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KARAITES (Heb. בַּעֲלֵי מִקְרָא ,בְּנֵי מִקְרָא ,קָרָאִים, Qaraʾim, Benei Miqra, Ba'alei Miqra; Ar. Qarāʾiyyūn), Jewish sect which came into being toward the middle of the ninth century. (See Map: Karaite Settlement). Its doctrine is characterized primarily by its denial of the talmudic-rabbinic tradition. This article is arranged according to the following outline:

Name; Relation to Biblical Tradition
Karaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Historical Development
    emergence of the sect
    consolidation: late ninth to 12th centuries
    12th to 16th centuries: byzantium and turkey
    17th to 18th centuries: karaites in crimea and lithuania
    under russian rule: legal separation from rabbanites
    numbers of karaites
    contemporary karaite life
Scholarship on Karaism and the Karaites
Karaite Doctrine
    principles of hermeneutics and legal thought
    calendar and holidays
    circumcision and dietary laws
    marriage laws and laws on ritual purity
    liturgy, ẒiẒit, and tefillin
Attempts at Reconciliation Between Karaism and Rabbanism
Karaite Printing
Musical Tradition

Name; Relation to Biblical Tradition

Scholars have had different opinions as to the exact vocalization of the name: Whether it is qaraʾim (sing. qaraʾ), or qeraʾim (sing. qeraʾi). The common sing. form qaraʾi, seems to be secondary. The accepted meaning of the name of the sect – Kara'im, Ba'alei ha-Mikra ("people of the Scriptures") – is assumed to imply the main characteristic of the sect: the recognition of the Scriptures as the sole and direct source of law, to the exclusion of the Oral Law as it is embodied in the talmudic-rabbinic tradition. At the early stage of the group's history the name may have indicated their concentrated occupation with the text of the Hebrew Bible. At that stage their activity was perhaps connected to the Massoretes. Indeed, the famous authority on Massorah, Aharon ben Asher (who was responsible for the Massoretic element of the Aleppo Codex), was most probably a Karaite. There is, however, another interpretation of the name Kara'im, defining it as "callers" or "propagandists," in the sense of the Arabic word duʿāt by which the Shiʿite Muslim sect designated propagandists on behalf of ʿAli. Since a religion based on revelation cannot tolerate the complete exclusion of tradition, either in principle or in practice, the Karaite demand for a return to Scripture, and a rejection of any tradition as the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, should be taken as a theoretical watchword, directed not against all tradition, but specifically against the rabbinical tradition.

As a matter of fact, the Karaites also developed a tradition of their own, described by them as sevel ha-yerushah ("burden of inheritance"), consisting of doctrines and usages which, although not found in the Bible, were accepted as binding by the entire community (the qibbuẓ or ʿedah, corresponding to the Muslim term ijmāʿ, "consensus"). According to the Karaite view, a large number of these had come down from the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile (those designated as the "good figs," Jer. 24:5). The Karaite alternative tradition has developed over the centuries, and in some areas has come quite close to rabbinic tradition.

Karaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls

The discovery of the documents of the Dead Sea Sect has given rise to much speculation as to the possible influence of that sect and its literature upon the early schismatics who later merged into the Karaite sect. Assuming, with the overwhelming majority of students of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that they date from about the time of Jesus and that the Dead Sea sectarians went out of existence by the second century c.e., the problem may be considered under several aspects. The chronological aspect demands an explanation of the gap of some seven hundred years between the disappearance of the Dead Sea sectarians and the rise of the early Karaite schismatics. To account for it, several ancient notices of the finding of Jewish manuscripts in caves (by Origen, c. 217 c.e., Timotheus, c. 800 c.e., and by al-*Kirkisānī, c. 937 c.e.) are cited. Origen records the discovery of a Greek biblical manuscript and does not identify the contents of the other manuscripts found with it. al-Kirkisānī describes the manuscripts found in a cave as belonging to the literature of the pre-Christian sect of the Magharians, whose books, with two exceptions, he dismisses as "merely… idle tales." The testimony of Timotheus, Nestorian catholicos of Elam (south-western Iran), is perhaps more substantial. He tells of a letter that reached him from Jerusalem, reporting on scrolls found in a cave near Jericho that contained Hebrew texts resembling the Psalms. He requested that Jerusalem send him copies, but we do not know whether his request was ever fulfilled. A different case is the fragments of the so-called Damascus Document (medieval copies of which had been discovered in the Cairo Genizah) which were found among the Dead Sea documents. This provides substantial evidence that some Dead Sea documents did surface in the early Middle Ages. It can be argued, though, that this indicates only that the Damascus Document was known in Jewish circles, not necessarily Karaite alone, in Cairo early in the second millennium c.e. Nowhere in early Karaite literature so far known is there mention of the discovery of pre-Karaite documents confirming the righteousness of the Karaite teachings.

With respect to links between Dead Sea sects and the Karaites, there are several considerations for and against the theory that there was a connection of some kind between the two groups. A number of close parallels between Dead Sea and Karaite doctrines have been pointed out – for example, the emphasis on searching Scripture for right guidance, the implied rejection of oral tradition, the pressing and impatient messianism with its concomitant search in Scripture for hidden forecasts of the "end," when the Messiah will come to redeem Israel, and the tendency to regard biblical events not as accounts of past happenings but as prognostications of present-day situations. The similarity is not only in doctrines but also in terminology. Added to all this is, of course, the common conviction that this is the true Mosaic faith, and that those who believe otherwise are misled into error. In addition they have in common the ritual rigor, with respect to the laws of purity and Sabbath. These similarities must be weighedagainst an at least equally substantial series of dissimilarities, which cannot be reconciled with historical Karaism: the dualism of the Dead Sea Sect which divided the world into two opposing camps of good and evil ("light and darkness") subject to a predestined and immutable fate, and the rigid and absolute monastic hierarchy. Recent studies have suggested that there are significant parallels between Second Temple period controversies, including especially the Qumranites, and medieval controversies between Karaites and Rabbanites. In addition, the discussion of this question should differentiate between various pre-cursors of Karaism or its sub-groups. Some of those, like Mishawayh al-ʿUkbari, show perhaps more affinity to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The conclusion that may be drawn from all these considerations would therefore be the following: There is, at the present state of knowledge of the literature of both sects, no tangible evidence that the early Karaites had any direct contact with the Dead Sea writings, though some of them may have reached them. If they were influenced by them to any recognizable extent, this influence had little effect in the long run.

Historical Development

emergence of the sect

The name "Karaites" was not applied to the sect until the ninth century; the precursor of the sect was known as "Ananites," from the name of its founder, *ʿAnan b. David. The sect appears to have come into being as the result of a combination of factors: the amalgamation of various heterodox trends in Babylonian-Persian Jewry, which clashed with the efforts of the heads of the Babylonian yeshivot to consolidate their position as the exclusive and central authority of Jewish law; the tremendous religious, political, and economic fermentation in the entire East, resulting from the Arab conquests and the collision of Islam with world religions. The Karaite sect absorbed both such Jewish sects as the Isawites (adherents of *Abu ʿIsā al-Isfahānī) and *Yudghanites, who were influenced by East-Islamic tendencies, and other anti-traditional movements.

The Karaites themselves, however, trace their origin to the first split among the Jewish people, at the time of *Jeroboam; the true law had subsequently been preserved by the descendants of Ẓadok, who had discovered a portion of the truth. The process of this discovery of the truth was then continued by the exilarch ʿAnan (thus al-Kirkisānī and others). The unhistorical, fanciful, and biased Karaite sources also influenced the reports of Arab authors. Rabbanite sources, on the other hand, give their own one-sided version of the emergence of the Karaite schism, ascribing it exclusively to ʿAnan's personal ambition and the injury his pride suffered when his younger brother Hananiah was elected exilarch.

The absorption by ʿAnan's movement of many elements of an older, extra-talmudic tradition was pointed out particularly by A. Geiger and R. Mahler. As a matter of fact, ʿAnan's system included many laws that are quoted from old rabbinic authorities in the Mishna, the Talmud and other tannaitic and targumic sources but were not accepted (e.g., the lex talionis, i.e., the literal interpretation of "an eye for an eye" principle in the criminal law). Anan cannot, however, be described as a "reformer" of Judaism in the modern sense; far from easing the "yoke" of traditional law, he made it more difficult to bear: he did not recognize the minimum quantities (shi'urim) of forbidden foods fixed by the rabbis; he introduced more complicated regulations for the circumcision ceremony; he added to the number of fast days; he interpreted the prohibition of work on the Sabbath in stricter terms; etc. He was particularly severe with regard to the laws on marriage between relatives, ritual cleanliness, and relations with non-Jews. In his interpretation of Scripture, he made use of the 13 hermeneutic principles of R. *Ishmael b. Elisha, adding to them the principle of analogy (hekkesh, Ar. qiyās; the latter, perhaps, under the influence of Abu Hanīfah, the founder of the Hanafite school of Muslim jurisprudence).

The dictum quoted in Anan's name by *Japheth b. Ýeli (commentary on Zech. 5:8), "Search well in the Torah and do not rely on my opinion," is composed of two clauses: the first in Aramaic, and the second in Hebrew. The second clause, though, is not found in the oldest ms of Japheth's commentary and seems to reflect a somewhat later development. The first half was possibly designed to uphold the Holy Scriptures as the sole source of the law through a process of thorough investigation; notwithstanding, the fragments of Anan's Book of Precepts contain several references to the definitive authority of Anan's own interpretations of Biblical verses. In the wake of Anan's activity, numerous groups and parties were formed, mainly in the eastern parts of the Caliphate. Some of them shared the designation "Karaites," and soon, as related by Kirkisānī, it became impossible to find two Karaites who held the same opinions on all religious issues. Anan's adherents, in the stricter sense, called themselves Ananites (Arabic ʿanāniyya, sometimes applied by Muslim authors to Karaites in general) and remained few in number (in Iraq, Syria and Spain). They seem to have disappeared some time during the 11th century. Anan's descendants, who, like Anan before them, were given the honorific title of nasi ("prince") by their contemporaries, lived first in Jerusalem, and then, from the early 11th century, for the most part in Egypt. The names of his son, *Saul b. Anan, and his grandson, Josiah b. Saul b. Anan, are known from the prayer for the dead in the Karaite Sabbath and festival liturgy; neither seems to have had any role in the further development of the sect. Saul is also mentioned in Sefer ha-Kabbalah, by Abraham ibn Daud, and Josiah in Eshkol ha-Kofer, by Judah Hadassi, and in Gan Eden, by Aaron b. Elijah the Younger of Nicomedia. Karaite traditions about Anan's emigration to Jerusalem and his settlement there refer possibly to his great-grandson, whose name was Anan.

As the non-Rabbanite, proto-Karaite movement did not recognize any single leader, it was not long before many groups arose in its midst, in opposition to the Ananites. Thus, in the first half of the ninth century, the ʿUkbarites, whose founder was *Ishmael of ʿUkbara, came into being in ʿUkbara, near Baghdad, at the time of the caliph al-Muʿtaṣim (833–842). Ishmael was violently opposed to Anan, "often denouncing him as a fool and an ass." Nothing of Ishmael's writing has been preserved, and the little known about him and his school derives almost exclusively from the reports of al-Kirkisānī, at whose time (second half of the tenth century) the group was probably no longer in existence. In his teaching, Ishmael rejects, inter alia, the masoretic variants (keri and ketiv, the reading of certain words in the Bible in a manner that differs from their spelling).

