I’ve had enough guessing, enough speculation and enough supposition. I want someone – ANYONE – to bring me definitive proof of whether Elyakim, the author of Ronnu Shamayim, was a Karaite or Rabbanite. And I’m putting up a $500 bounty (or rather The Karaite Press is). We know with certainty that Ronnu Shamayim is probably the greatest Shavuot melody of all time. Now we need to know who wrote the poem.
So here is what I understand to be the current situation:
- According to Riikka Tuori Ronnu Shamayim Only Appears in Karaite Sources: “There are seven zĕmīrōt in the S-IV by an author named Elyaqim: Nos. 66 (Ronnū shāmayīm), 75 (Ētān yĕhī), 78 (Ilān yāfe), 79 (Ăṣīlīm sĕgullā), 203 (Ăḥaddēsh shīr), which are published exclusively in Karaite sources, and Nos. 39 (Et kōs yĕshūʿōt eśśā’ bĕ-zimrā) and 135 (Ĕlōhay ʿoz tĕhillātī), which are probably of rabbinic background (see also Zunz 1865: 549).” (From Riikka Tuori’s Dissertation).
- There is a Famous Elyakim of Kaffa – a Rabbanite – whose poems wiggled into Karaite Texts. This Elyakim is super famous. Well, famous to people who study Crimean Jewish history, and probably not famous to a single other person in the world.
- Karaite Texts Don’t Appear in historical Rabbanite Poems: There is a general scholarly understanding that if a poem appears in both Rabbanite and Karaite sources it is almost certainly of Rabbanite origin. In fact, I cannot name a single (definitively) Karaite poem that appears in historical Rabbanite liturgical material. On the other hand, we know that Karaites more willingly incorporated Rabbanite texts into Karaite liturgical material.
So what does all this mean:
- Number 1 means that if Ronnu Shamayim appears in Rabbanite texts, it (likely) has not been reported publicly yet.
- Number 2 means we cannot discount the possibility that Ronnu Shamayim was written by Elyakim of Kaffa, a rabbanite (and searching his works would be worthwhile)
- Number 3 means that if we find Ronnu Shamayim in a historical rabbanite liturgical text, this is pretty solid evidence that Ronnu Shamayim was written by a Rabbanite.
So – here are the terms of the Bounty:
By June 7, 2023, be the first person to bring me definitive proof whether Elyakim was a Karaite or a Rabbanite and agree to allow me (and the Karaite Jews of America) to publish your findings in any media whatsoever (podcast, blog, book, article, website, magazine, etc.) and you will receive the $500 reward (subject to any taxes).
- Definitive Proof: Anything that in my sole discretion proves to me whether Elyakim was a Karaite or Rabbanite. The following shall per se constitute such proof (and shall not be subject to my discretion): inclusion of Ronnu Shamayim in a historical (pre 1900) Rabbanite liturgical text (manuscript or printed edition) shall constitute proof for the purpose of this bounty that Elyakim was not a Karaite.
Updates: I want to make clear what I already know:
- Ronnu Shamayim has the words/concept that the Torah existed for two thousand years before it was revealed at Sinai. There is no doubt that this belief is of Rabbinic origin. But many beliefs of rabbinic origin made their way into Karaism. So this is not good enough proof. MAYBE one day. MAYBE when we have all karaite literature text searchable we’d be able to see that this concept never made its way into Karaism. But until we determine that, then I cannot accept it as proof. And in any event because I am already aware of this possibility, it won’t count.
- Ronnu Shamayim refers to reciting the Shema twice a day (Kol Yom Pa’amayim, Nagdil shemo). Both Karaites and Rabbanites say the Shema twice a day. Every Friday night we karaites say in our liturgy, “Pa’amayim Be’ahava” followed by the Shema (again the words “Pa’amayim be’ahavah” appear to be taken from the Rabbinic liturgy).
BTW, here is a recording of Ronnu Shamayim:
And here it is with explanation and translation:
And here is a pure instrumental (at about the 40 second mark it a bunch of other instruments join in):
As mentioned above, there is another – clearly Rabbanite – poem attributed to some Elyakim or other that appears in Karaite texts. It is a havdala poem called Et Kos Yeshuot, and here is a recording:
Finally, here E’rog Bechol Libbi, a for Shavuot – by a Karaite, with the historical Karaite melody for it:
And here E’rog Bechol Libbi redone to the melody of the famous Rabbanite song Bizkhut Hemdat Levavi, and this melody is also used (though, less often) for the (Rabbanite) Havdala song Hammavdil ben Kodesh: