Alex Sinclair is a thinker. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. Unfortunately for him – and for his readers – his thought process short-circuited about 1000 years ago, during a time when polemics were commonplace and marginalization was fully accepted.
To be honest, writing a post about Alex Sinclair was not on my list of things to do today. I never even had heard of Sinclair until a relative (Go Lichaas!) sent me Sinclair’s blog post, “The Karaite Court.” My guess is that the target audience of his post hasn’t heard of Sinclair either; so he used the term Karaite in the title of his post to attract the largest audience possible – because virtually everyone he is trying to reach has heard of Karaites (for better or worse).
I used Alex Sinclair’s name in the title of my blog post, because – frankly – he is the only one I am trying to reach.
You can read his article here. It truly is cringeworthy. Sinclair’s main thesis is that the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe v. Wade is the hallmark of a “Karaite Court.”
At its core, Sinclair’s argument is the same as the memes going around depicting the current Supreme Court to be Islamists.
I doubt that Sinclair – again, a self-professed pluralist (and perhaps, liberal?) – would approve of this messaging. But when it comes to Karaites, somehow pluralistic values go out the door. To be clear, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is not based in Islam and is not based in Karaism.
I’m going to respond to a few aspects of Sinclair’s post that are particularly worthy of rebuttal. But don’t assume that because I didn’t comment on a different piece of his post that it is not equally wrong and vomit inducing.
Alex Sinclair is not a Pluralist (and any adjective I have for him is impolite):
Here’s what Sinclair wrote (emphasis added)
Of course, as a pluralist, I say live and let live, but however fascinating Karaite theology may be, it’s not Judaism. To be a Jew is to be a rabbinic Jew.
As a friend pointed out, this is the most hilarious (and infuriating) section of the whole thing. He identifies as a pluralist, but then goes on to exclude Karaite practice from Judaism. Usually, when one says they are a pluralist, they establish the biggest tent possible. For example, Sinclair taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary for 20 years. This is the leading seminary for the Conservative Movement.
Is the Conservative Movement in the pluralistic tent of Judaism? If so, where does he draw the line? Reconstructionist? Humanistic? Reform? We don’t actually know.
But we do know that Karaism is out of bounds. This is strange because Karaism is older – much older – than the Conservative Movement. He, of course, is free to define terms (like “Judaism”) however he wants; but it is rather rich to say that Karaism is not Judaism given that he references Karaite Judaism in his post.
Karaite Judaism rejects the oral law and rabbinic Judaism, focusing only on the observance of Biblical laws as they appear in the Bible.
The “originalist” approach that now appears to be the majority position of the US Supreme Court is the American equivalent of Karaite Judaism.
Sinclair inherently knows Karaism is a form of Judaism. He just needs us not to be a form of Judaism so he can manipulate his readers. This inconsistency in his terminology brings me to the most important point . . .
Alex Sinclair Doesn’t Care About Karaites – He’s Just Using Us.
Sinclair’s true beef is not with Karaites. He is writing to (presumably) Orthodox Rabbanite Jews who (apparently) are happy that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Karaites are merely a literary device to explain to Orthodox Jews that if you support overturning Roe v. Wade, you are just like a Karaite. As different friend pointed out, Sinclair probably isn’t expecting a Karaite to respond to him; he is hoping some Orthodox Jews get riled up, “Don’t call me a Karaite! How dare you?”
Karaites are, thus, reduced to the bogeyman.
On brand, Sinclair chooses the most cheesy examples to describe Karaites (we don’t light shabbat candles, we don’t wrap tefillin, etc.). He doesn’t actually engage with Karaite thought. He just wants to show how different we are from Rabbanites. It is rather peculiar for an educator (or at least a former educator) to reduce a population to a caricature – especially when he knows Karaites still exist.
There still exists a tiny community of Karaite Jews in pockets of Israel (Ramla, Ashdod and Beersheba).
This is what makes his blog post particularly cruel. I hope he finds peace.
Alex Sinclair Doesn’t Understand Karaism
According to Sinclair, using the Torah to guide us is un-Jewish.
To go back to our constitutional document – the Torah – and create halachah (Jewish law) from its original text, is just about the most un-Jewish thing you can possibly do. Why? Because we get that law changes.