The same town, ʿUkbara, was also the place of origin of another group, founded in the second half of the ninth century by Mīshawayh al-ʿukbarī. Characteristic of this sect is the principle that in all disputed matters (such as the day of the New Year Festival and the determination of the new moon), the Rabbanite practice was to be followed ("all coins are counterfeit, so one might as well use the one at hand," i.e., observe the holidays with the "whole," the Rabbanites). Among Mīshawayh's innovations is his opinion that the day, in the religious sense, begins at sunrise and comes to an end at the following sunrise (whereas according to the Rabbanites, and most other Jewish groups and movements, the day commences and ends at sunset). Another proto-Karaite sect was founded by a contemporary of Mīshawayh, Mūsā (Moses) al-Zaʿfarānī, a resident of Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia); also known as Abu ʿImrān *al-Tiflīsī, he was probably a native of Zaʿfarān, a district of Baghdad. The report by al-Kirkisānī (perhaps the earliest mention of Jewish settlement in the Caucasus) states that al-Tiflīsī was a disciple of Ishmael of ʿUkbara, and the author of a treatise sanctioning the consumption of meat (whereas many sects, including the earliest Karaite authorities, regarded the eating of meat as prohibited as long as Zionwas in ruins and Israel in exile). Mūsā was also mentioned by the Karaite authors Japheth b. Eli (10th century) and Judah Hadassi, and by *Saadiah Gaon; the latter, in his commentary on the Pentateuch, cites the opinion held by al-Tiflīsī and his supporters that the new month always commences at the moment when the new moon first makes its appearance, so that the day of the new moon is already a part of the new month (commentary to Gen. 1:14–18). Another sect, closely related to that of al-Tiflīsī and its contemporary, was created at Ramleh in Ereẓ Israel by *Mālik al-Ramlī. According to al-Kirkisānī, Mālik declared on oath on the Temple site in Jerusalem that chickens had been sacrificed at the Temple altar; by this oath, Mālik sought to strengthen his view – as reported by the Karaite author *Jacob b.*Reuben in his commentary on Leviticus – that the torim mentioned in Leviticus 1:14, which were used as Temple sacrifices, were chickens, thereby contradicting Anan and his successors, who translated the term dukhifat ("the hoopoe") in Leviticus 11:19, as hen, and accordingly classified the chicken as an impure, prohibited bird.

It follows that in the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th, the Karaite movement was a conglomeration of various anti-Rabbanite groups, some of which had sprung up after Anan's death. Al-Kirkisānī gives a vivid description of the countless differences on questions of religious ritual obtaining among the various Karaite groups, some of which still existed in al-Kirkisānī's time. In order to counter the Rabbanite arguments in polemics with the Karaites, based upon these heterogeneous views, al-Kirkisānī concludes his description with a characteristic observation: the Karaite readers of his work, he states, had no reason for concern, for in this respect there was a great difference between them and the Rabbanites: "They [i.e., the Rabbanites] believe that their laws and regulations have been transmitted by the prophets; if that was the case, there ought not to exist any differences of opinion among, them and the fact that such differences of opinion do exist refutes their presumptuous belief. We, on the other hand, arrive at our views by our reason, and reason can lead to various results."

The many sects which had come upon the proto-Karaite or early Karaite scene after Anan disappeared as fast as they had sprung up, without leaving any noticeable trace upon the movement. By their gradual self-liquidation, however, they prepared the ground for the consolidation of a well-defined, uniform doctrine which has subsisted to this very day as Karaism. The outstanding representative of the new movement in the ninth century was Benjamin b. Moses *Nahāwendī (from Nehavend, Persia; c. 830–860), who laid the groundwork for the new development of Karaite doctrine and was also the first Karaite writer to employ, according to some sources, the term Kara'im (Benei Mikra). Rabbanite scholars, such as Saadiah Gaon and Judah Halevi, regard Anan and Benjamin as the fathers and founders of the Karaite sect; Arabic and Karaite authors also refer to Karaites as Aṣḥāb ʿAnān wa-Binyāmīn (i.e., followers of Anan and Benjamin). The Karaites themselves put Benjamin almost on the same level as Anan, and in the memorial prayer (zikhronot) Benjamin's name follows immediately upon those of Anan, Saul, and Josiah. It was Benjamin, in particular, who turned the free and independent individual study of the Scriptures into a basic principle of Karaism. In theory it became possible for Karaism to tolerate differing interpretations of the Bible. Benjamin also differed from Anan in making no special efforts to maintain a hostile attitude to the Rabbanites and stress a fundamental opposition to them. He sought to base each law upon the Bible (without differentiating between the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa) and freely borrowed from the Rabbanites (although he declared such regulations as not binding upon Karaites). Furthermore, he advised his coreligionists to adopt the Rabbanite view in cases where the Bible did not provide a clear prescription. Benjamin is also the first Karaite to whom Karaite sources ascribe statements concerning dogmas and religious philosophy. Seeking to remove all taint of anthropomorphism from the conception of God, he embraced in his exegesis of the Bible ideas that are reminiscent of *Philo's theory of the Logos (which he may have known in Arabic translation or by the way of the Maghāriyya – the cave dweller – sect, mentioned by al-Kirkisānī; see also *Sects, Minor). Accordingly, the creator of the world, its builder, and its guide, was an angel created by God to represent His will; it was this angel who performed the miracles, revealed the Law, etc., and it is to this angel that the anthropomorphic passages in the Bible refer.

*Daniel b. Moses al-Qūmisī, who lived toward the end of the ninth century, seems to have been the first eminent Karaite scholar to settle in Jerusalem. He was the first to make the "mourning in Zion" a basic tenet and a hallmark of Karaism. In an epistle ascribed to him he fervently urged Karaites in the Diaspora to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel. In the same epistle he also expounded his particular positions on halakhic issues and, perhaps for the first time in Jewish history, proposed a set of normative, binding beliefs ("articles of faith"). He opposed Benjamin's method of Bible exegesis and denied the existence of angels, interpreting the term malakhim as natural forces employed by God to serve as His emissaries (cf. Psalms 78:49; 104:4). Opposing also Benjamin's leaning toward Rabbinic halakhah, he called for strict adherence to the literal sense of the Scriptures. This may also explain his fight against Anan, whom he had at first revered as "first among the sages" ("rosh ha-maskilim"), only to denounce him later as "first among the fools" ("rosh ha-kesilim"). Yet in his commentaries there are cases of alternative and homiletic interpretations. It may be assumed that it was his attitude to Anan that caused al-Qūmisī's exclusion from the Karaite memorial prayer, in spite of the great respect in which he was held by later Karaite writers. al-Qūmisī wrote commentaries on several books of the Bible, but of his commentaries only the one on Minor Prophets survived almost complete. He also taught that, in case of doubt, the more rigorous interpretation of the law should be accepted.

consolidation: late ninth to 12th centuries

In the tenth century, when Karaism was already fairly consolidated, the movement adopted an aggressive attitude, designed to spread its doctrine. This was also the golden age of Karaite literature (with most of the Karaite works of this period being written in Arabic). Karaite attempts to gain mass support for their beliefs among the Rabbanites (which, however, seem to have attracted only a few converts of no particular distinction) brought forth, on both sides, an apologetic and polemic literature. There were in this period (ninth and tenth centuries) a considerable number of outstanding Karaite theologians, religious teachers, grammarians, lexicographers, and biblical exegetes. Rejection of secular sciences, which Anan had advocated, was not followed by all Karaites. Some Karaite scholars became active participants in the flourishing Arabic culture. Others (e.g. al-Qūmisī, Salmon ben YeruÎim ) prohibited any engagement in "foreign" books and sciences as leading to heresy. In view of the special significance attached by Karaism to the study of the Bible, the Karaites dedicated themselves with great zeal to massoretic and grammatical exegetic studies and must have had a stimulating influence upon Rabbanite scholars. The view of Jewish historians (such as J. Fuerst, S. Pinsker, H. Graetz) that some of the first and most appreciated Jewish massoretes and grammarians (notably Aharon ben Asher), and biblical exegetes had been Karaites, has been discussed again in recent research and probably proven correct.

Karaite missionary activity, while hardly successful, forced the Rabbanites to take note of their existence and combat them. The first prominent Rabbanite to attack the Karaites was Saadiah Gaon, who at the age of 23 wrote a book (in Hebrew [rhymed] and Arabic versions) attacking Anan. On both sides the battle was waged with great ardor and often with a lack of objectivity; it remained in the main a war of words, but occasionally degenerated into physical violence, or resorted to harsh social measures (excommunication) or intervention by the Muslim authorities. The main targets of Karaite attacks were the anthropomorphisms of the aggadah and of Jewish mystical literature and the Rabbanite claims to divine origin of the Oral Law. Karaite literature flourished in most of the areas under Muslim rule – in Egypt, North Africa, and particularly in Ereẓ Israel, in addition to Babylonia and Persia, where Karaism had come into being.

The greatest Karaite mind of the tenth century was Abu Yūsuf Yaʿqūb al-Kirkisānī, whose work on religious law, Kitābal-Anwār wa-al-Marāqib, particularly its opening chapter, represents one of the foremost sources for the history of the Karaite sect. *David b. Boaz, a descendant of Anan, attained great repute as a biblical commentator, and is also said to have composed a work (in Arabic) on the basic doctrines of religion. In the second half of the tenth century, David b. Abraham *Alfasi, a native of Fez (Morocco) who emigrated to Ereẓ Israel, became known as a lexicographer and biblical exegete. At the end of the century *Japheth b. Eli in Jerusalem translated the entire Hebrew Bible into Arabic and added his extensive commentary, becoming the most important Karaite Bible commentator. Japheth's son, Levi b. *Japheth, in addition to Bible commentary, also wrote an important book of precepts (extensive fragments of the Arabic original and the medieval Hebrew translation survived). One of the most active opponents of Rabbanism, and especially of Saadiah Gaon, was *Salmon b. Yeruhim (mid-tenth century). In a similar vein was the work of *Sahl b. Maṣliaḥ ha-Kohen, a skillful and eloquent Karaite missionary who wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch and was a religious teacher; his Hebrew introduction to his Arabic-language book of precepts contains important information on the Karaite community in Jerusalem.

