My copy of Alan A. Winter’s Savior’s Day. Quite a read!
I love reading anything that raises the profile of Karaites, even when the work is fictional. So, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on Alan A. Winter’s Savior’s Day, a recently published novel that mentions Karaites quite prominently.
Savior’s Day is historical fiction about a series of murders tied to the lost pages of the Aleppo Codex. It is a tale that spans centuries and takes us through many of the Middle Ages’ greatest Jewish communities: Jerusalem, Tiberias, Fostat, and Aleppo.
Only part of my proof that Karaites are awesome.
My law school classmates know that I’m not one to throw around a highly-technical term like “proof” willy-nilly. And I certainly would never use a phrase like “beyond a reasonable doubt” without good reason.
So, when I say that the Aleppo Codex is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that Karaites are awesome, I mean it in the most legalistic way possible. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, as a Karaite, I have to tell you not to rely on my opinion.
The gift that keeps on giving.
The new moon was sighted in Israel on May 11, 2013 – two days after the calculated Rabbinical calendar sets rosh chodesh (i.e., the start of the new month). As a result, most observant Karaites celebrated rosh chodesh on a different day from observant Rabbanites.
1100 years ago, though, (at least some) Palestinian Rabbanites set their calendar by the actual sighting of the new moon – and even observed “Rosh Hashanah” on a different day from the Babylonian Rabbanites.
Let’s face it: it’s April 11, 2013, and the only viable Jewish movements are Rabbanite ones. Even secular Jews operate completely within the Rabbinic framework.
This lack of religious diversity doesn’t bode well for historically non-Rabbinic movements such as Karaites. At some level, non-Rabbinic movements can only survive if (religious) Jews are open to adopting interpretations that, while differing from mainstream views, are consistent with the Tanakh.
But, fundamentally, it takes much more than “open-mindedness” on behalf of the Jewish community. It takes clear resolve and dedication on behalf of minority Jewish movements.
Several months ago, I wondered aloud: “What’s the difference between Kol Melacha and Melechet Avodah?” I still laugh at the response I got: “If only there were a book in which wise men discussed these issues and wrote it down.” Of course, the “book” referred to in the response is the Talmud and the “wise men” are the Rabbis.
Perhaps, I have Talmud envy – not in the 10th Commandment sense, of course. And definitely not in the “binding law” sense. But I would so love books that were highly-regarded expositions of Karaite thought and were widely available. I recently discussed this with someone whom I’d met through the Karaite Jewish University. His views were telling about the accessibility of Karaite literature: “Shawn, you can go into just about any major bookstore and find books on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which relate to a movement [i.e., the Essenes] that hasn’t existed for over 1000 years; but you can’t find a single book on Karaism, a movement that exists to this day.”
Karaites celebrating Purim in March 1987
Source: Mourad El-Kodsi, Karaite Jews of Egypt (p. 307)
Last week, I received an invitation to the Karaite Jews of America’s annual Purim Party. Karaites, at least those of Egyptian descent, have some unique Purim customs.
Professor Zvi Ankori, one of the most influential scholars in the field of Karaite Judaism, passed away last month.
Professor Ankori authored Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years, 970-1100, considered by many to be his magnum opus. The work is on the recommended reading list for the Karaite Jewish University.
In the introduction to the bibliography of Karaites in Byzantium, Professor Ankori wrote, “A comprehensive, classified, up-to-date bibliography of Karaitica is an urgent desideratum.” It was this sentence that, in part, inspired Professor Barry Dov Walfish to compile his recently-published Bibliographia Karaitica: An Annotated Bibliography of Karaites and Karaism.
Professor Ankori’s passing reminds me that one of my goals for this blog is to interview researchers and scholars in the field of Karaite Judaism. Perhaps we’ll do a handful of such interviews in the coming year.
Karaites and academics are indebted to Professor Ankori for his many contributions. I recently received the following necrology for Professor Ankori.