ETHNONYMS: Ba'ale Mikra, Binei Mikra, Israelite Karaites, Karaim, Karaite Jews, Qaraites
Identification. The name "Karaite" is derived from the Hebrew word, kara, "to read," emphasizing the adherence of the group to the Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings to the exclusion of the Talmud, or postbiblical rabbinic commentary, which the Karaites reject as a source of divine law. An alternative meaning of "kara" is "to call, to invite," which signifies the missionary efforts in which Karaites once engaged to draw people to their faith. The origins of Karaism are disputed. Some trace the roots of Karaism to one of the non-Pharisaic groups in the Second Temple period such as the Sadduccees, Essenes, or Dead Sea Scroll Covenanters. Others attribute the "founding" of Karaism to Anan ben David, a candidate for the exilarchate, the position of chief representative of Jewry, in Baghdad during the eighth century. In any case, questions of sources, authority, and interpretation of the Law are one of the few issues that have given rise to separate movements within Judaism, and such is the basis of the dispute between Karaites and Rabbinites, or Talmudic Jews. The Karaites are the oldest surviving Jewish group that opposes rabbinic Judaism.
Location. The majority of Karaites are found in Israel. Israeli Karaites are mostly of Egyptian origin, although a very small group of them immigrated from Hitt, Iraq.
Demography. It is difficult to ascertain the numbers of Karaites who resided in Egypt in the twentieth century because population statistics vary. The Egyptian census recorded 4,507 Karaites in 1927; 3,260 in 1937; and 3,486 in 1947. A Karaite source estimates that there were 4,000 to 5,000 Karaites living in Cairo in 1952. The same source indicates that between 1948 and 1956 fewer than 100 Karaites left Egypt, despite a bomb that exploded in the Karaite quarter of Cairo in 1948, killing 17 Karaites. In 1956, however, after Abdul Nasser expelled foreign nationals from Egypt in retaliation for the invasion of his country by France, Britain, and Israel during the Sinai Campaign, many Karaites who were not forcibly deported nevertheless chose to leave. By 1959, less than 2,000 Karaites remained. The second major exodus of Karaites followed the Six Day War (5-10 June 1967). As a result of that conflict, young Karaites and Rabbinites were imprisoned in Egypt for two years. By 1970, no more than 300 Karaites remained. In the late twentieth century only a handful of Karaites, all elderly, are to be found in Cairo.
The population figures on Karaites in Israel are not exact because, for both political and religious reasons, the Karaites do not allow themselves to be counted. Population estimates range from 8,000 to 25,000. Approximately 1,000 Karaites of Egyptian origin live in the United States. Significantly smaller numbers are scattered in other countries, including Canada, France, Switzerland, England, Brazil, and Australia. Karaite communities once established in Eastern Europe have largely disappeared, although 100 families still remain in Istanbul. Linguistic Affiliation. Karaites in Israel speak Hebrew and Arabic. Karaites who came from Poland, Lithuania, and the Crimea spoke their own Turkic language, Karaimic or Karay, which contained some Hebrew words and was written in Hebrew script.
History and Cultural Relations
Several major factors contributed to the crystallization of Karaism as a distinct branch of Judaism, beginning in the eighth century. The spread of Islam and the messianic atmosphere that it created influenced the spirit of the Jews in newly Islamicized countries. The conformity to the Babylonian Talmud enforced on Jews living on the peripheries of the Diaspora opened up the possibility of questioning the right of one Jewish administration to have authoritative control over the entire domain of Jewish Law. Finally, the tolerance of Muslim rulers to religious diversity made it feasible for religious dissenters to declare their independence from the dominant group; however, whereas the Karaites expressed their Opposition to rabbinic authority in the form of messianic asceticism, the content of their beliefs and practices had its foundation in pre-Islamic Judaism.
Karaism eventually spread east to Persia and west to Palestine, Egypt, and Spain. Palestine, in particular, became an important center for Karaites in the tenth century, owing to an emphasis on Avelei Zion (mourners of Zion), who called for a return to Jerusalem. Karaites also settled in Turkey; in the twelfth century Karaites began to move into the Crimea and, later, into Lithuania and Poland.
Karaite settlement in Egypt can be traced back to around the ninth century. Karaites were relatively affluent and influential members of the Jewish community during the first several hundred years of their movement's formai existence. Ketubot (marriage contracts) stipulating the rights of Karaite and Rabbinite partners were found in the Cairo Geniza and provided evidence for the occurrence of "mixed" marriages. During this period, the Rabbinites also adopted certain Karaite practices such as purifying themselves with running water rather than immersion in the mikva, or ritual bath. When Maimonides, a highly regarded Rabbinite religious scholar, came to Cairo in the late twelfth century, he severely admonished the Rabbinites for imitating Karaite customs, and his anti-Karaite polemics prevailed. For the most part, social distance between the two communities continued into the twentieth century, in spite of the fact that Karaites and Rabbinites lived in adjacent quarters in Cairo—Harat al-Yahud and Harat al-Yahud al-Qarain.
The economic position of the Karaites fluctuated with the times, but their political security remained relatively constant until 1956. For example, during Mamluk rule in Egypt (1260-1517), the Karaites were recognized as a distinct group within the Jewish community and fell under the protection of the dhimma, or "People of the Book," as did the Rabbinite Jews. They continued to be granted autonomous status as a religious group under the millet system of the Ottomans and to function, more or less, as an independent religious community until their immigration to Israel in the 1950s. Despite their separate status, however, Egyptian Karaites always regarded themselves and were regarded as Jews by both Rabbinite and Muslim Egyptians.
The majority of the world's Karaites now live in Israel. They came to Israel under the Law of Return (a law that grants automatic citizenship to Jews); they participate in the military and are enrolled in the same educational institutions as Rabbinites. Nevertheless, the Karaites have faced many obstacles to maintaining a distinct identity within Israeli society. These obstacles include discrimination they have encountered as Middle Eastern Jews, the unwillingness of the Chief Rabbinate to recognize or support trends within Judaism that deviate from Orthodoxy, and the influence of secularism. Karaite leaders have taken measures to counter these forces by organizing summer camps, after-school religious instruction, parties for youth, and international conferences to renew and strengthen ties with other Karaite communities, and by publishing a bimonthly bulletin.
In Israel, Ramla is the administrative and spiritual center of the Karaite community and houses the office of the Karaite chief rabbi. A community can also be found in Jerusalem, where a Karaite synagogue, allegedly dating to the time of Anan ben David, is located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This synagogue is a subterranean structure. The reasons for the underground site cannot be substantiated, but several interpretations are available. A political reason given is that Islamic authorities made it illegal for Jews to erect synagogues at the time of construction; others suggest that the underground site is a metaphorical application of a biblical passage, "From the depths, hear us, oh Lord." In addition to Ramla and Jerusalem, Karaites are concentrated in Ashdod, Bat-Yam, Beersheva, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, and the agricultural settlements of Moshav Masliach and Moshav Renan.
The majority of Karaites in Cairo worked as artisans—primarily as gold- and silversmiths—or engaged in trade or peddling. Some attained positions as doctors and lawyers or entered the commercial middle class. In Israel, most Karaites hold working-class occupations such as construction or factory work or middle-class occupations such as teaching or permanent military personnel.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kin Groups and Descent. The Karaites trace descent patrilineally: a child must have a Karaite father to be considered a Karaite. Karaites base this practice on the fact that, in the Bible, tribes are given male names and that biblical characters are always referenced by their fathers' names. Because the Karaites do not presently allow converts, membership in the group is determined by birth only.
Marriage. Historically, Karaite-Rabbinite marriages occurred, but the Karaites are currently an endogamous group, at least ideologically. Karaites have a category of forbidden marriages called gilui ariyot (incest) that differs from that of the Rabbinites and is cited as a central obstacle to intermarriage. In this category, men are prohibited from marrying their father's sisters or mother's sisters, and women are prohibited from marrying their father's brothers or their mother's brothers. The offspring of such unions would be considered mamzerim (bastards) and would be forever forbidden from taking a marriage partner. Among the Rabbinites, the prohibition applies exclusively to men. Moreover, unlike Rabbinites, Karaites do not require levirate marriage.
For a marriage to take place, three conditions must be met. These include a written contract, mhar (bride-price), and sexual consummation. In Egypt, the Karaite community permitted its members to practice polygyny, although actual occurrences were relatively rare. In Israel, polygyny is illegal. If a marriage is unsuccessful, Karaite law grants women the same rights to divorce as men. In the event that a husband refuses to deliver a get (bill of divorcement) to his wife, and the Karaite beit-din (religious court) agrees that a divorce is justified, then it will grant the couple a divorce by judicial decree. In Israel, because the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate has exclusive legal authority in matters of personal status concerning Jews, the Karaite beit-din is currently operating in a de facto rather than a de jure manner.
Domestic Unit. The Karaite family is basically patriarchal. Among the very religious, menstruating women must sleep and sit in separate spaces from men and are prohibited from entering the kitchen and engaging in food preparation for a seven-day period. These practices highlight the centrality of men in ritual roles because the practices are intended to help guard men from impurity so that they may participate in synagogue services. In Egypt, where Karaites often lived in extended families, postmenopausal women would commonly assume all household chores while younger women were menstruating; in Israel, where the nuclear family is more the norm, men and boys sometimes assume these domestic duties.
Despite the fact that the women's movements are restricted in certain areas, unlike the Rabbinites, Karaite men do not recite prayers thanking God that they were not born women. Karaite women are also allowed relative freedom of dress and may dispose of property without their husbands' permission.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The main principle underlying Karaite Judaism can be summed up by a statement attributed to Anan ben David: "Don't rely upon me, but study diligently the Holy Scripture." Hence, according to Karaite belief, every person has the ability to comprehend the word of the Torah, and intermediaries are not required to mediate between humans and God. As a result, rabbis are never elevated to saintly status as they are in some Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish traditions. Additionally, although Karaites do have books of commentary, they are not regarded as binding documents that dictate human action.
The Karaite religion has three basic components. The first is the written text of the Bible. The Torah is regarded as perfect and complete on the basis of the following passage: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah, your God, which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). The second is hekesh, or analogy. For example, the Bible forbids marriages between a man and his mother's or father's sister, so by analogy, a woman is forbidden to marry her father's brother or mother's brother. The third is sevel hayerusha (lit., "burden of inheritance"). These are customs that have been transmitted from one generation to another that are viewed as not contradicting or concealing the intent of the biblical text. For example, when a boy is circumcised on the eighth day as commanded by the Torah, the baby is placed on a velvet pillow and introduced to the mother several times by another relative prior to the actual procedure. In Egypt bar mitzvahs were not held for boys coming of age, but in Israel Karaites frequently hold bar mitzvahs, because of pressures to conform, and the practice may become integrated into their sevel hayerusha.
Karaite interpretations of biblical commandments sometimes vary from those of Rabbinite Jews. For example, the passages from Deuteronomy (6:8-9 and 11:18-20), "And thou shall bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes" and "And thou shall write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates," are taken allegorically to mean that one must always keep God's commandments in mind. Thus, it was not Karaite custom to use tefellin (phylacteries) or mezuzot (doorpost scrolls; sing. mezuzah ). In Israel, however, Karaites have developed a modified form of mezuzah in the shape of the Ten Commandments.
Karaite interpretations of the Bible may also be more literal than those of Rabbinite Jews. For example, the passage from Exodus that prohibits the seething of a kid in its mother's milk is taken at its word and does not require the separation of all meat and all milk.
The Karaites formally oppose any practices related to astrology, divination, luck, or fate. Nevertheless, some Karaites adopted folk beliefs and practices from their Egyptian surroundings, such as the use of amulets to ward off the evil eye or determining one's future through the reading of coffee grinds.
Religious Practitioners. In Egypt, Karaite religious practitioners were called hakhamim (sages or wise ones). The leader of the community was addressed as hakham akbar and oversaw the activities of the religious court and the religious council. These leaders were not always of Egyptian origin and sometimes came from as far away as Crimea or Turkey.
In Israel, hakhamim are also referred to as rabbis. A chief rabbi is elected by a Karaite religious council comprised of shohetim (ritual slaughterers), mohelim (circumcisers), and rabbis. In 1991 Karaites opened a beit midrash (house of study) in Jerusalem to train future rabbis. Prior to that, Karaite rabbis were trained through apprenticeship to other rabbis.
Ceremonies. The Karaite synagogue is treated, as much as possible, as a microcosm of the Temple on the basis of a passage from Ezekiel (11:16), "Although I have removed them far away among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a minor sanctuary in the countries whither they are come." The Karaites make every effort to maintain their synagogue in a state of purity for worshipers at the time of daily prayers, Shabbat (Sabbath), and holidays. Menstruating women and women who have just given birth are not allowed to enter the synagogue. Likewise, people who have recently engaged in sexual relations or come in contact with the dead are forbidden entry to this holy site. Those who do enter, males and females alike, must cover their heads and remove their shoes because it is written, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). The synagogue floor is covered with rugs and the worshipers pray facing Jerusalem and prostrate themselves facing the Ark as the priests prostrated themselves toward the Temple altar.
The Karaites attempt to structure their prayer services after Temple activities. Two services are held every day, one at sunrise and one at sunset, to correspond with the times that sacrifices were performed at the Temple. On Shabbat and holidays, additional prayers are recited to replace the extra sacrifice that would have been offered. On these days a Torah scroll referred to as the "Sefer Kourban" (Sacrifice Book) is also removed from a glass case and opened in lieu of the Temple sacrifice.
Shabbat is viewed as a time for spiritual pleasures rather than worldly pleasures. Unlike the Rabbinites, the Karaites strictly forbid sexual intercourse on Shabbat because it generates impurity and is considered a form of labor. Shabbat candles are not lit, and any use of fire is prohibited. Food is eaten cold.
The Karaite calendar is based on the actual observance of the new moon or the possibility of the observance of the new moon based on available scientific data. Holidays can fall on any day of the week, with the exception of Shuvuot (Feast of Weeks) because it is stated in Leviticus that the Omer should be counted from "the morrow of the Sabbath" (23:15). Passover and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) are observed for seven days rather than eight.
Therefore, the dates of holidays do not necessarily coincide with those of the Rabbinites. The shofar (ram's horn) is not blown on Yom HaTeruah (Day of Shouting or Cheer, known to Rabbinites as "Rosh Hashannah") because neither the Temple nor the Temple altar are still standing. Hanukkah is not celebrated because it is a holiday of postbiblical origin.
Passover is a very central holiday for Egyptian Karaites because it serves as an allegory for their own historical exodus from Egypt. During the Passover seder, or meal, which is only held one night, the Karaites read from their own Haggadah that retells the story of the hasty departure of the Jews from Egypt in biblical times. Instead of wine, they drink a homemade grape juice from red, seedless raisins because they say that the juice would not have had an opportunity to ferment, and they eat bitter herbs and lamb. During Passover week, Karaites refrain from eating leavened bread, anything derived from soaked grains, or food prepared outside of the home.
Arts. The Karaites have a body of literature that addressed issues of Karaite law (halakhah ). Two of the authors that continue to be studied and cited frequently by contemporary Karaite scholars are Aaron ben Elijah, known as the "latter," who wrote Gan Eden and Keter Torah and lived in the fourteenth century in Nicomedia and Constantinople, and Elijah ben Moses Basyatchi who wrote Aderet Eliahu and lived in the fifteenth century in Constantinople.
Another aspect of the arts that plays a central role in Karaite life is traditional Karaite music. Music is an integral part of Karaite services and life-cycle ceremonies and consists of two broad categories. The first is that of synagogue liturgy and is derived primarily from the Psalms; the second is a body of poetic texts sung after services or for occasions such as weddings or circumcisions. The musical style creates an atmosphere of community and cohesion, but the unique contributions of talented participants are also highlighted, and women as well as men are allowed to display their knowledge and skills.
Colligan, Sumi (1980). "Religion, Nationalism, and Ethnicity in Israel: The Case of the Karaite Jews." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University.
El-Kodsi, Mourad (1987). The Karaite Jews of Egypt from 1882-1985. Lyons, N.Y.: Wilprint Press.
Hirshberg, Jehoash (1989). "The Role of Music in the Renewed Self-Identity of Karaite Jewish Refugee Communities from Cairo." Yearbook for Traditional Music 21:36-56.
Kramer, Gudrun (1989). The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914-1952. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Mann, Jacob (1935). Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
Nemoy, Leon (1952). Karaite Anthology: Excerpts from the Early Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press.
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites
ETHNONYMS: Ba'ale Mikra, Binei Mikra, Karaim
Identification. Karaites or Karaim are followers of non-Talmudic Judaism and thus are distinct from rabbinic Jews such as the Ashkenazim. Karaites adhere to the Torah and Pentateuch, the books of the Prophets, and the Writings—and exclude the Talmud, the post-Torah rabbinical commentary, which is accepted by other Jews. In Russia today, the few remaining Karaites live principally in cities.
Demography. It is virtually impossible to estimate the number of Karaites at the time of their appearance in the region of the former USSR. By the end of the eighteenth century the number of Karaites was approximately 3,800. During the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were significant migrations. Many Karaites returned from Galicia and Volynia to the Crimea. In Crimea, Karaites moved from the mountains to the coast, primarily to Yevpatoria and Feodosia. As a result, the ancient Karaite center of Mangul was deserted and the population of Chufut-Kale declined significantly. At the same time Karaites were migrating from the Crimea to other Black Sea cities (Odessa, Nikolaev, Kherson) as well as to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In the mid-1840s the number of Karaites reached approximately 6,000. The principal center was Yevpatoria, with a Karaite population of 2,000. At the end of the 1870s there were 10,000 Karaites, and by the beginning of the twentieth century the Karaite population was around 12,800, 90 percent of whom lived in cities.
As a result of the Revolution, the number of Karaites at the beginning of the 1920s declined to 12,400, and by the beginning of World War II there were less than 12,000. In 1937, according to Karaite tradition, 483 Karaite families were relocated from the Crimea to Lithuania. Because of World War II and assimilation, at the end of the 1940s about 7,000 Karaites lived in the USSR, and another several thousand lived in Poland and other countries. The 1959 Soviet census records 5,700 Karaites; the 1970 census shows 4,600; and the 1979 census only 3,300. At the present time, the number of Karaites in Russia is no more than 2,000 to 2,500. Several thousand East European Karaites live elsewhere in Europe and the United States. There is also a Karaite community of as many as 25,000 of Middle Eastern origin in Israel and a remnant population in Egypt.
Linguistic Affiliation. Karaites in the former USSR speak Karaite, one of the languages of the Turkic Group, in three dialects: Crimean, Halicz-Lutsk, and Trakai. Of the contemporary Turkic languages, Karaite is closest to the Crimean Tatar language. Before the 1917 October Revolution, Karaites used Hebrew as a written language, which at the end of the nineteenth century began to be replaced by Russian, and in the 1920s and the 1930s by Polish and Lithuanian. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries attempts were made to create a written Karaite literary language based on the Hebrew alphabet, which was later replaced by the Russian alphabet in Russia and by the Latin alphabet in Poland. Use of the written Karaite language, however, was never widespread. At present, most Karaites consider Russian their native language, and only 15 percent of Karaites, the overwhelming majority of whom are older people, continue to speak Karaite.
History and Cultural Relations
The origin of the Karaites is not clear. In one widely accepted view, the Karaite sect of Judaism is believed to have been founded by Anan ben David in Baghdad at the beginning of the eighth century. The teachings of ben David were directed against the influence of the Talmud and found many adherents among the Jewish population of Babylonia. The original followers of the sect called themselves Ananites; they were joined by followers of other Jewish sects. In the ninth and tenth centuries the new teachings were consolidated, and the sect began to be called Karaite. Followers of Karaitism actively proselytized their teachings among Jews of the Near East, and soon followers appeared in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East as well as in Europe, as far as Spain, where, however, their presence was brief.
In the twelfth century Karaites settled in the Byzantine Empire, from which some migrated to the Crimea. The presence of Karaites in the ancient capital of the Crimean Khanate, Solkhat (now Stary Krym), in the fourteenth century is documented, although the Karaite influence was observed earlier. For instance, the twelfth-century Jewish traveler Pethahiah of Regensburg met members of a sect similar to the Karaites in the southern Russian steppes, populated at that time by Turkish nomads. Karaites settled throughout the Crimean Peninsula, and Chufut-Kale (also called Sela Yehudin, "Jewish Cliff"), Mangul, Feodosia, and Yerpatoria also became major centers of the Karaite community.
Tradition has it that in 1392, after a successful march into the Crimea, Crown Prince Vitovt of Lithuania settled several hundred Karaites in his state, in Trok (now Trakai, near Vilnius), Lutsk, Halicz, and Krasny Ostrov (called by Karaites Kukizov, near Lvov). Karaites later appeared in other cities of Lithuania, Podolia, and Volyn' (Panevezhes, Sauliai, Derazhnia, and others).
Legal rights of Karaites in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom and in the Crimean Khanate did not differ from the rights of other Jews. Both communities had the same rights, bore the same responsibilities, and paid the same taxes—equal to those collected from the surrounding populations—or special Jewish taxes. The treatment of Karaites and Jews at this time was similar. For example, in 1495, Karaites, along with Talmudic Jews, were exiled from Lithuania, returning in 1503. At the time of the Bogdan Khmelnitsky pogroms of 1648, many Karaites were killed along with other Jews. In 1679, in the village of Shaty, near Trok, Karaites were accused of the ritual murder of a Christian child. As a result of the help of other Jews, the case was dismissed in 1680 and the Karaites escaped undeserved punishment. This similar treatment led to the establishment of friendly relations between the communities before the conquest of the Crimea and Poland by Russia at the end of the eighteenth century.