At that time Jerusalem was the outstanding spiritual centers of Karaism. Among the scholars residing there at the end of the tenth century was *Joseph b. Noah, who gained fame as the head of a religious academy, biblical commentator, and Hebrew grammarian. His pupil, *Abu al-Faraj Hārūn (Aaron b. Jeshua), who lived in the first half of the 11th century, was also a noted grammarian ("the grammarian of Jerusalem"), lexicographer, and biblical exegete. A contemporary scholar was *Nissi b. Noah, a resident of Persia, author of a philosophical commentary on the Ten Commandments. The outstanding Karaite theologian and religious philosopher of the 11th century was Joseph b. Abraham ha-Kohen ha-Ro'eh *al-Basīr (Heb. "ha-Ro'eh," euphemistically for "the Blind"), who had also been a disciple of Joseph b. Noah. Al-Basīr's religious philosophy was decisively influenced by the teachings of *Kalām; he denounced the extremist interpretations of forbidden marriages (the so-called rikkuv theory). His pupil *Jeshua b. Judah (Arabic name: Abu al-Faraj Furqān ibn Asad), the most prolific Karaite writer in the 11th century, became known as a religious teacher and philosopher, as well as a translator of the Bible and an exegete (in the latter capacity he earned the admiration of Abraham *Ibn Ezra). Like his teacher, Jeshua was also an adherent of the philosophy of Kalām, and his opposition to the extension of the categories of forbidden marriages was even greater, and more decisive, than that of Joseph. Jeshua was the last important Karaite scholar in Ereẓ Israel. At the end of the 11th century Karaite literary and scientific work in Ereẓ Israel came to an abrupt end as the result of the First Crusade (1099). When the invading army, under Godfrey of Bouillon, took Jerusalem, some of the members of the Karaite community, with the Rabbanites, were driven into a synagogue and burned alive, while others were taken prisoners and ransomed expensively later. This marked the destruction of the first Karaite community in Jerusalem. Like the Rabbanites, the Karaites returned to Jerusalem after the city had come again under Muslim rule. In the 15th and 16th centuries the community had grown, and for some time even gained control over Samuel's tomb (al-Nabī Samwīl), which had become a very popular site of pilgrimage for Jews and Muslims alike. In 1642, according to the report of the Jewish traveler *Samuel b. David, there were only 27 Karaites living in Jerusalem. In the beginning of the 18th century the Karaites had to leave their residence in Jerusalem for a while, because they had been unable to pay their debts to Rabbanite Jews. In 1744 Samuel ben Abraham, a descendant of a Jerusalemite family, returned with several families from Damascus to the city and renewed the Karaite presence in the Old City. The ever-shrinking community endured until 1948. After 1967 a number of Karaites of Egyptian origin settled in Jerusalem. They maintain the synagogue that is said to have been established by Anan, the old Karaite courtyard in the Old City, and the cemetery in Abu Tor started by Samuel ben Abraham in the 18th century.

12th to 16th centuries: byzantium and turkey

The decline of Karaism in the East began in the 12th century. No original writer of any significance came to the fore there after the first half of that century, even in the field of religious law. The only exception was in Egypt, where the Karaite communities (mainly in Cairo and Alexandria) still numbered members who possessed considerable financial means and had good political connections, or belonged to the intellectual or professional elite. When *Maimonides took up residence in Cairo their influence, social and religious, decreased, as well as their public standing. Notwithstanding, the Karaite community in Egypt remained the largest in the Islamic east until modern times. Also living in Egypt at this period was Moses b. Abraham *Darʿī, the outstanding Karaite poet of his time. Other Karaite writers who lived in Egypt (mainly in Cairo) in the 12th to 15th centuries, such as *Japheth al-Barqamānī, Japheth ibn Ñaghīr, *Israel ha-Ma'aravi, and *Samuel b. Moses*al-Maghribī, played no independent role in the further development of Karaism. But the Karaites in Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Syria, Erez Israel, Iraq, and Persia continued to collect and study the writings of the Golden Age and to produce new copies. This may explain the very large book collections amassed in Karaite synagogues in these centers.

At the end of the 11th century, the center of Karaite intellectual activity shifted to Europe. This was largely the work of the many European disciples of Jeshua b. Judah, who, upon returning to their homes from Jerusalem, acted as the emissaries of Karaite doctrine. One such propagator of Karaism was Sīdī ibn *al-Tarās, who was active in Spain in strengthening the Karaite, or Ananite presence (which had been there already for about two centuries), and whose wife continued his missionary work after his death. According to the description of Abraham ibn Da'ud in his Sefer ha-Kabbalah, after a short while the Castilian government, influenced by the Rabbanites, turned against the Karaites and extirpated the movement in Spain. However, the concentrated polemic of several Spanish writers in the 12th century (e.g., Abraham ibn Da'ud, Judah Ha-Levi, Abraham Ibn Ezra) against Karaism seems to testify that in that time the Karaites were still considered a threat to the Rabbanite hegemony.

In the Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, Karaism succeeded in gaining a firm foothold. A massive Karaite literature of translation came into being here, produced mainly by former disciples of Jeshua b. Judah who, for the most part, were residents of Constantinople. The most eminent among them was *Tobias b. Moses ha-Avel (known as "ha-Oved" [the worshiper] and also as "ha-Maʿtik" [the translator]) whose major work was the translation of the Arabic writings of Jeshua, as well as of Joseph b. Abraham al-Baṣīr. He also wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, Oẓar Neḥmad, based primarily upon the works of David b. Boaz and Japheth b. Ali. The only other name to be preserved is that of *Jacob b. Simeon, one of the most prominent Karaite translators of this period. To this period belongs also the work on Hebrew linguistics entitled Meʾor ʿAyin, by an anonymous author. It seems to have been based on Arabic works of the Golden Age. It survived in a single ms, copied in 1208 (published by M. Zislin, 1990). Prominent religious scholars and biblical exegetes active in Byzantium in the 12th century were Jacob b. Reuben, author of a Bible commentary, Sefer ha-Osher, which consists largely of excerpts from Hebrew translations of works of earlier Karaite authors, especially those of Japheth b. Ali (part of the commentary on the Prophets and the entire commentary on the Writings was printed at the end of the edition of Mivḥar Yesharim by Aaron ben Joseph, 1836); Aaron b. Judah *Kusdini (from Constantinople), of whose works there survives only a responsum on marriage laws; and Judah b. Elijah *Hadassi, author of Eshkol ha-Kofer, an encyclopedic summary of Karaite theology, one of the most important works of Karaite literature and, undoubtedly, the outstanding Karaite work in Hebrew. Most Byzantine Karaite translations and original works of that period contain a considerable number of Greek glosses, or other phrases, which constitute very important evidence of early Medieval Judeo-Greek.

In the second half of the 13th century, Karaism in the Byzantine Empire entered a period of spiritual florescence. It was in this period that *Aaron b. Joseph ha-Rofe ("Aaron the Elder"), one of the most important Karaite biblical exegetes, was active; highly revered by his coreligionists, he was given the title of "ha-Kadosh" ("the Saint"), most probably for his work in arranging the hitherto unstable Karaite liturgy into an organized ritual, valid to this day. His commentary on the Bible, Sefer ha-Mivḥar, is regarded as the classic Karaite work in Bible exegesis; it shows the influence of Abraham ibn Ezra's commentary. *Aaron b. Elijah of Nicomedia ("the Last Aaron"), a codifier, biblical exegete, and religious philosopher who lived in the first half of the 14th century, was regarded by the Karaites as the "Karaite Maimonides"; he was the author of Gan Eden, a systematic code of Karaite law and belief, corresponding in its significance for Karaism to the Turim by R. *Jacob b. Asher; of Keter Torah, a Bible commentary which has enjoyed, for many centuries now, a status and prestige comparable to that of Rashi's commentary among Rabbanites; and of Eẓ Ḥayyim, which attempts to refute the Aristotelian views of Maimonides by a religious philosophy, which, while familiar with Aristotelian terminology and concepts, is basically committed to Muʿtazilite Kalām. To the same century belongs *Moses b. Samuel of Damascus, a native of Safed in Ereẓ Israel who moved to Damascus and obtained an appointment as manager of the emir's private estates. In 1354 he was compelled, under threat of execution for allegedly blaspheming Islam, to become a Muslim and to accompany the emir on a pilgrimage to Mecca. What he saw of the pilgrimage rites moved him to flee to Egypt, where he found a kind-lier superior in the vizier's office, and he returned to Judaism. Among his poetical works is a description of his forced conversion and pilgrimage.

The conquest of the Byzantine Empire by the Turks in 1453 was followed by a change in the relationship between Rabbanite and Karaite Jews. Some Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 were granted asylum in Turkey, where they were well treated, especially during the reign of *Suleiman the Magnificent. Jewish intellectual life rose to new heights. Jewish schools, synagogues, and printing presses were established, and Jewish scholars no longer confined themselves exclusively to talmudic studies, devoting themselves also to secular sciences – physics, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. In the 15th and 16th centuries a rapprochement took place between the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews; Rabbanite scholars guided Karaites in the study of Jewish literature and secular sciences, and some, such as *Shemariah b. Elijah Ikriti, Mordecai b. Eliezer *Comtino, and Elijah b. Abraham *Mizraḥi, even accepted Karaites as their students. One of the Karaite students of Comtino was Elijah b. Moses *Bashyazi, the most celebrated Karaite scholar of his time, whom the Karaites regard as "the final decider" (ha-posek ha-aḥaron). His code of law, Adderet Eliyahu, became the Karaite counterpart of the rabbinic Shulḥan Arukh. His pupil and brother-in-law, Caleb b. Elijah *Afendopolo, adapted Adderet Eliyahu and completed it; a versatile scholar, he himself also composed works on theological and liturgical themes and on secular subjects (mathematics, astronomy, law, philosophy), as well as religious and secular poems, some of which contain references to the expulsion from Spain and from Lithuania and Kiev (1495). A great-grandson of Elijah Bashyazi, Moses b. Elijah *Bashyazi, was the last outstanding Karaite author of this period, and his death also ended the Byzantine chapter in Karaite history (end of the 16th century). His works contain important Arabic quotations from the writings of the earliest Karaite authors, which he had discovered in manuscript in the course of his travels, especially in Egypt. The Byzantine-Turkish Karaite communities, similar to their brethren in Babylonia, Persia, and Egypt, gradually fell into a state of decline, and the center shifted once again to another area.

17th to 18th centuries: karaites in crimea and lithuania

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Karaite activity shifted to the Crimea and Lithuania, and Karaites in these areas assumed leadership of the sect. The existence of individual Karaites in the Crimea is traced back to the 12th century; *Pethahiah of Regensburg mentions meeting several sectarians among the Turkish nomads occupying parts of southern Russia, who observed the Sabbath in the dark and regarded even the cutting of bread as prohibited on that day. In the 13th century, at the time of the Tatar "Golden Horde," a considerable number of Karaites settled in the Crimea, mainly from the Byzantine Empire, perhaps also from Persia. At the end of the 14th century, according to a Karaite tradition, Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania, after defeating the Tatars (1392), carried a large group of Tatar prisoners, including some Karaite families, to *Troki (near Vilna), *Lutsk, and *Halicz, and settled them there. It seems more probable that the Karaites were brought or invited by Witold to Troki to help him develop the economy, rather than as prisoners, and that Karaites arrived in Lutsk and Halicz from Troki or somewhere else, early in the 15th century. From there the Karaites spread to other towns in Lithuania, Volhynia, and Podolia. Polish-Lithuanian Karaites continued to speak "Tatar" (actually a few different Turkish dialects) and translated the prayers into their language.