What does this even mean? There are plenty of examples where Karaite interpretation has changed over time, even though the text (the Torah) has stayed the same.
For example, the predominant Karaite view in the medieval period was that fire was forbidden on Shabbat (even if lit before Shabbat). Some later Karaites believed that fire was permitted to the same extent as the Rabbanites permit it. Similarly, there was an evolution of Karaite views towards forbidden marriages, and on and on. In all of these instances, if the individual Karaite believed (after sincere search) something to be permitted or forbidden, she could practice as she chooses.
As yet a third friend pointed out (I have at least three friends!), there are even examples where the majority Karaite view is not 100% textual or original. For example, upon divorce, the Torah requires a man to provide his wife a sefer keritut (or “get”, divorce document). The purpose of the divorce document in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was to give the woman freedom to remarry. But what if the man refuses? The woman would be stuck (anchored) to the man. She’d be unable to marry anyone else – even while the man takes a “second” wife.
The accepted Karaite view is that a bet din can issue the woman a divorce document in the man’s place. This Karaite view is written nowhere in the Torah – but it is not controversial within Karaite quarters. (In contrast, a Rabbinic bet din, cannot – according to Rabbinic Halakha – issue a divorce document on behalf of a man refusing to do so.)
In this last case, Karaites applied the principle of hekesh (inference). The purpose of hekesh is to determine the underlying principles of the commandments and apply them to new situations (such as, “what do you do if the man refuses to give the divorce document”). Of course, Sinclair would have you believe that Karaites don’t know how to think through new situations, because he – not we – is a thinker.
Alex Sinclair Wants You to Believe he is a Thinker
Here is how Sinclair describes himself.
The opening line of this post (“Alex Sinclair is a thinker. Just ask him. He’ll tell you.”) is a tribute to the late Don Rickles.
The Unedited Version of this Post was much Better
I really did my best to be kind in this post. I had a bunch of zingers, but I thought better of it. (<– see what I did there.)
24 Responses to Alex Sinclair Is Using Karaites to Manipulate You
Yes, Alex Sinclair is an ass. How appropriate! Last Shabbat, we (I am a Rabbanite, but I have great respect for Karaite, Samaritan, and other Judaisms) read the Torah portion Balak, in which Bilaam’s ass speaks.
But I must remark that, while the thrust of your article is on target, you may have done to Rabbanite Judaism what Sinclair has done to Karaism. While it is generally true that a Rabbanite bet din will not act for the husband in giving a get to the wife, there are special extenuating circumstances where they may do so. Further, the bet din can and sometimes (admittedly not often enough) does) put pressure on the husband to force him to give a get to the wife.
Thank you! Definitely familiar with the pressure. (I’ve written and spoken about it before.) If you have an example where a Rabbinic Bet Din can issue a get in place of a competent get refuser, I’m all ears, and I will of course update the post.
By the way, what DO Karaites have to say about abortion?
Great question. But I don’t have any informative answers. Maybe I will see if it is mentioned at all.
Oh My. Alex has an adamant critical penchant towards Karaites.
A definite liking; a strong inclination.
synonym: predilection. Strong inclination; decided taste; liking; bias.
Karaites can chose biblical Torah law as it is written, or have the OPTION to chose to follow Karaite accepted hekesh on the issues where the “times they are a changing”, where Torah is not clear on that law, or where there is NO law at all to address modern issues.
Rabbinites have a choice too. They have both their interpretations from Rabbinical law and in their more modern day “sects” of Judaism, they also have chosen to adopt manmade hekesh practices for modern time, but again the laws are based on some selected sect’s group of holy men for basing their fundamental practices and interpretations.
Sorry Mr. Sinclair but none of this rewriting or reinterpretation of TORAH law, according to TORAH, was intended to be the foundational fundamentals of Judaism.
So how does that make a Karaite not a Jew?
Karaites do not make it a habit of using Rabbinites fundamentals to strengthen our causes for any reason in publishing blogs or articles defaming the Rabbinite sects. Have we as Karaites done something to YOU personally to warrant this article? Are Karaites that much of a threat to all the other Judaism sects? IF so, bring it out. Lets resolve the damages done to you by our Karaite fundamentals.