After their settlement in the Crimea, under Tartar rule, the intellectual life of the Karaites effectively ceased. Only after the resettlement of part of the community in the Polish-Lithuanian State, where they came into contact with European civilization and with Ashkenazi Jews, did a spiritual reawakening of Karaitism begin. First, liturgical works were translated into Karaite. Later, in the fifteenth century, Karaites of Lutsk and Trok entered into correspondence with the reknowned Karaite scholar Elijah Bashyazi of Constantinople, and some became his students.
A significant number of Karaite scholars appeared among the Karaites in Trok in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. These included Joseph Malinovsky, Zerah ben Nathan, Shlomo Troki, and Abraham ben Joshua. The best known of them, Isaac ben Abraham Troki (1533-1594), wrote a polemical anti-Christian work, "Hizzuk Emuna" (The Strengthening of Faith) in 1593, first issued in Latin translation under the title "Tela ignea Satanae" in 1681. This work became widely known among Christians, who published many refutations.
Under the influence the Karaites of Trok, intellectual activity grew among the Karaites in Lutsk and Galich. In 1699 Mordechai ben Nisan Kukizov wrote two treatises on Karaitism. His relative, Joseph ben Samuel ha-Mashbiz, the author of many theological works, became a hakham (pl., hakhamim ; wise one, the community leader) of Halicz and laid the foundations for an entire dynasty of hakhamim and hazzanim (religious leaders).
Beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, an active intellectual life arose among the Karaites of the Crimea, associated with the arrival of a group of scholars from Lutsk. Notwithstanding the existence of a large number of scholars among these Karaites, however, there was a noticeable shortage of hakhamim and hazzanim, as well as of teachers (melanmedim ), in their communities.
Lithuania was conquered by Russia in 1783, and the Crimea in 1793; the majority of Karaites fell under Russian rule and, together with the rest of the large Jewish population, were placed under special restrictions. At first these laws applied equally to the Karaites, whom the Russians considered Jews. But in 1795 Empress Katherine II of Russia issued a decree that the double tax not be imposed on the Karaites, and, furthermore, that they be allowed to purchase land. For the first time in history, Karaites and Jews were distinguished under law. The schism was deepened by a ban on conversion of Talmudic Jews to Karaitism.
The policy of distinguishing Jews from Karaites continued into the reign of Czar Nicholas I. In 1827, the Crimean Karaites, and in 1828, the Lithuanian and Galician-Lutsk, were exempted from the military service, which was mandatory for Jews. Further, the Karaites received certain privileges, such as permission to hire Christian servants, receive Russian citizenship on the same grounds as others, and swear their own oath in court, all of which further distanced them from rabbanic Jews. In 1809 Karaites came into open conflict with Talmudic Jews; they demanded that the authorities evict the Talmudists from Trok, maintaining that they were illegal residents. This demand was refused, but in 1822 the Karaites again applied to the administration with the same request, and in 1835 it was granted. The support by the Government Council of the Karaites' right to reside in any part of the Russian Empire was an important event, as it freed them from required residence in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. The long battle by the Karaites for equal rights ended in 1863, when the Government Council decreed that "Karaites under the jurisdiction of the common laws of the Empire have the same rights alloted to Russian subjects, contingent on their property and monetary holdings." The only limitation was the ban on Karaites taking people of other religions into their community. The Karaites also succeeded in having their official name changed from "Karaite Jews" to "Russian Karaites of Old Testament Faith," and later to simply "Karaites." In practice, however, many points of the new law were not followed. In 1875 Karaites applied to the Minister of Internal Affairs with a petition to order the administration not to call the Karaites "Jews" and not to apply to Karaites laws that were meant for Jews.