East European Karaites established firm contacts with their Byzantine coreligionists. Thus, letters have been preserved which were exchanged between the Karaites in Lutsk and Troki, and Elijah Bashyazi in Constantinople; the latter also had Lithuanian Karaites among his pupils. The Karaites living in the Crimea under Tatar rule were unable to engage in any intellectual and scientific activities; but their brethren in Lithuania benefited from their contact with the Rabbanite Jews in that area, which in the second half of the 16th century entered a period of spiritual renaissance. The first important Karaite author in Lithuania was Isaac b. Abraham *Troki (1533–1594), who wrote an anti-Christian treatise, Ḥizzuk Emunah (first published, with Latin translation, by Wagenseil in his work Tela ignea Satanae, in 1681). The final compilation of the book was the work of Isaac Troki's pupil, Joseph b. Mordecai *Malinovski, who also wrote several works of his own. Joseph's brother, Zephaniah Malinovski, wrote a treatise on the calendar. A contemporary of the Malinovski brothers, *Zerah b. Nathan of Troki, was well versed in both the natural sciences and rabbinic literature; in his letters to Joseph *Delmedigo, he raised 70 questions, mainly of mathematical-astronomical content, and this prompted Delmedigo to write Elim and Iggeret Aḥuz. At the time of the *Chmielnicki massacres in 1648, the Karaites, for the most part, suffered the same fate as the Rabbanite Jews; in general the relations between the two groups were quite good in this period. One effect of the persecution of the Jews and Karaites was to arouse interest in the Karaite sect among Christian scholars; another was the creation of an apologetic historiography on the part of Lithuanian Karaites. Among the Christian works on the Karaites that appeared in this period were Epistola de Karaitarum rebus in Lithuania (1691), by Gustav Peringer, a professor at Uppsala; Diatribe de Secta Karaeorum (1703), by Jacob Trigland in Holland; and Notitia Karaeorum (1721), by Johann Christoph Wolf of Hamburg. Around 1700, at the request of two Swedish scholars, the Karaite scholar *Solomon b. Aaron Troki wrote a treatise on Karaism and its major differences with Rabbanite Judaism, under the title of Appiryon Asah Lo. The same author also composed polemics against Rabbanite Judaism and Christianity. In 1699, Mordecai b. Nisan *Kukizow wrote two treatises on Karaism; one, entitled Dod Mordekhai, was written in reply to inquiries submitted to him by Trigland, while the second, a smaller work, entitled Levush Mordekhai, sought to answer questions posed by King Charles xii of Sweden. In writing Dod Mordekhai, Mordecai b. Nisan was assisted by *Joseph b. Samuel ha-Mashbir, a relative; the latter also wrote many other works, including Porat Yosef, a valuable book on grammar. Born in Lithuania, Joseph became ḥakham of Halicz, Galicia, in about 1700 (thereby starting a dynasty of ḥakhamim and ḥazzanim) and was instrumental in raising the cultural standard of the Karaites in the area.

In the second half of the 18th century, the Crimean Karaites also entered upon a period of literary and scientific activity, profiting from a close connection with Lithuanian Karaites and the immigration of a group of Karaite scholars from Lutsk (Volhynia). Hitherto Crimean Karaites, who maintained fairly large communities in four major cities of the peninsula and were living under favorable economic conditions, had suffered from a lack of religious leaders and teachers (ḥakhamim, ḥazzanim, and melammedim). Outstanding among the group from Lutsk was Simhah Isaac b. Moses *Luzki, a prolific author, who settled in *Chufut-Kale in 1750. Two of his numerous works appeared in print in the 18th and 19th centuries: Or ha-Ḥayyim, a philosophical commentary on Eẓ Ḥayyim by Aaron b. Elijah of Nicomedia (together with the text, Eupatoria, 1847) and Oraḥ Ẓaddikim, a history of Karaism with an apologist tendency, which also contains the first attempt at a Karaite bibliography (together with Dod Mordekhai by Mordecai b. Nisan Kukizow, Vienna, 1830). Several other works have appeared in recent years.

under russian rule: legal separation from rabbanites

A new epoch in the history of the Karaites was opened by the incorporation of Lithuania and Crimea (1793 and 1783, respectively) into Russia. Until then, the external history of the Karaites had been similar, and parallel, to that of the Rabbanite Jews; both considered each other as Jews and regarded even the most violent polemics between them as an internal Jewish quarrel. Wherever the Karaites had taken up residence, they had been treated as Jews. For example, a decree issued by Grand Duke Witold in 1388 describes the Karaites of Troki as "Judaei Trocenses" and grants them the same special legal status as that accorded to Jews of Brest-Litovsk and other Lithuanian communities. The decree was reconfirmed by King Sigismund i of Poland in 1507, for both Karaite and Rabbanite Jews in Lithuania. In 1495, Grand Duke Alexander expelled both Jews and Karaites from Lithuania, and both were admitted into Poland by his brother, King John Albert. John's successor, Alexander, in turn permitted the return of both Jews and Karaites to Lithuania. During the Chmielnicki persecutions, hardly any difference was made between the two groups. In Lithuania, Poland, and Volhynia, the state taxes payable by Jews and Karaites had to be remitted in a lump sum; the Karaites would hand their taxes over to the Rabbanite Jews, and these would add their own taxes and transmit the whole sum to the government. Under the Tatar khans and the Ottoman Turks, Rabbanite Jews and Karaites in the Crimea also had the same legal status. It was only at the end of the 18th century, when Russia conquered the Crimea, that a difference in status was made between Rabbanite Jews and Karaites under the law. In 1795, Empress Catherine ii relieved the Karaites of the double tax imposed upon the Jews, and also permitted them to acquire land. Thus the 1795 law created a wall of separation between Jews and Karaites, each group enjoying civil rights to a different degree (although legislative decrees continued to refer to Karaites as "Jews").

Inequality before the law of the two groups was further expanded in 1827, when the Crimean Karaites, like the Crimean Tatars, were exempted from the general military draft law enacted by Czar Nicholas i, a privilege that was not extended to the Jews. In 1828, exemption from military service was also granted to the Karaites of Lithuania and Volhynia. In their attempts to improve their legal status, Russian Karaite leaders had at first refrained from resorting to attacks upon Rabbanite Jews; this policy was changed in 1835, when the Karaites, in appeals and memoranda to the Russian government, began to stress their fundamental difference from other Jews, namely their refusal to accept the validity of the Talmud. They also claimed to possess qualities which distinguished them from other Jews: that, contrary to the Rabbanites, they were industrious people, honest in their behavior and loyal to the throne. In 1835 they succeeded in having the Rabbanite Jews of Troki expelled from the town, on the basis of ancient Lithuanian privileges which granted them the sole right of settlement there. They also achieved a change in their official designation; instead of "Jews-Karaites" they first came to be called "Russian Karaites of the Old Testament Faith," and eventually simply "Karaites." The special legal status accorded to Karaites, as compared with the other Jews, was also influenced by the difference in their social and economic situation. Whereas the Jews in the Crimea were mainly peddlers and artisans, the Karaites were wealthy landowners, deriving their income from tobacco plantations, orchards, and salt mines, and maintaining good relations with the authorities. In 1840 the Karaites were put on an equal footing with the Muslims, and were granted an independent church statute. Two dioceses were established, each headed by a ḥakham, with residences at *Feodosiya (Crimea) and Troki respectively; the ḥakhamim were laymen, elected by delegates from all Karaite communities. Each community also elected its ḥazzan, who performed religious functions and served as an assistant to the ḥakham. Finally, in 1863, the Karaites were given rights equal to those of the native Russian population.

The last Karaite spiritual leader under Tatar rule was Benjamin b. Samuel *Aga (d. 1824), who continued to hold his post – albeit unofficially – under Russian rule. A contemporary, Isaac b. *Solomon of Chufut-Kale, attempted to introduce a reform of the Karaite calendar and wrote a treatise on the subject, Or ha-Levanah (1872); he was also the author of Iggeret Pinnat Yikrat (1834, 1872), a treatise on the Karaite dogmas, and composed liturgical poems. Simḥah *Babovich, the first Karaite ḥakham to be recognized as such by the Rus-sian government, played a major role in the political history of Russian Karaism and in the drafting of its statute as an autonomous congregation. In 1827 he was a member of the two-man delegation of Crimean Karaites (the other member being the Karaite scholar Joseph Solomon b. Moses *Luzki), which succeeded in persuading the Russian government in St. Petersburg to exempt Karaites from military service. Luzki wrote many works dealing with halakhah, the most important of which was a commentary on Sefer ha-Mivḥar by Aaron b. Joseph, published under the title Ṭirat Kesef (1835). Luzki's views were opposed by David b. Mordecai *Kukizow (1777–1855), a great-grandson of Mordecai b. Nisan, who was the author of Ẓemaḥ David, a theological work (1897). Mordecai b. Joseph *Sultansky, a versatile writer, composed works on theology, history, and grammar; one of his pupils was the ḥakham and writer Solomon b. Abraham *Beim.

The most eminent Karaite scholar of the 19th century, however, and the most active champion of the Karaite struggle for civil rights, was Abraham b. Samuel *Firkovich (1787–1874) whose advent upon the scene opened a new chapter in Karaite historiography. Notwithstanding the numerous forgeries, tendentious quasi-discoveries, and unfounded hypotheses which mar Firkovich's writings (later to be refuted by Jewish scholars), Karaite historical studies, as well as Jewish studies, undoubtedly owe him a great debt of gratitude. During his travels in the Crimea, the Caucasus, Ereẓ Israel, Syria, and Egypt, he discovered many works of Rabbanite and Karaite literature which had been presumed lost. His collection of valuable Jewish manuscripts is the largest in the world of its kind. After his death his heirs sold it to the then Imperial Library, presently Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. Firkovich was the last Karaite writer of any importance; after his death, Karaite learning declined. Mention should be made, however, of several authors who exerted influence on Karaite spiritual life, writing in Hebrew, Tatar, and Russian: Samuel Pigit, ḥazzan in Yekaterinoslav (1849 – 1911), who composed homilies and poems in Hebrew (Iggeret Niddehei Shemuel, 1894) and a book of sermons in Tatar (Davar Davur, 1904); Elijah *Kazaz of Eupatoria (1832–1912), author of a Hebrew textbook, in Tatar (Regel ha-Yeladim) and translator of French philosophical works into Hebrew (Janet, Vigouroux, and others); Isaac Sinani, author of a biased history of Karaism, in Russian (2 vols, 1888–89); and Judah *Kukizow who wrote several works in Russian.

numbers of karaites

Toward the end of the 19th century the number of Karaites did not increase significantly. In 1783, when the Crimea was conquered by the Russians, there were 2,400 Karaites in Russia; according to official figures, their number (including all areas of former Poland and Lithuania) had grown to 9,725 in 1879, 12,894 in 1897, and 12,907 in 1910. In 1932 the number of Karaites in Russia (mainly in the Crimea) was estimated at 10,000. In 1910 a Karaite synod, held in Eupatoria, made an attempt to relax the Karaite marriage laws, which, however, was unsuccessful, as it was opposed by Karaite clerics in Troki, Constantinople, and Cairo. In 1911 Karaite students at the University of Moscow sought to inaugurate a Karaite renaissance and founded a Karaite monthly, in Russian, named Karaimskaya Zhizn; it had to close down before the year was over. In 1913–14 a Russian-language Karaite periodical, Karaimskoye Slovo, was published in Vienna, and in 1924 a Polish-language periodical, Myśl Karaimska, was founded, also in Vienna, which contained scholarly articles and reports on Karaite life.