Interesting perspective Mr. Sinclair. I am not a Karaite, while the Karaites also have their rabbis that give personal perspectives on the meanings in Hashem’s written Torah. After years of study into this subject, it is apparent that G-d has provided His views many times referencing Traditional Rabbinical Judaism’ Oral Torah.
Two examples of G-d telling the Rabbis and Sages of their deeds:
Shame on him who argues with his Maker, Though naught but a potsherd of earth! Shall the clay say to the potter, Your work has no handles”?
Shame on him who asks his father, “What are you begetting?” Or a woman, “What are you bearing?”
Thus said the LORD, Israel’s Holy One and Maker: Will you question Me on the destiny of My children, Will you instruct Me about the work of My hands?
It was I who made the earth And created man upon it; My own hands stretched out the heavens, And I marshaled all their host.
“My Lord said: Because that people has approached [Me] with its mouth And honored Me with its lips, But has kept its heart far from Me, And its worship of Me has been A commandment of men, learned by rote—”
Even Maimonides, the great Sage finally admitted that man’s Traditional Rabbinical Oral Testament is pure fiction. Read this text for yourself.
Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah 9
ERROR… Check the following link for Maimonides’ statement concerning Rabbinical Oral Laws.
Alex here, responding. The point of my piece was to critique the originalist bent of the Supreme Court, not Karaite Judaism. I certainly did not mean to offend or insult Karaite Jews, and if I made errors in my use of Karaite Judaism as a rhetorical analogy, I apologize unreservedly. However, the core argument of my article still holds: to revere an original foundational text (Constitution/Torah) should not require us to be bound to its original historical meaning or context. In current American political discourse around abortion, gun control, and other items, that core understanding is critically important.
I also want to add that the tone of your post is not very nice. I may have made mistakes about Karaite Judaism, and maybe that is infuriating because many people make similar mistakes, but the ad hominem insults about me are uncalled for.
Again, I was trying to make an argument about the Supreme Court. I’m sorry if I misrepresented you improperly in too loose an analogy.
I understood the point of the critique. But it is hard to believe that you did not intend to offend when you erased Karaite identity by denying our Jewishness, and when you included (among other things) the line “Oh, and sorry, Karaites, but we light Shabbat candles too, as it is written, um, nowhere in the Torah.”
Instead of taking on the Christian/Catholic religious politics staring directly at you, you intentionally veered out of your way to hit Karaites. We know why, you wanted to punch down.
More importantly, though, your response here is not an apology. It is a defense (let me tell you why I did it) and a deflection (about the tone of my post). The main part of your response that could be interpreted as an apology starts with an “if” and is followed up with a “however”, and the words in between are not what you need to apologize for. You apologized if you made errors in your use of Karaite Judaism as a rhetorical analogy. But what you need to apologize for is the mere fact that you made this hateful analogy.
And most importantly, your response here makes it even more apparent that you thought you could speak about Karaites like this because you don’t view us as people. You view us caricatures.
Though I tend to agree with the comments, I feel it would be appropriate if a comment that uses ‘we’ and is of a person who thus self- defines as a Karaite, to identity himself and background- as he uses his intentification to give greater weight to his critique.
I’m the owner of the blog.
May I ask them..I hope it is not too inquisitive..but of course if you don’t wish to reply it’s understandable.. Are you a Karaite, in the sense, of a descendant of Karaites, from a particular background historically that you have been able to research.. a few generations back, or have you chosen, having had a different background, to take on this belief system? In view of the small numbers of surviving Karaite communities, in different parts of the world, there probably is a relevance to such a question. Shabbat shalom.
So, I am hesitant to answer the questions because *all* sincere Karaites are Karaites. But given the nature of this post, I do see the relevance. I am a Karaite Jew, from an historical Karaite Jewish family, raised in a Karaite Jewish community. I am also the founder of The Karaite Press – where you can find all sorts of resources on Karaite Judaism. TheKaraitePress.com
1. I fully respect Karaite faith and wish to learn more as to this, as well as to history in different parts of world, where there were periods of mutual cooperation and respect and often fierce hatred and conflict, between Karaites and Jews.
2. I would today respect Karaites and their traditions and beliefs, though of course, as an orthodox Jew, I disagree with these practices and ideas.
3. I expect of others, of different faiths, to accord my Jewish faith the full respect that I give to others. This involves, not seeking to pursuade to my faith outlook anyone brought up in a different faith. I expect this of non-Jews, equally.