A special contribution to the struggle for equal rights for Karaites, as well as to the collection of Jewish and Karaite documents and manuscripts and their study, was made by Abraham ben Samuel Firkovich early in the twentieth century. Firkovich assembled one of the largest collections of Jewish manuscripts in the world during his travels in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, the Crimea, and the Caucasus. He also published a collection of inscriptions from an ancient Karaite cemetery at Chufut-Kala. On the basis of property inscriptions in manuscripts and dates on gravestones, Firkovich asserted that Karaites settled in the Crimea several centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ and thus carried no responsibility for his crucifixion. Later, he argued for a link between the Karaite faith and that of the Khazars (a Turkic people), who adopted Judaism in the eighth century. Firkovich asserted that Karaites, as non-Talmudic believers and as descendants of the Khazars, were entitled to different treatment than Jews. Although some scholars, contemporaries of Firkovich, noticed quite a few forgeries among the manuscripts that he discovered and on the gravestones, the "Khazar theory" of the Karaites' descent found a place in literature and persists, despite the strong skepticism of some scholars.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the production of Hebrew-language literature and science in the Karaite community ended. A few of the Karaite intelligentsia tried to develop Karaite literature in the Russian language, through printed publications such as Karaite Life and The Karaite Word, which appeared in 1911 and 1913 respectively, but these efforts were short-lived. At the same time, a secular literature in the Karaite language appeared, represented by the works of S. Kobetsky, A. Novitsky, and Z. Abramovich.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution, a significant part of the Karaite bourgeoisie emigrated from the country. There was a second wave of emigration in 1920-1921, motivated by the famine in the Crimea and the Ukraine, which led to the resettlement of many Karaites in central regions of the country. The overwhelming majority of Karaites who emigrated settled in Poland, Turkey, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Egypt, Latvia, and the United States. As a result of Poland's independence, Trok and Galitsko-Lutsk Karaites became citizens of Poland. When Soviet troops occupied the Baltic states and the eastern regions of Poland in 1939, however, they, along with the Crimean Karaites, became residents of the USSR. The Soviet government recognized the Karaite people in 1932, and later they were officially designated the Karaite nationality.
Karaite literature flourished in the 1920s in the old Karaite centers of Poland, and with it came an ethnic revival. Through the efforts of hazzan Samuel Firkowicz, Karaite youth in Trok studied in their own school, and their knowledge of the Karaite language was significantly greater than that of the older generation. Firkowicz himself worked for the revival of the Karaite language, writing poetry and doing verse translations in Karaite.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany and the swift rise in anti-Semitism there, Karaites tried to prove their non-Jewish ancestry. In January of 1939 the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Germany noted in a special resolution that Karaites did not belong to the Jewish religious community and that their "racial psychology" was not Jewish. As a result, the Karaites were not persecuted during World War II. In 1942 the Nazis questioned three Jewish scholars, M. Balaban, Z. Kalmanowicz, and I. Schiffer, as to the descent of the Karaites. Understanding the mortal implications of this for the Karaites, all three affirmed the non-Jewish ancestry of the Karaites. In the same year, however, the Karaite populations of Krasnodar and Novorossiisk were killed "by mistake" along with the Talmudic Jews.
After the war Karaites quickly began to assimilate. Many moved to the large cities, where they no longer formed communities and practically all of the younger generation spoke only Russian. The Khazar ancestry of the Karaites had become firmly entrenched in Soviet ideology. All attempts to refute this "theory" or make reference to a relation between Karaites and Jews met with furious resistance on the part of Karaite scholars. On the other hand, many Karaites, often secretly, continued to consider themselves Jews. Karaite culture in the contemporary Soviet Union has practically ceased to exist, with the exception of a small Karaite museum in Trakae.
During the Middle Ages and afterward, Karaites were principally engaged in trade. They facilitated the development of trade between Poland and Turkey, and their trade routes stretched from the Podolsko-Volynia lands and Lithuania to the Crimea, to Constantinople, and to the Near East. In the nineteenth century a few businessmen among the Karaite traders founded companies in Odessa and Petersburg and became leaders in international trade. Besides merchants, there were a significant number of farmers among the Karaites who cultivated gardens and orchards and were particularly successful with crops that were brought from the Crimea and were new to Lithuania. By the nineteenth century there were a fair number of educated Karaites who became doctors, lawyers, and scholars. In the 1930s Karaites ceased almost entirely to work in agriculture. At the same time, the number obtaining a university education rose significantly. After World War II Karaites abandoned their traditional occupations, taking up professional careers in engineering, medicine, education, music, and the like.
Clothing. Traditional Karaite dress was similar to Tatar dress. In Poland Karaites wore European-style clothing. An indispensable object of masculine attire was the small Kolpak hat. Hakhamim wore high hats, Klobuk, and large gowns (djubbe ). Wide pants were included in both women's and men's costumes.
