Anan ben David

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ANAN BEN DAVID (eighth century), ascetic sage in Babylonia, founder of the sect of Ananites (Heb. עֲנָנִיִּים, Ananiyyim; Ar. ʿAnāniyya) and regarded by the *Karaites as their founder. A tenth-century Karaite account, related by al-*Kirkisani, places his appearance between 754 and 775. The report states that Anan was "the first to bring to light a great deal of the truth about the scriptural ordinances. He was learned in the lore of the Rabbanites… The Rabbanites tried their utmost to assassinate him, but the Almighty prevented them from doing so." Kirkisani always refers to him as the Exilarch (ra's al-jālūt). In the second half of the ninth century there were *Rabbanites who saw Anan as a heresiarch "who said to those who strayed… after him, 'Forsake ye the words of the Mishnah and of the Talmud, and I will compose for you a Talmud of my own' " (attributed to *Natronai Gaon). With various permutations, this tradition persists in the Sefer ha-Kabbalah of Abraham *Ibn Daud (1161) which adds that Anan was descended from the Davidic line, but as he showed heretical tendencies he was not named *exilarch. A more detailed version of this story is quoted by the 12th-century Karaite *Elijah b. Abraham who ascribes it to 10th century Rabbanites (probably Saadia). In this version the exilarchate was given to Anan's younger brother. Anan thereupon rallied a group of sectarians who set him up as their own exilarch. This led to his arrest. He was sentenced to death for defying the caliph's confirmation of his brother in the office. A fellow prisoner, identified in another Karaite work as the Muslim jurist-theologian Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 767), founder of the Hanafite school of Muslim jurisprudence, advised him to bribe the officials and to obtain a hearing before the caliph in order to claim that he represented a different faith distinct from that of his brother, and therefore was not guilty of the crime ascribed to him. According to this version, Anan stressed before the caliph that in matters pertaining to calculation of the calendar his method was akin to the Muslim system, namely it was based on observation and not on perpetual calculation. He was thus released. The last account may well be mixed of factual and legendary elements. The only proven historical fact about Anan's life seems to be that he was a learned Rabbanite of aristocratic descent, who for some reason founded a sect of his own. A reliable authority, although of a later period, states that Anan lived in Baghdad. Other facts combine to date the founding of his sect between 762 and 767.

Anan's immediate followers, the Ananites, were never numerous. Not many remained by the mid-tenth century. By the tenth century they had probably developed a modest corpus of legal works written in Judeo-Arabic. Such are quoted by al-Kirkisani. None of them survived. The Ananites steadily decreased in number and were absorbed into the later Karaites. However, Anan's prestige among the Karaites increased until he was acknowledged by them as the founder of the Karaite sect itself. Anan's descendants claimed Davidic lineage. At some time during the tenth century they had been acknowledged by the Karaites as their leaders and accorded the honorific of nasi (which in the Middle Ages always indicated Davidic lineage). Individual Karaite scholars often criticized or rejected Anan's views on various matters of law. These somewhat contradictory attitudes arise from the recognition that Anan was the first learned and aristocratic figure to lend his prestige to Jewish groups who had been opposed to the authority of the Babylonian yeshivot. In addition, at some point in late tenth century, his major work, Sefer ha-Mitzvot ("Book of Precepts"), came to occupy an important place in Karaite literature. The Sefer ha-Mitzvot is a manual of religious law according to Anan's own teaching and his interpretation of the Torah, written in *Aramaic. As such it was a novelty, being an attempt to put to writing a systematic alternative to talmudic law. The portions so far discovered contain concise, if dry, expositions of the law on various subjects, as well as some homiletic sections.