In 1932 the number of Karaites outside Russia, in Poland (Halicz, Troki, Vilna), Constantinople, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Hit (on the Euphrates), was estimated at 2,000 (but this number seems to low, considering the fact that in 1877 their number in Egypt alone was recorded at 2,000). The total number of Karaites in the world was approximately 12,000. After World War i Vilna became a new center of Karaite life, and it was there that attempts were made at a reorganization of the Karaite sect. In 1932, the Polish Ministry of Culture and Education gave its provisional approval to the election of Serayah *Shapshal, a former senior Russian official, as ḥakham of Troki and spiritual leader of the Polish Karaites. On Jan. 9, 1939, the German Ministry of the Interior expressly stipulated that the Karaites did not belong to the Jewish religious community; their "racial psychology" was considered non-Jewish. This decision was subsequently applied to France. In Eastern Europe the Nazi Einsatzgruppen during World War ii received orders to spare the Karaites, who enjoyed favorable treatment and were given positions of trust and authority with the German occupation authorities. On Oct. 6, 1942, the ruling of Jan. 9, 1939, was extended to the Crimea and the Ukraine, where the majority of Karaites lived. The Karaite question continued to be debated by the German authorities who queried the Rabbanite scholars Zelig *Kalmanovitch, Meir S. *Balaban, and Itzhak *Schipper on the origin of the Karaites. In order to save them, all three gave the opinion that the Karaites were not of Jewish origin. The behavior of the Karaites during the Holocaust period vacillated between indifference to the Jewish cause and some cases of actual collaboration with the Germans. No adequate study, however, has been made on this subject. In the Arab countries, on the other hand, the persecution of Jews which followed upon the establishment of the State of Israel caused the Karaites in Egypt and Iraq to settle in Israel, where they were welcomed and enabled to settle in compact groups, and were given government assistance in establishing themselves economically and in providing for their religious and educational needs.

contemporary karaite life

The Karaites came to Israel essentially in two waves: following the Suez Canal crisis (Operation Kadesh ) in 1956 and in 1962. They first settled mainly in the Ramleh area and from there spread to other areas. Presently they live mostly in the following areas: Ashdod (the largest community), Ramleh district (the seat of the "World Center" and the central library and archives), Bat-Yam, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Rannen, Beersheba, and Acre. From the 1970s, the Karaite community in Israel has grown in numbers and has seen the consolidation of its institutions. According to their own estimate there are 30,000 Karaites in Israel. The actual number is probably lower. The major force behind this Karaite strengthening was Chief Rabbi Haim Hallevi of Ashdod. For many years, Hallevi had been acting chief rabbi of the Israeli Karaites, becoming chief rabbi in title, as well as in fact, with the death of Chief Rabbi David ben Moses Yerushalmi, in 1987. (Yerushalmi became chief rabbi in 1976, having succeeded the late Shelomo ben Shabbetai Nono.) Since 1991 Elijah Marzouk from Ofakim has been chief rabbi of the Karaites in Israel. In addition to the chief rabbi, lsrael's Karaites are served by 15 other rabbis and a larger number of hazzanim. Some of the rabbis function also as ritual slaughterers and circumcisers. There are additional slaughterers and circumcisers, although Rabbanite practitioners are often called in. Many books for their use have been published recently, including a complete prayer book, Bashyazi's Adderet Eliyahu, and Aaron ben Elijah's Keter Torah.

The majority of Israeli Karaites are of Egyptian origin. A small number came from Hit (Iraq). After the breakup of the Soviet Union an unknown number of Karaites emigrated from there to Israel. Not all of them identify as Karaites. Israeli Karaites have had difficulty maintaining their religious customs and their independent identity since immigrating to Israel, mostly in the 1950s. There are two basic problems. On the one hand, they have encountered many of the same phenomena of secularization as have confronted other traditional Jewish groups from Islamic countries. On the other hand, there are strong forces of assimilation into the general Rabbanite Jewish community. For instance, since the Karaite holidays do not always coincide with those of most Israeli Jews, demands of work, army, and school make it difficult for many Karaites to continue their own customs. While Ḥanukkah is not considered a religious holiday by Karaites, it is often observed anyway as an Israeli national holiday. Though Karaism has its own laws of ritual slaughter, many Karaites are satisfied with the meat produced under Rabbanite supervision, which is more easily available. Some Karaites try to avoid any possibility of stigmatization by severing their ties with the Karaite community completely.

The Karaite leadership in Israel has tried to maintain the loyalty of their faithful by promoting various religious, cultural, and educational activities. Children participate in after school classes (there are no independent Karaite public schools) and summer camps. It is still too early to determine how successful these measures are. Some of the questions of Karaite assimilation and acculturation have been investigated by Emanuela Trevisan Semi, especially in her Gli ebrei caraiti tra etnia e religione, 1984 (which also deals with non-Israeli Karaites), and by Sumi E. Colligan in her dissertation, Religion, Nationalism, and Ethnicity in Israel: The Case of the Karaite Jews, 1980.

Although the Karaites are not fully recognized by Israeli law as a separate community, due to a decision by the Supreme Court (1995) their separate bet din is binding on members of the community in matters of marriage and divorce. According to Karaite legal usage in recent times, they disapprove of intermarriage with the rest of the Jewish population. According to the current usage in Rabbinic courts in Israel, the Karaites are permitted to intermarry with the rest of the Jewish population on condition that the Karaite member of the couple is willing formally to accept Rabbanism. Not all Rabbanite rabbis, however, are prepared to accept such intermarriages because of the problems of mamzerut (see *mamzer). Karaites maintain de facto, but not de jure, authority over intra-Karaite marriage and uncontested divorce. These issues are discussed by Michael Corinaldi in his The Personal Status of the Karaites in Israel, 1984; Y. Shapira, in: Meḥkerei Mishpat, 19:1 (2002), 285–361 (both Heb.).

In 1983, the Karaite Jews of America were incorporated as a religious organization. Karaites claim that there are at least 1,200, and perhaps as many as 10,000, Karaite Jews of Egyptian origin in the United States, most of whom live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The Karaites in that region conduct services, either in private homes or monthly at a Conservative synagogue in Foster City. Other small concentrations of American Karaites are found in the New York and Chicago areas. There appears to be strong evidence of Americanization of this community.

The Karaites of Turkey are grouped particularly in Istanbul, but their deep religious attachment has led many to Israel in order to find Karaite mates to marry. Those who marry non-Karaite Jews or partners from other communities are automatically segregated from the community and constitute a loss for the Istanbul community, which numbers 50–60 families.

In recent years, many young Karaites have studied medicine, while others have tended towards craftsmanship such as jewelry. In some cases the jewelry artisanship is handed down from father to son and practiced in the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul. One Covered Bazaar street is called "The Street of the Karaites." Similarly, an important business center of Istanbul has retained its name – "Karaköy."

Following the destruction by fire of the great Karaite Synagogue, the Karaites have been using the Hasky Karaite Synagogue. This is the last available and usable Karaite sanctuary. Because their dwellings (Moda, Şişli, Nişantaşl, Gayrettepe, etc.) are far away from the synagogue, Karaites are not able to attend as frequently as previously. The synagogue, led by Yusuf Sadik, never witnesses three generations attending together. Only during rare religious holidays do a few Karaites, usually elderly, come to pray. Nevertheless, the Karaites continue to survive and strive to maintain their numbers.

There are still a few Karaites in Cairo, mostly older people who look after the Karaite synagogue and precious manuscripts.

In 1970, 4,571 Karaites were reported to be in the Soviet Union. Following the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union, some awakening of Karaite identity and activity took place in these countries. According to a report by Mourad El-Qodsi (resident of Rochester, n.y., originally from Egypt), who visited the Karaite communities of Eastern Europe in 1991, the overall number of Karaites there was approximately 1,400, with 800 of them living in the Crimea, and the rest in Poland (in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw), Lithuania (in Vilna, Poniewiez and Troki), Halicz (Ukraine) and Moscow. In Russia there appeared a "Karaite National Movement," which also attempted to achieve an autonomous political status for Russian Karaites. Similar attempts have been made by Crimean Karaites. The majority of the latter also developed the ideas of Seraya *Shapshal to unprecedented extremes, severing all links to Judaism (which was also accepted in Western Europe by Simon *Szyszman), and tracing their ethnic origin to Mongol-Turkic roots and their religion to Turkish pagan practices and the cult of the Turkic deity Tengri. Most of the minority of Crimean Karaites who did not share this line emigrated to Israel, as did Karaites from other eastern European communities, which brought a further decrease in their numbers.

Scholarship on Karaism and the Karaites

The Israeli Karaite community has been active in editing previously unpublished Karaite works or reissuing unavailable classics. These works included among others Aaron ben Elijah's Keter Torah and Gan Eden (both reissued, 1972), Isaac Troki's Hizzuk Emunah (1975), Caleb Afendopolo's Patshegen Ketav ha-Dat (1977). All these were semi-critical editions. A major Karaite project of publishing semi-critical editions of tens of works by medieval and early modern Karaite authors has been undertaken in recent years by the Institute Tif 'eret Yosef headed by Rabbi Yosef Algamil. The latter also published a multi-volume work on Karaite history and life. The first two volumes discuss in general the history of Karaism and Karaites, and the third volume is devoted to the Karaite community of Egypt. While characterized by a partisan Karaite interpretation of Karaite origins and history, these books contain much material about Karaism unavailable elsewhere. The personal accounts of Karaite communities and the many illustrations are especially important. Another recent one-sided exposition of Karaism is by the Paris-based Polish Karaite Simon *Szyszman, Le Karaïsme, 1980 (German tr. Das Karäertum, 1983). Szyszman has also begun a journal entitled Bulletin d'Études Karaïtes.

Leon *Nemoy continued to publish in the 1970s until the early 1990s on the subject almost 60 years after his first article on Kirkisani. His many publications during these years, ranging from early Karaism (and Kirkisani studies) to contemporary Karaism, have contributed greatly to Karaite studies. In honor of Nemoy's eightieth birthday, two Festschriften were published (Studies in Judaica, Karaitica, and Islamica, 1983, and Jewish Quarterly Review 73:2, October 1982), both with articles about many aspects of Karaism.

Georges *Vajda (d. 1981), in addition to his many publications in all fields of Jewish and Islamic thought, took special interest in early Karaite philosophy, law, and exegesis (see below).

The one question of Karaite studies which continues to intrigue scholars more than any other is the issue of Karaite origins and the possible relation between medieval sectarianism and Jewish groups of the Second Temple period. The issue, simply put, is whether Karaism was founded in the eighth century by *Anan ben David, or whether Anan merely reorganized and consolidated non-Rabbinic groups which had existed for hundreds of years. The discovery in 1947 of the *Dead Sea Scrolls, with certain obvious parallels to Karaite literature, occasioned a flurry of research comparing the ancient scrolls with medieval writings. While more and more parallels have been adduced between apocryphal and Qumranian literature, on the one hand, and Karaism, on the other, there is yet no decisive proof that an organic connection can be shown between Second Temple groups and Karaites. N. Wieder's The Judean Scrolls and Karaism appeared in 2005 in a revised expanded edition. A recent comprehensive contribution on the subject is Y. Erder, The Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls, (2004, Heb.). The latter work is representative of a revival of Karaite studies, especially in Israel, since the early 1970s. Studies have addressed a wide range of subjects related to Karaites and Karaism. Most scholars no longer accept the simplistic Rabbanite view of Karaism as a schismatic heresy begun by a single disgruntled individual, Anan. Some of the scholars who have addressed themselves recently to these issues are Haggai Ben-Shammai, Daniel Lasker, Yoram Erder, and Moshe Gil (who has also published The Tustaris, Family and Sect, 1981, about a sub-group of Karaites).