Food. The Karaite kitchen was constructed according to the laws of kashrut, as were the kitchens of Talmudic Jews. Karaite cooking was subject to a strong Turkish influence, however. For example, Karaites prepared katlaina (a cheese cake consisting of several layers), tutmac (a kind of macaroni), umach (dumplings), and other dishes.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Until the twentieth century, matrilocal and neolocal residence were the norm; that is, after marriage, the young couple lived with the parents of the bride or started a new household. Now nuclear families are the norm. The dominant figure in a family was the father. Karaites did have customary levirate marriage, though, as a rule, it was avoided by a ritual freeing of the parties from the obligation. Marriages were strictly monogamous. Divorces were prohibited. The parents of the groom, having chosen a bride, sent a matchmaker to her home. Upon agreement of both sides, a day was selected for the betrothal. After the betrothal, a date was set for the wedding, which might take place much later. The groom and his parents were expected to bring a bride-price (kalym ) for the bride. The bride brought a dowry, which was registered on the marriage document (chuppa yazysy ), into the groom's home. The marriage was performed under a canopy (chuppa ) in the presence of a clergyman and relatives on both sides.
The leader of a Karaite community was the hakham. The house of prayer, called a kinessa, was headed by two hazzanim who had a helper (shamash ). Religious schools (midrash ), operated in the communities. Before the 1917 Revolution, Karaite communities were managed by the Karaite religious governing body (formed in 1837), and by the Trok governing body, which split off from it in 1863. After the Revolution the majority of the Karaite community in Soviet Russia was destroyed. In Poland an organized Karaite life still existed in the period between the world wars. At the present time there is a kinessa at Trok, in which about twenty believers assemble at major holidays.
Religious Beliefs. Education of Karaites was based on literal study and understanding of the Torah (Bible). All religious laws were derived from Torah text, from the meaning of words and the context. Karaites deny the divine origin of the Talmud (commentaries on religious belief and law), considering it the product of a folk tradition and appealing to this tradition only in cases where the Torah is unclear or inadequate. In some cases, however, Karaites accept the decisions of rabbinic Talmudists. Over the course of many centuries Karaitism has evolved its own version of a Halachah, or religious code, formerly a code of separate rules, opinions, and decisions. The systematization of this code occurred at the end of the fifteenth century.
Religious Practices. The Karaite calendar is lunar. The celebration of the New Year can fall on any day of the week, and thus the beginnings of many holidays may not always coincide with the Jewish calendar. Unlike rabbinic Jews, Karaites celebrate Passover and Sukkoth for seven days rather than eight, observe no fast before Purim, and do not celebrate Hanukkah as a holiday. Karaites have greater prohibitions regarding work on Saturdays, stricter rules about butchering cattle, and use the meat only of animals indicated in the Bible. As among Jews, circumcision of boys is performed on the eighth day after birth. Karaite liturgy is significantly different from that of rabbinic Jews. Their prayers consist of Biblical texts, psalms, and their own liturgical poetry. Karaitism is in essence a sect of Judaism—beliefs and practices do not go outside the framework of Judaism.
Mann, Jacob, ed. (1935). Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
Nemoy, Leonard (1952). Karaite Anthology: Excerpts from the Early Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press.
(Translated by Dale Pesmen)
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites-1
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites-1
"Karaites." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/karaites
"Karaites." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/karaites
Karaites or Caraites (both: kâr´əīts), form of Judaism, reputedly founded (8th cent.) in Persia by Anan ben David and originally known as Ananites. Its adherents were called Karaites after the 9th cent. The Karaites rejected the Talmudic interpretation of the Bible (see Talmud), and they developed their own commentaries, which were in many respects more rigorous and ascetic than the Talmudic interpretations. In the 10th cent. they produced a splendid literature in both Arabic and Hebrew. The sect declined after the 12th cent., but remnants are still extant, notably in Israel and the United States.
See Karaite Anthology (ed. and tr. by L. Nemoy, 1952), Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years, 970–1100 (1957, repr. 1968); P. Birnbaum, ed., Karaite Studies (1971).
"Karaites." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites
"Karaites." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites
Religious sect that was formed in Babylonia in the eighth century c.e.
The Karaites hold to a literal interpretation of scripture, rejecting Talmudic and rabbinic interpretations that are based on an oral tradition. In twentieth-century Israel, there were two small communities of several hundred persons in Galilee and Jerusalem. The Jewish status of Karaites is ambiguous; in Israel, they have the option of holding identity cards that label them either as "Karaite" or "Karaite-Jew."
Birnbaum, Philip, ed. Karaite Studies. New York: Hermon Press, 1971.
samuel c. heilman
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites-0
"Karaites." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karaites-0
"Karaite." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/karaite
"Karaite." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/karaite