The guiding principles later ascribed to Anan's teaching include rejection of the talmudic tradition, a return to Scripture as the sole source of Divine Law, and repudiation of the authority of the geonic and exilarchic leadership. However, his extant writings demonstrate attempts to adapt the ancient biblical legislation to the changed circumstances of his day. His Rabbanite training ensured that his methods of biblical exegesis, as well as of formulation and interpretation of the law, were much the same as those adopted by the Talmud. But his conclusions were in some cases innovatory, in others he adopted positions ascribed to talmudic sages that had been rejected in the Talmud. His preferred method of deduction was by analogy (Heb. hekkesh; Arabic qiyās), also frequently applied in Muslim jurisprudence. Anan, however, applied it not only to situations in law, but also to single words or even letters of the biblical text. In line with talmudic exegetical tradition, Anan held that the rules of rhetoric and syntax do not apply to Scripture. If two biblical texts seemingly describe the same situation, but in slightly different words, or employing somewhat varying grammatical constructions, a new and variant rule must be applied to construe the second text. Anan's procedure often seems to be a deliberate construction of proof, by forced interpretation of Scripture, for an Ananite preformulated rule. His rigorous, ascetic approach moved him to postulate the principle that the strict and prohibitive must always take precedence over the lenient and permissive, wherever both alternatives are equally admissible. Accordingly Anan also championed the rikkuv ("restrictive catenary") theory of forbidden marriages (extending the forbidden degrees of marriage), a 70-day fast (from the 13th of Nisan to the 23rd of Sivan evidently involving daytime fasting only, in the manner of the Muslim fast of Ramadan), and prohibition of the practice of medicine as incompatible with faith in the Divine healing power. There is no evidence that Anan insisted on basing the calculation of the calendar on lunar (or other) observation. The reference to such a position in the reports on his secession may be a back-projection of later polemicists, Rabbanites and Karaites. From the surviving sections on liturgy it emerges that Anan saw the synagogue as an imitation of the Temple.

Various earlier and contemporary rigoristic and ascetic trends may have influenced Anan. His teaching indicates the inception of institutions for the separate existence of his sect. Rabbanite writers often accused Anan of leaning toward the doctrines of the *Sadducees, but since the available information is meager and partly contradictory, the extent of Sadducean influence, if any, remains in doubt. The same uncertainty also prevails regarding his probable espousal of religious customs current among certain Jewish groups in the talmudic period. These had been subsequently dropped in favor of those approved by the majority and incorporated in the Talmud. References to some such superseded customs seem to be discernible in the talmudic discussions, and are paralleled in some of Anan's rulings. Certain of Anan's doctrines coincide with those upheld by nearly all other schisms. They presumably represent a long-persisting dissident Jewish tradition, possibly harking back to pre-mishnaic times. An example is the rule that the festival of Shavuot should always fall on a Sunday, and perhaps also the prohibition on having any fire burning on the Sabbath (which had later become a hallmark of Karaites) and the literal interpretation of the lex talionis ("an eye for an eye"). It has been suggested that there is some connection between Anan's teaching and that found in the *Dead Sea Scrolls. The picture of Anan as an inflexible ascetic presented by his teaching may be modified to some extent in the light of the maxim ascribed to him, "Search diligently in Scripture, and rely not on my opinion." The earliest attestation of this maxim is found in a commentary by *Japheth ben Eli (late tenth century), where only the first half (in Aramaic) is quoted. It may well be that this half is original, while the second half represents tenth-century Karaite tendencies (notably *Daniel al-Qumisi). While Anan preached engagement in the study of the Torah and its interpretation he considered his interpretation to be definitive. Some modern scholars find parallels between the central position given by Anan to the biblical text, as a source of law and a subject of study, and the attitudes of some Muslim groups ("scripturalists") towards the Koran. Accordingly it is not a coincidence that Anan emerged at his particular period of time.

Later reports that Anan acknowledged the prophetic mission of Jesus and Muhammad and accepted the doctrine of transmigration of souls seem to lack any factual basis. The text of Sefer ha-Mitzvot le-Anan was published by A. Harkavy, in: Studien und Mitteilungen, 8 (1903; with Hebrew translation, repr. 1970); S. Schechter, Sectaries, 2 (1910); Mann, in: Journal of Jewish Lore and Philosophy, 1 (1919), 329–53.


L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952), index (bibliography, 395); idem, in: huca, 7 (1930), 328–9, 383–6; idem, in: Semitic Studies in Memory of Immanuel Loew (1947), 239–48; Ibn Daud, Tradition, index; Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (1959), index; J.N. Epstein, in: Tarbiz, 7 (1935/36), 283–90. add. bibliography: H. Ben-Shammai, in: B. Lewis and F. Niewoehner (eds.), Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter (Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien), vol. 4 (1992), 11–26; M. Gil, Palestine during the First Muslim Period (634–1099), (1992), index; M. Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources (2003), index; Y. Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls (2004), index.

[Leon Nemoy]

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Anan ben David

Anan ben David (active 8th century) was a Jewish religious leader in Babylonia who is believed to have founded the Karaite, or Scripturalist, sect about 760. The members of the sect were originally known as Ananites.