A large scale survey of "the state of the art" of Karaite studies is Meira Polliack (ed.), Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources, (2003).

Research in Karaite exegesis and religious thought in recent decades included Georges Vajda, Deux commentaires karaïtes sur l'Ecclésiaste (1971) and his edition of Joseph *al-Baṣīr's Kitāb al-MuÎtawī (edited by David R. Blumenthal). The book includes an edition of the original Arabic text and French translations or paraphrases, accompanied by extensive commentaries showing al-Baṣīr's dependence on contemporary Muslim Kalām, especially the works of ʿAbd al-Jabbār. Uriel Simon, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms, 1982, based his discussion of the Karaite approach upon the opinions of Salmon and Japheth. Haggai Ben-Shammai presented Japheth's (and Kirkisani's) philosophy in his dissertation, The Doctrines of Religious Thought of Abû Yûsuf Yaʿqûb al-Qirqisânî and Yefet ben ʿElî, 1977. Moshe Sokolow's dissertation, The Commentary of Yefet ben Ali on Deuteronomy xxxii, 1974, provides an Arabic edition and Hebrew translation of part of Japheth's Torah commentary. Mention should be made of the studies of Bruno Chiesa, notably Bruno Chiesa and Wilfrid Lockwood, Yaʿqub al-Qirqisani on Jewish Sects and Christianity (1984). Mention should be made also of Daniel Franks contributions: his Ph.D. thesis "The religious philosophy of the Karaite Aaron ben Elijah: the problem of divine justice" (1991), and Search Scripture Well: Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentary in the Islamic East (2004).

In the area of Karaite Arabic Bible translations, M. Polliack dedicated a monograph to The Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible Translation (1997). Further, in the area of exegesis and linguistics, mention should be made of the works of Geoffrey Khan, who published The Early Karaite Tradition of Hebrew grammatical thought: including a critical edition, translation and analysis of the Diqduq of 'Abu Ya'qub Yusuf ibn Nuh on the Hagiographa (2000) as well as the grammatical compendium of Abu ʾl-Faraj Hārūn, al-Kitāb al-Kāfi (together with M. Angeles Gallego, J. Olszowy-Schlanger, 2003), and the studies of Aharon Maman.

Haggai ben-Shammai's and David Sklare's publications concerning early Karaite authors and their philosophies (Daniel ben Moses *al-Qūmisī, Kirkisani, Japheth ben Ali, *Jeshua ben Judah) have also shown the Kalamic milieu of these Karaite thinkers. Daniel J. Lasker's studies of late Karaite philosophy (Judah *Hadassi, *Aaron ben Elijah, Elijah *Bashyazi) have challenged the widely held assumption that Karaites invariably remained loyal to the early Karaite Kalamic thought. In fact, Aaron ben Elijah was greatly influenced by Aristotelianism, and Bashyazi was a follower of Maimonides. Mention should also be made of Sarah Stroumsa's dissertation edition of David *al-Mukammis' ʿIshrūn Maqāla, 1983, though it is unclear if the latter was indeed a Karaite.

Two large scale projects of Karaite studies have been undertaken at the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East: (a) The most comprehensive bibliography ever compiled on Karaites and Karaism, including texts and studies, was prepared by B. Walfish (containing over 7,000 entries) and is scheduled to appear in 2006. (b) In the Center for the Study of Judeo-Arabic Culture and Literature, the cataloguing of the Judeo-Arabic manuscripts of the Firkovich Collection (over 9,000 items) has been under way. So far several thousand manuscripts have been catalogued and two printed catalogues have appeared, of manuscripts of writings by al-Baṣīr (1997), and of Japheth ben Eli's commentary on Genesis (2000).

Karaite ethnomusicology has been investigated extensively by Jehoash Hirshberg, who has compared the changes that have taken place in Egyptian Karaite musical traditions in Israel and in the United States. Rachel Kollender has specialized in Karaite liturgical music. Both authors have noted the role music has played in preserving Karaite identity.

The fate of Karaites during the Holocaust has been discussed recently by Warren P. Green and Shmuel Spector. All evidence seems to point to the conclusion that, while individual groups of Karaites were murdered, generally the Nazis regarded European Karaites as a Tataric group similar to other Crimeans.

Other scholars who have been engaged in Karaite research include the late Alexander Scheiber, Philip E. Miller, Giuliano Tamami, William Brinner, and Jonathan Shunari.

A major desideratum of Karaite studies is an intensified effort towards the publication of critical editions of Karaite texts, many of which remain either in manuscript or in inferior printed editions.

[Daniel J. Lasker and

Eli Citonne /

Haggai Ben-Shammai (2nd ed.)]

Karaite Doctrine

principles of hermeneutics and legal thought

In principle, the Bible in its entirety is the sole source of Karaite creed and law. All religious precepts must derive directly from the Bible, based upon the literal meaning of the text, the customary use of the words and the context. Tradition is accepted, provided it is indispensable for the application of precepts contained in the text, for the clarification of ambiguities, or to make up for deficiencies in the concrete details of precepts; it must not be at variance, explicit or implicit, with any Biblical statement, and it must have the general consensus of the (Karaite) community; even so, however, its role remains restricted and subordinate. Certain rabbinic laws are accepted, not as valid components of the Oral Law transmitted by the Rabbanites, but as clarifying prescriptions, indicated in the text and reinforced by custom and tradition (sevel hayerushah, "yoke of inheritance"; haʿakah. "transmission"). For the rest, every scholar must study Scripture for himself, and, if urged to do so by his own knowledge and conscience, alter earlier opinions. Thus, Karaite doctrine is characterized, on the one hand, by rigidity and immutability of tradition, and, on the other hand, by an absence of restrictions on individual understanding of the Scriptures.

In the initial period of the development of Karaism (ninth century), it was the individualist trend that predominated, resulting in an almost anarchic state of affairs. This situation in Karaism of an infinite variety of opinions, as it existed until the middle of the tenth century, is reported on by al-Kirkisānī, who also attempts to explain and justify it by the principle of a free conception of Scriptures based on human reason (see above). Eventually, Karaite doctrine underwent a process of systemization and unification and an alternative tradition(s) to the Rabbanite one (as was Anan's tradition in the beginning); in its essentials, this process was developed at the time of Judah Hadassi (middle of the 12th century), achieving its final form at the time of Elijah Bashyazi (end of 15th century).

The following principles were established as norms for the determination of the law:

(1) the literal meaning of the biblical text (ketav, mishma, Arabic samʿ);

(2) the consensus of the community (ʿedah, kibbuẓ, Arabic ijmāʿ);

(3) the conclusions derived from Scripture by the method of logical analogy (hekkesh, Arabic qiyās);

(4) knowledge based on human reason and intelligence (hokhmat ha-daʿat, Arabic ʿaql); this latter principle, however, was not universally accepted by Karaite scholars. The principle of logical analogy was applied in its broadest sense and encompassed inference based upon analogy of words (gezerah shavah), upon induction (hekkesh ha-ḥippus), and upon analogy of notions (e.g., in respect of the prohibition of kil'ayim, and others). Judah Hadassi established not less than 80 different hermeneutical rules, including those applied by the Talmud (Eshkol ha-Kofer, nos. 114, 168–73). The hermeneutical rules most widely applied (especially with regard to marriage laws and degrees of consanguinity) are:

(1) analogous interpretation of juxtaposed words and passages (semukhin);

(2) inferences drawn a fortiori (kal va-ḥomer);

(3) interpreting a general principle on the basis of individual examples (kelal u-ferat; perat u-khelal; kelal u-ferat ukhelal), as well as all kinds of subsumption under a general principle (binyan av, etc.);

(4) extensive interpretation of a notion (hagbarah);

(5) a variety of rules for the interpretation of special words and grammatical peculiarities (e.g., the hermeneutical interpretation of the particles et and kol in the expansive sense, and of akh, rak, and min in the restrictive sense).


Apart from its fundamental stand on the Oral Law, Karaite creed does not differ in its essentials from that of Rabbanite Judaism. In its early stages normative beliefs had been formulated already by Daniel al-Qumisi, and reflect Kalam-oriented theology. Later creeds in Arabic and Hebrew were also based on the same principles. A list of ten articles of faith was formulated by Judah Hadassi (mid-12th century). In the late Middle Ages the philosophical foundation of Karaite creed was established in Eẓ Ḥayyim, the work of Aaron b. Elijah of Nicomedia, which the Karaites recognized as authoritative. Elijah Bashyazi and his pupil Caleb Afendopolo formulated the philosophy of the Karaite creed in ten principles (which are somewhat different from those of Hadassi):

(1) God created the whole physical and spiritual world in time, out of nothing;

(2) He is a creator who Himself was not created;

(3) He is formless, One in every respect, incomparable to anything, incorporeal, unique, and absolutely unitary;

(4) He sent our teacher Moses (this presumes belief in the Prophets);

(5) He sent us the Torah through Moses which contains the perfect truth (which cannot be complemented or altered by any other law, specifically not by the Oral Law recognized by the Rabbanites);

(6) every believer must learn to know the Torah in its original language and with its proper meaning (mikra and perush);

(7) God also revealed Himself to the other Prophets (although their gift of prophecy was less than that of Moses);

(8) God will resurrect the dead on the day of judgment;

(9) God rewards every man according to his way of life and his actions (individual providence, freedom of will, immortality of the soul, and just reward in the hereafter);

(10) God does not despise those living in exile; on the contrary, He desires to purify them through their sufferings, and they may hope for His help every day and for redemption by Him through the Messiah of the seed of David. (In some earlier Karaite creeds, e.g., Hadassi, the doctrine of the Messiah is omitted.)


Unlike Rabbanite Judaism, Karaism has no fixed number of commandments (of commission or omission). Karaite legal doctrine does not, of course, even approach rabbinic Judaism in its multi-faceted development. The calendar (including Sabbath and holidays), laws of marriage, dietary laws, and precepts on ritual purity have received the most intensive treatment in Karaism, usually in a strictly literal sense and with a tendency toward greater severity.

calendar and holidays

The calendar was the subject by which the Karaites distinguished themselves from the Rabbanites. It was also the subject of much dispute among the Karaites. In principle the calculation of the Karaite calendar was based on lunar observation, and observation of the barley for the purpose of intercalation. By the middle of the 19th century the use of mathematical calculation, in addition to visual observation of the new moon, was accepted, following the lead of *Isaac ben Solomon, at least by the majority of the Crimean Karaites. Like the Rabbanite calendar, the Karaite calendar is based on the calculation of the new moon. Karaites also recognize the 19-year cycle with seven leap months of 29 days each; determination of the beginning of the month, however, in addition to being based upon the calculation of the moment of the appearance of the new moon (molad) and its location in accordance with special tables, also depends upon direct observation of the new moon. Thus, if direct lunar observation is made on the eve of the 30th day of the month, the following day becomes the day of the new moon; otherwise, the 31st day becomes the day of the new moon and the preceding month is determined to have had 30 days. The month of Nisan is regarded as the first month of the calendar year. In practice, however, following the tables of Bashyazi, the calendar is calculated in advance, by approximation (haqrava), as though the new moon was observed. In Israel, in order to emphasize this "approximation," observations are conducted in advance, in the spring, and accordingly the calendar of the following year (starting in the month of Tishri) is printed. Rabbi Samuel Magdi has been trying for several years to introduce mathematical calculation in principle, so far without success.

