like your Lord and Savior?”. So, I started with a premise- Jesus was a Jew: What do Jews believe? That journey started on this path. But, I soon found myself drowning in a sea to Orthodoxy that was different but just as “hokey” as christianity. Then I heard Nehemia Gordon talking about Karaites and I thought, “Finally, here is an intellectual spiritualism I can agree with”.

  27. Linda Fitzner

    Please choose me! I am interested in leaving Reform Judaism and becoming a Karaite at some point in the near future. This book would help me in my journey. Thanks.

  28. Daren

    Glory be unto YHVH giver of life and sustainer of life beside him there is none else.

  29. Omri

    Sounds priceless. I wish I get picked!

  30. DavidE

    thank you for this, and all you have done for the Egyptian Karaite community, and for A Blue Thread. It’s quite the opportunity to learn more about it. Mourad was my father’s first cousin; I really appreciate the donation of his book.
    Please keep sharing, and spreading the knowledge.

  31. Tehila Romero

    I would really love to have this book.

  32. Tony

    As someone with a never ending thirst for learning, being picked for the give-away of this work would be awesome.
    Thanks a lot for the great articles.

  33. Ron

    Would love to have to learn the ways

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