The account of the role of Anan in launching the Karaite sect must be viewed critically because it was written by a Rabanite opponent several centuries after Anan's death. The factual core contained in the available sources indicates that Anan was next in line of succession for the important hereditary office of exilarch, or head of the autonomous Jewish community in Babylon (now Iraq), because the reigning exilarch had died childless. However, Anan was passed over in favor of his younger brother Hananiah, who was less learned than Anan but more modest and pious. Anan was evidently rejected because he was apparently associated with a pseudo-messianic movement that displayed anti-Talmudic tendencies.

The Moslem chief of the region confirmed Hananiah for the post. Anan then proceeded to launch a secret organization of his followers, who were anti-Talmudists, and they appointed him as their own exilarch. When this was discovered by the authorities, Anan was arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to the gallows. In prison he met a Moslem legal scholar, identified as Abu Hanifa, who advised him to defend his conduct on the ground that Anan's religion was a different and separate one from that of Hananiah and therefore Anan could not be charged with rebellion against legally constituted authority. Abu Hanifa also advised Anan to stress the fact that his group did not follow the fixed calendar introduced by Hillel II about A.D. 350 but determined its calendar, in the Moslem manner, by actual observation of the moon. This defense, bolstered by substantial bribes, helped Anan gain his freedom.

The current of opposition to the Oral Law and rabbinic interpretation of Hebrew Scripture was an outgrowth or continuation of the Saducean tendency that survived the destruction of the Temple. In Babylonian Jewry it took the form of a rebellion against the exilarchate, which was identified with authority and the upper strata of the Jewish community. Of the numerous rebel movements, only the Karaites have survived to this day.

Though Anan opposed the authority assumed by the rabbis in expounding the Law, he did not hesitate to expound the Law himself. He composed his own Sefer Hamitzvot (Manual of Precepts) in Aramaic, which reflected his rigorous and ascetic inclinations.

Strict Karaite Doctrines

Anan ben David maintained that in exile no meat should be eaten except that of reindeer and pigeons. He extended the prohibition against kindling a fire on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3) to apply to the burning of lights on Sabbath eve, though the lights were kindled earlier. His followers could do nothing on the Sabbath, except attend prayer services. Fast days were multiplied in Anan's calendar, and feast days were turned into mourning in accordance with Hosea (8:10), "And I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation. …"The 70 days believed to be the period of Haman's preparation for the massacre of Persian Jewry (Esther 3:12) he designated as a period of mourning along the lines of the Moslem Ramadan. On the theory that a man and his wife shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24), the relatives of a spouse were not permitted to marry the kin of the other spouse to the fourth degree. Thus permissible marriages were restricted to a ludicrous degree and caused a problem in the Karaite community. The Karaites could not receive medical aid because of the Scriptural verse, "I the Lord am thy Healer." These and similar prohibitions made life a gloomy affair for Anan's followers and impelled subsequent Karaite leaders to modify his rigorous code.

Further Reading

The best treatment of Anan ben David, which includes translated excerpts of his and other Karaite works, is in Leon Nemoy, ed., Karaite Anthology (1952). Volume 2 of Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature (1935; rev. ed. 1969), contains an interesting and valuable collection of documents. Good background material on the Karaites is available in Zvi Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years, 970-1100 (1959). □

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Anan ben David (8th cent. BCE). Jewish Babylonian sage, regarded as the founder of Karaism. According to Karaite legend, when the exilarchate of Babylon was bestowed on Anan's younger brother, Anan consequently founded an alternative sect. His immediate followers, the Ananites, rejected the Talmudic tradition and relied on the Bible alone as the source of divine law. Anan's own book, Sefer ha-Mitzvot (Book of Precepts), became an important text in the later Karaite movement.

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Anan ben David (änän´), fl. 8th cent., Babylonian Jewish theologian, founder of the Ananites from whom the Karaites claim spiritual descent. He is said to have been a descendant of Bostanai ben Chaninai. Anan rejected the Talmudic tradition and in its place sought a return to Scripture as the sole source for God's Law. It is evident from those writings attributed to him that he made use of rabbinic methods of scriptural interpretation in the formulation of legal decisions to meet the needs of his age. These decisions often represent a quite ascetic attitude.

See L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952).