4. It is thus that I question your frameworks and writing and initiative as I am suspicious that these principles are not necessarily respected. I don’t know- I need to ask you..but I find it disturbing the role of such a person as Nehemiah Gordon.. who seems to freely discuss different faiths while leaving his own religious background and faith, unrevealed. This concerns me.
5. I have always favoured full respect and dialogue between different religious faith groups- with Moslems, Christians, Samaritans, Karaites.. others..only as king as this respect is kept- and no one seems to project hybrid mixed outlooks. Each religious faith group has its integral framework. I don’t feel that Nehemiah Gordon is conceptually in this area, yet he is somehow connected to writings that you have produced. I am unclear as to what this means as to your general approach to others of different faiths. I would appreciate any clarifications..as to the mutual respect out of which genuine relations between different faith groups are possible, in my view. If this is not there in the way I would understand, I would not respect such people or what they seek.
As for Nehemia Gordon – I don’t quite understand the critique. It is not for me to speak on his behalf. I consider him a friend and mentor. But you can direct any questions to him.
As for persuasion, I specifically have a policy of not trying to convince Rabbanites to become Karaites. You can read my blog and watch my videos to see what my approach is. I will let that record speak for itself.
I respect all faiths and be pleased to discuss matters of interest with believers in other faiths, Christianity, Islam, Karaites, Samaritans, and others.
However, among the faith groups and peoples Judaism, being a faith that predates the others, has had little need to justify itself whilst the later beliefs -for their own self worth- have been more involved in denigrating earlier texts and faiths.
That is why I asked you as to your Karaite identity..to hear if you are ‘real’ or a convert- for a convert had a previous identity/ faith group that he/ she chose to leave.
In the principles I wrote: I expressed the view that I would not wish to discuss faith with someone who rejected Judaism.. a ‘meshumad’ or someone of the other religions, who wishes to show his belief is superior to my faith.. as these other faiths wish to do to justify their later messages.
That is why I questioned your connection with this Gordon. He is, I understand, a Jew, who has rejected his faith and his people. You, yourself may respect Jews..and not wish to convert them to your beliefs, but any such convert as Gordon, surely does. I cannot respect such a person. Nor would I bother to say this to him. His choices are his own.
But you wrote certain things with him.. and you call him a mentor.
So I feel, despite you being from a genuine Karaism, that I can respect- there is a major question mark for me to be in any way connected with activities that are contrary to a principle of non-mixing- concepts, seeking to undermine the faith of another. In that sense your connection with such a person, is disappointing. Maybe you don’t understand me.. but all your words of not seeking to pursuade others of the value of Karaism, seem to me false if you have one Jew, who rejected Judaism, as your mentor. It is not to Gordon that I put my critique, but to you and all your Karaite endeavour, that goes to waste by this error on your part.
Hi David, I infer from your comments that you believe a Jew rejecting Judaism is a grievous sin. If so, I hope that you discuss this matter with the person you are accusing or have appropriate proof of the accusation if you are going to say this publicly. As I mentioned, I don’t speak on behalf of him.
Yes. But that is not the point- though it is not merely a religious issue, but a peoplehood rejection. My point is that person, is involved personally with preferring a over b, and has chosen his choice.
That is not a person to discuss with respect, neither Judaism or Karaism. Thus I will not seek his chochma, or discuss with him his insights. He is not in the framework of respectful interchange, between people of different faiths.
You are- as you are a genuine descendant of real Karaites. With you respectful discussion is posdible- but you chose to see this person as s ‘mentor’- so you say.. and you have joined him in writings. So you too in my mind are suspect of not holding the principles that I feel are essential for interfaith respectful debate.
I think there are simply errors, conceptual ones too, in Sinclair’s piece. The Karaites are essentially a Jewish sect. They differ from other Jews in their outlook on the binding halacha, rejecting oral law as crystallised in Mishna, Talmud and later decisors. However, Karaites have some kind of interpretive process and their practices are by no means restricted to a literal understanding of biblical texts. Due to different rules in family law, there may arise certain halachic problems, re intermarriage with regular Jews. However, status-wise, I think Karaites are considered as Jews in Israel, having other practices- though schismatic, nevertheless Jews.