In determining the date of the holy days, Karaites deviate from Rabbanite usage in the following manner: the New Year Festival may begin on any day of the week (contrary to the Rabbanite rule, which provides for the postponement of the day of the New Year in three specific cases); as a result, the Karaite Day of Atonement does not always coincide with the Rabbanite; Passover and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) are observed everywhere in the world for seven days only; the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) falls on the 50th day following the Saturday of the Passover week (in accordance with the literal interpretation of Lev. 23:11, which the Talmud interprets in a different manner), and is therefore always on a Sunday; Ḥanukkah is not recognized, but Purim is, although the Fast of Esther is not; the Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the 24th of Tishri (as it was by the exiles returning from Babylon). Other fast days, with the exception of the Tenth of Tevet, are also observed on dates that differ from the rabbinic fast days (Karaites relate the fast days to the destruction of the First Temple, not the Second Temple).

Special rules apply to the sanctification of the Sabbath. Prohibition of work extends, beyond the 39 actions proscribed by Rabbanite Judaism, to any action not forming part of the prayer service or not absolutely necessary for nourishment or the satisfaction of other physical human needs. The earlier Karaite teachers (up to Jeshua b. Judah), like the *Samaritans and the *Beta Israel, prohibited the kindling of lights on Friday for use on the Sabbath (see Eshkol ha-Kofer, no. 146), and even taught that a light already lit had to be extinguished on the Sabbath; Jeshua b. Judah and his successors, however, taught that light on the Sabbath was permitted as an indispensable need and for the joy of the Sabbath (see Adderet Eliyahu, 1835, 31a). To this day, however, Karaites are either "friends of light" or "enemies of light," depending on whether or not they use artificial light on the Sabbath. Sexual intercourse is also prohibited on the Sabbath, and Karaites also oppose a number of alleviations of Sabbath precepts sanctioned by the rabbis.

circumcision and dietary laws

Certain rabbinical precepts pertaining to circumcision (peri'ah and meẓiẓah) are rejected by the Karaites. They also differ on the detailed regulations of ritual slaughter and therefore regard the meat of animals slaughtered according to Rabbanite regulations as prohibited. An important difference is the rejection of the "minimal quantities" (shi'urim) fixed by the Talmud in connection with dietary laws and the laws of purity. The prohibition contained in the Bible (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21) of boiling "a kid in its mother's milk" is also accepted by the Karaites as forbidding the consumption of the meat of cattle (not of fowl) with milk or butter; they do not, however, accept the additional restrictions enacted by the rabbis. They also strictly prohibit the consumption of the meat of an animal taken alive from the womb of its slaughtered mother (ben pequʿah). Karaites permit the consumption of the meat of those animals only that are enumerated in the Bible, and reject the criteria for permitted mammals and birds as formulated in the Talmud. Many Karaite scholars hold that, ever since the destruction of the Temple, any consumption of meat is prohibited.

marriage laws and laws on ritual purity

Karaite laws on marriage and the prohibited degrees of consanguinity are of special severity. In the early period, even the farthest removed degree of consanguinity was regarded as prohibited, with the result that by the 11th century the Karaite community was running the danger of extinction. The Karaite scholars of that period established the so-called rikkuv theory. Historically it was based on the adoption of Anan's views on this subject in their entirety. Exegetically and logically it was based on the assumption that man and wife form a unity of flesh (according to Gen. 2:24), from which it follows that persons related by marriage are also blood relations (she'er). In arriving at this conclusion, they made use not only of direct analogy (hekkesh) but also of derivative analogy (hekkesh ha-hekkesh), of the second, or even a higher degree. In this manner, the most distant relatives came to be included in the biblical term she'er.

This extreme theory of incest was rejected by Joseph b. Abraham ha-Kohen ha-Ro'eh al-Baṣīr and his pupil Jeshua b. Judah and was replaced by a less stringent law consisting of a set of six regulations (five, according to Joseph ha-Ro'eh). The reforms were not accepted by all Karaites immediately, and the debates about it continued for several centuries. The first regulation states that, according to the Bible and tradition, "blood relatives" (she'er) for a man are father and mother, brother and sister and their blood relatives; i.e., the father's or the mother's sister, the son's daughter and the daughter's daughter (in accordance with Lev. 18:10, 12, 13) and – by analogy – the brother's daughter and the sister's daughter. The corresponding relatives are regarded as prohibited for a woman (this is the second regulation). The third regulation prohibits the wife's blood relatives (based on Lev. 18:17). The fourth prohibits blood relatives of the wife's blood relatives. The fifth forbids marriage between two blood relatives and two blood relatives, e.g., two brothers marrying a mother and her daughter, respectively, or two sisters a father and his son, respectively (based on Lev. 18:11). The sixth regulation prohibits marriage between two blood relatives and two blood relatives once removed (thus Jeshua b. Judah, on the basis of an extensive interpretation of Lev. 18:14). Furthermore, any prohibition applying to one person also applies to all his blood relatives in the ascending and descending line, ad infinitum (but only to a limited degree as far as lateral lines are concerned).

In respect of ritual impurity, especially the impurity of the menstruation period (niddah), Karaite regulations are far stricter than the ones fixed by the rabbis. Notwithstanding, Karaite women are not required to immerse in a mikveh. Instead, they are required to pour water on the body with a vessel, from the head over the back, downwards. Rabbanite women in 12th century Egypt adapted this custom, causing Maimonides to stage a public campaign against it, which resulted in the promulgation of specific regulations reiterating the obligation of Jewish women to immerse in a mikveh.

liturgy, ẒiẒit, and tefillin

Karaite liturgy – which originally consisted solely of biblical psalmody – has the least similarity with its Rabbanite counterpart. There are two prayer services a day, mornings and evenings; on the Sabbath and holy days the Musaf prayer and other non-obligatory prayers are added. Originally, the Ma'amadot (prayers referring to the Temple sacrifices) formed the main basis of the Karaite rite. A prayer may be short or long, but must consist of seven parts (shevaḥim, hoda'ah, vidduy, bakkashah, teḥinnah, ẓe'akah, keri'ah) and the confession of faith. The prayers consist mainly of passages from the Bible (with the emphasis on Psalms) and partly also of prayer-poems, unknown to the Rabbanite rite. The Shema prayer is included in the Karaite rite, but the Shemoneh-Esreh (daily prayer consisting of 18 benedictions, and their equivalents for Sabbath and holidays, consisting of seven benedictions) is not known. The yearly cycle of weekly reading-portions from the Torah is almost identical with that of the Rabbanites. Until the end of the Middle Ages they used to begin the cycle in the spring, but changed it later, to begin in the fall, after Sukkot. The haftarot selection used by the Karaites differs from the Rabbanite one. During the prayer service, Karaites wear ẓiẓit (a fringed garment), the ẓiẓit including a light-blue thread. The biblical prescriptions concerning mezuzah and tefillin are regarded by the Karaites as having a figurative and symbolic meaning, and they reject the rabbinical regulations based upon them.

[Joseph Elijah Heller /

Leon Nemoy]

Attempts at Reconciliation between Karaism and Rabbanism

The basic disagreement between the Karaites and the Rabbanites over the authority of the post-biblical oral tradition, and the unshakable conviction of the Karaites that their teaching represented the pure original Mosaic faith, free of Rabbanite distortion and corruption, made attempts at reconciliation anything but hopeful. The finality of Saadiah's proscription of the Karaites as complete heretics, and the resultant extreme bitterness of his Karaite opponents, made any rapprochement impossible in the tenth century, while the Karaite propensity to repeat over and over again the dicta of their great scholars of the golden age extended this bitterness into later centuries. At the same time, in 11th–12th centuries Egypt, relations seem to have been much improved, as is attested, among others, by several marriage contracts between members of the highest social layers, in which one party was Rabbanite and the other Karaite. Eventually, however, feelings calmed down on both sides. No less an authority than Elijah Bashyazi quotes his predecessors approvingly to the effect that "most of the Mishnah and the Talmud comprise genuine utterances of our fathers, and… our people are obligated to study the Mishnah and the Talmud." On the Rabbanite side Maimonides states his view that the Karaites "should be treated with respect, honor, kindness, and humility, as long as they… do not… slander the authorities of the Mishnah and the Talmud. They may be associated with, and one may enter their homes, circumcise their children, bury their dead, and comfort their mourners." Two medieval efforts to heal the breach are noteworthy. The first, an Arabic tract on the differences between the two camps, was composed some time before 1284 by Saʿd ibn Kammūna, a Rabbanite physician and philosopher in Iraq. He cites the mutual accusations proffered by each side against the other, and offers his own replies to them, silently implying that both sides have sinned against each other and that the ancient split has long lost its pertinence. Half a century later, an Italian Rabbanite scholar who settled on the island of Crete, Shemariah b. Elijah of Negropont, surnamed Ikriti (the Cretan), wrote on the same theme, calling upon both camps to come together, "so that all Israel might once more become one union of brethren." The fact that in the 16th century Egyptian rabbis contested the agreement between Sephardi codifiers (Shulhan Arukh) and Ashkenazi ones (Rabbi Moses Isserles) on the prohibition of mixed marriages, because of possible mamzerut (see *mamzer), testifies to the correct relations between the two communities in Egypt at the time.

In modern times, the policy of the Karaite leaders in Russia and Poland in the 19th and 20th centuries, in completely dissociating themselves from their Rabbanite cousins, in order to escape the crushing disabilities and persecutions imposed on Jews there, led to a quiet but profound estrangement, although scholars in both camps continued to maintain an amicable dialogue in the course of their research into Karaite history and literature. (On the situation in Israel, see above.)

Karaite Printing

Unlike the Rabbanites, who produced a flood of Jewish printed books from the 1470s to the present day, the Karaites ignored the printing press down to the 18th century, and the very few Karaite books printed earlier were the work of Rabbanite printers. The earliest Karaite printed work is an edition of the liturgy, set up in 1528/29 by Rabbanite typesetters at the press of Daniel Bomberg in Venice. The next Karaite book to come off the press, Bashyazi's Adderet Eliyahu, was produced Constantinople in 1530/31 by Gershom b. Moses, a member of the great Rabbanite family of master printers, the Soncinos. Two more works, Aaron the Elder's Kelil Yofi and Judah Fuki's Shaʿar Yehudah, were published in 1581 and 1582, respectively, likewise at Constantinople, by unnamed, but no doubt Rabbanite, printers. In the 17th century only one Karaite work, Joseph Malinovski's Ha-Elef Lekha, was published, at Amsterdam in 1643 by the press of *Manasseh b. Israel.