This my first post and reading on Blue thread. It is unfortunate for Jews everywhere to see that a self professed pluralist attack other Jews. As pointed out so well by the Blue thread person that Sinclair offer no apology in his justification but excuses in what Sinclair calls an unreserved apology. I am glad to know he stopped teaching as he contradict himself by saying:”Karaite theology may be, it’s not Judaism.” and then he also says”I certainly did not mean to offend or insult Karaite Jews, ” . Is he in conflict with his own beliefs? Are they Jews or not because based of the dictionary definition of Jews and Judaism they are. . Any students of his would be very confused, especially is they are thinkers.
Definition of a Jew in oxford dictionary:”a member of the people and cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their origins through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel to Abraham.”
Definition of Judaism: Judaism is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, and ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. It has its roots as an organized religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age.
For Mr. Sinclair information Hebrews lived in the Middle east around and in what is officially known today as Israel” Karaites sJudaism tarted in the Middle East in Iraq.
In my view the picture portraying the supreme court is an insult to all of Americans that died defending the principles that the Supreme court stand for. “Our constitution” and in our Jewish religion our constitution is our ” Torah”.
To portray the 9 supreme court judges’ the way he did for upholding the interpretation of the constitution regardless of our personal believes is hateful and loathsome. It is teh same as hating the Rabbis that interpret the Talmud. American were killed by the individuals looking like caricature he created. He made them look as Osama Ben laden. Not only does he need to apologize to all here but also t the Supreme court Judges for his disrespect. We do not have to agree or disagree with their rulings but we all agree we owe them respect.
If we did what he did to the Rabbis that interpret the Torah because we do not believer agree with their interpretations we would be doing exactly what he did to the supreme court judges.
Mr. Sinclair advertise his book: “loving the real Israel. ” I hate to read what is “the real Israel” in his view because there is no fake Israel. We are all Jews and Israel is composed of pluralistic people.
I wish him peace of mind and hope his next post will be a full retraction and a complete unequivocal apologies followed by learning more about being a Karaite Jew.
We out here in the “diaspora” of North America, will have to answer to Hashem for our nations rulings that are not representative of TORAH law. We get the government we deserve!
And so it is the same with ISRAEL. HASHEM’s LAND.
I am much more concerned about the modern day practices and modern Jewish sect interpretations that are corrupting ISRAEL’s HOLYNESS as the Promised Land for ALL Hebrews. In lieu of TORAH LAW, the nation is adopting political based agendas that are moving further and further away from the LANDS intended TORAH LAWS, due to political affiliations that place NON-JEWS in the Executive leadership positions of the nation. The nation is falling to social pressure for laws that defy TORAH and replace it with “social progressivism” and the nation is embracing coexistence with “pagan tribal practices” and endorsing scientific technology and Pharma research that is to be used worldwide, that is defying the power of creation of LIFE and DEATH that is Hashem’s power alone, and not intended for man to replicate or clone or use stem cells from aborted fetuses to prosper in the industry of “healthcare”.
It is past due time for ALL of us as JEWS to return to that ONE common core of ALL Judaism, that binds us in our covenant with Hashem…and with ISRAEL as HIS LAND…HIS TORAH.
And to PRAY and ask forgiveness that Hashem does not take the nation of Israel completely away from us, THE JEWS.
So very well said. Thank you.
so glad that you responded to this clearly disrespectful post. and to be sure, there is a difference between intent and impact and Rambam gave us rabbinites some tools to move through teshuva and Dr. Sinclair could take some time to review because that apology doesn’t seem like he understands the process.
it is also clear that Dr. Sinclair doesn’t know about the Karaites and seems to want to be stuck there. what a shonda.
sending reconstructionist Jewish love to all y’all.
It is interesting to note that the Karaites, who follow and observe the Tanakh, were primarily located in Egypt before and during World War II. It is also worth mentioning that during the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler murdered over 6 million Rabbinical Jews in gas chambers and ovens, while those who observed the written Torah were spared. Hitler was unable to enter Egypt, and the Karaites survived the war and continue to exist today.
As for whether Hashem had anything to do with this documented happening, that is a matter of personal belief and interpretation. While some may view it as a miraculous intervention, others may see it as a matter of chance or coincidence. It is difficult to say for certain what role, if any, divine intervention played in this historical event.