The first Karaite printers were the brothers Afdah (Afidah) and Shabbetai Yeraqa, who issued a few sample sheets of the liturgy in Constantinople, in 1733, under the auspices of the Crimean Karaite leader Isaac Sinani. They then moved to Chufut-Kale, in the Crimea, and there produced in 1734 a larger sample of their work, an edition of the haftarot. This was followed by an edition of the entire liturgy in 1737 and a booklet of benedictions in 1741; an edition of the Rabbanite liturgy according to the rite of Feodosiya and Karasubazar (in the Crimea) was also issued in 1735. The press apparently went out of business soon after 1741, although why Isaac Sinani, who lived on until 1756, permitted it to expire, is not known. In 1804, several years after the Crimea was annexed to Russia, a new Karaite press was organized, likewise at Chufut-Kale, and between 1804 and 1806 it produced four works – revised editions of the liturgy and the benedictions, and two tracts on the calendar. Then it too went out of existence, and the few Karaite books printed later came from non-Karaite presses in Vienna and Ortākoy (near Constantinople). The first more or less successful Karaite press was established in 1833 in Eupatoria and published some important texts. (See above, the section "Scholarship on Karaism and the Karaites").

The reason for this paucity of Karaite printing can only be conjectured. Presumably it was their traditional rigid conservatism and dislike of innovations, however beneficial, and the small demand for books, which made printing for the Karaite market an unprofitable undertaking.

[Leon Nemoy]

Musical Tradition

The musical tradition of the Karaite community has been mainly determined by two factors: their ethnic-historical heterogeneity, and their religious-conceptual homogeneity. It is reasonable to assume that the Karaites were not completely isolated from their surroundings, and that it ought to be possible to find traces of Byzantine, Sephardi, Tatar, Slavic, and Arabic traditions in their music. However, the only living tradition in Karaite music today is the one derived mainly from Egypt, which is almost entirely centered in Israel. This tradition finds expression in the recitation of prayers, particularly

on Sabbaths, festivals, and life-cycle celebrations, and in the reading of the Torah and haftarot. The four volumes of the Siddur ha-Tefillot ke-Minhag ha-Yehudim ha-Kara'im ("Prayer Books of the Karaite Ritual") are richly endowed with psalms, piyyutim, and songs by Karaite poets, such as Samuel ha-Hazzan, Mordecai of Troki, Moses ha-Levi ha-Katan of the Sages of Kedar, and also by Rabbanite poets like *Judah Halevi and Judah al-Ḥarizi, who were greatly esteemed by the Karaites. These piyyutim are recited by the Karaites in an animated intonation somewhat resembling both cantillation and singing. In the prayer books there are many musical directions, such as ברון גרון בהלל שיר וזמרה "with note of throat in praising song and chant." Based on a center tone, the Karaite prayers are generally recited in a fairly flat melodic curve, which ranges from a second to a third, and almost never exceeds the range of a fourth. On festivals, especially Simḥat Torah, the chants are far richer, both melodically and rhythmically. An example is the piyyut Ekra be-shir ve-zimrah, in which the range is a fifth and the *maqām is nihāwand. The piyyut is recited alternately by the cantor and the congregation, the congregation repeating the refrain, while the cantor sings the several stanzas with improvised rhythmic variants. However, a piyyut such as Ashreikhem Yisrael, which is also in maqām nihāwand, has the range of a seventh, and is somewhat dance-like in style. The Karaites read the Torah in maqām sīkāh (similar to the Rabbanite Near Eastern communities), even though their reading is not always faithful to the maqām. They distinguish 21 cantillation accents, ignoring the shalshelet, merkha kefulah, telisha ketannah, yare'ah ben yomo, and munnaḥ le-garmei. While the etnaḥ lacks a clear melodic motive and tends to be expressed as a descending speech intonation, the pazer gadol ranges through a seventh, and the revi'a an octave (with about 20 notes). In the cantillation of the haftarah, the Karaites observe only eight accents. The reader ignores the remaining accents, "drawing" the other parts of the text into the eight motives. The outstanding characteristic of the reading of the haftarah is the frequency of actual motives amid a kind of dramatic recitation. The melodically richest songs are those sung at weddings and circumcisions. However, the loftiest musical expression is found in the songs of an artistic character, such as Karati be-koli, whose melody is attributed to David Ḥusni, a Karaite musician who lived and worked in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century. This song, in maqām rāst and in the aba form, is common among the Karaites and enjoys special popularity. Section b of the song is in the Arab mawāl style. Although among the Egyptian Karaites it is still possible to find a musician who plays the qānūn, violin, drum, or even, nowadays, the accordion, the community as a whole does not like instrumental music. As with the cultures of all other communities in the Israel melting pot, the future of the Karaite tradition now hangs in a precarious balance.

[Shlomo Hofman]


R. Mahler, Kara'im (Yid., 1947, Heb., 1949); L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952); idem, in: jqr, 50 (1959/60), 277–9; 51 (1960/61), 332–40; idem, in; paajr, 36 (1968), 102–65; Z. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium (1959), includes extensive bibliography, 461–84; idem, in: paajr, 24 (1955), 1–38; 25 (1956), 157–82; idem, in: Essays on Jewish Life and Thought… in Honor of S.W. Baron (1959), 1–38; idem, in: Tarbiz, 29 (1959/60), 195–202; 30 (1960/61), 186–208; Mann, Texts; R. Fahn, Legenden der Karaiten (1921); idem, Kitvei Reuven Fahn, 1 (1929); P. Grajewsky, Me-Ḥayyei ha-Kara'im bi-Yrushalayim (1922); S. Assaf, in: Tarbiz, 4 (1932/33), 35–53, 193–206; idem, Be-Oholei Ya'akov (1943), 181–222; Z. Cahn, The Halakah of the Karaites (1936); idem, The Rise of the Karaite Sect (1937); Baron, Social, index; I. Ben Zvi, in: ks, 32 (1956/57), 366–74; idem, Mehkarim u-Mekorot (1966), 267–78; P.S. Goldberg, Karaite Liturgy and its Relation to Synagogue (1957); N. Allony, in: ks, 36 (1960/61), 390–8; idem, in: huca, 35 (1964), 1–35 (Heb. pt.); A. Loewenstamm, in: Sefunot, 8 (1964), 165–204; Dinur, Golah, 4 (1962), index, 601; M. Corenaldi, in: Mahalakhim, 1 (1969), 7–18; E. Feldmann, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1968/69), 61–74; J. Rosenthal, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… Ḥ. Albeck (1963), 425–42 (= Meḥkarim u-Mekorot, 1 (1967), 234–52); idem, in: ks, 36 (1963/64), 59–63; C. Roth, in: Yerushalayim, 4 (1953), 138–40; P. Friedman, in: M. Beloff (ed.), On the Track of Tyranny (1960), 97–123; Ẓ. Harkavy, in: Gesher, 15 (1969), no. 4 107–9, incl. bibl.; Ch. Burchard, Bibliographie zu den Handschriften vom Toten Meer, Berlin, 1957–65 (continued periodically in the Revue de Qumran, i/1958 onward); N. Wieder, The Judean Scrolls and Karaism, 1962 (cf. jqr, 82/1963, 222ff.); R. Kashani, Kara'im, Korot, Masorot, Minhagim ("Karaites, Their History, Traditions and Customs," Jerusalem, 1978). musical tradition: S. Hofman, in: Leshonenu, 22 (1948), mus. examples between pages 264–5; idem, in: Abstracts Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies (1969), div. 4, 26–27. For later studies, see "Scholarship on Karaism and the Karaites" above.


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KARAITES . The Karaites (Heb., Qaraʾim ; Arab., Qarāʾīyūn ) are a Jewish sect that recognizes the Hebrew Bible as the sole source of divinely inspired legislation, and denies the authority of the postbiblical Jewish tradition (the Oral Law) as recorded in the Talmud and in later rabbinic literature. The term, which apparently first occurs in the writings of Benjamin al-Nahāwandī (ninth century ce), is variously interpreted as "scripturalists, champions of scripture" (from the Hebrew qaraʾ, "to read," particularly "to read scripture") and as "callers," that is to say, those who call for a return to the original biblical religion (from the alternate meaning of qaraʾ, "to call, to summon"). Apart from the Samaritans, the Karaites are the oldest surviving Jewish sect and have produced an extensive scholarly literature, much of which has been preserved.

The Rise of Karaite Judaism ("Karaism")

Sectarian dissent in Judaism goes back to the Second Temple period, when it was represented by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (with whom the Qumran community is likely to be identified). The growth and eventual codification of the postbiblical rabbinic tradition in turn gave rise to further dissent. The Karaites are one of several groups that have claimed the Hebrew Bible to be the one and only repository of God's word, which may not be modified by any subsequent, traditional law.

According to one early Rabbanite account, the Karaite movement originated circa 750 ce with an aristocratic, Babylonian scholar named ʿAnan ben David, who should have succeeded to the Exilarchate (secular leadership) of the Iraqi Jewish community. Because of his excessive wildness and irreverence, however, he was rejected in favor of his younger brother Hananiah. Consequently, ˓Anan declared himself head of a dissident group; these Ananites formed the nucleus of what later became the Karaite sect. This simplistic account suffers from a number of historical and psychological difficulties. Already in the late seventh and early eighth centuries, the anti-traditional leaders, Abū ʿĪsā and Yūdghān, had been active in the vicinity of Iraq. In the ninth and early tenth centuries, other leaders such as Ismāʿīl and Mīshawayh in ʿUkbarā (Iraq), Benjamin al-Nahāwandī in Iran, Mūsā al-Zaʿfarānī in Iraq and then Armenia, and Malik al-Ramlī in Palestine, presided over their own sectarian followings. All of these separate dissident groups developed their own heterogeneous teachings, although they seem to have vaguely regarded themselves as members of the larger community of anti-rabbinic sectarians.

Theological disagreement seems to have been only one of several causes of this new flowering of schisms; others were political, social, and economic. The large autonomous Jewish community in Iraq was administered by a bureaucracy serving the exilarch and the presidents (called the geʾonim ) of the academies, who codified, interpreted, and developed the rabbinic tradition and acted as supreme courts of appeal. This bureaucracy was maintained by internal taxation that added to the heavy taxes already paid by non-Muslims to the Muslim state. The poorer classes of the Jewish communityand they formed the great majoritythus had ample reason for dissatisfaction with their lot. At the same time, the extension and consolidation of the Muslim empire in the seventh and eighth centuries enabled such discontented elements in the Iraqi community to emigrate to the sparsely settled and less regulated mountainous provinces of the east and north, where they observed the conquered Persian population, united under the banner of Shiism, seething with resentment and resistance against their Arab masters. Finally, the speed and ease with which the Arabs conquered the Byzantine and Persian dominions must have aroused anew Jewish hopes for the end of exile, the restoration of Zion, and the ingathering of the exiles in the Holy Land under their own government. But this hope was quickly shattered: the new Muslim masters, like their Christian and Zoroastrian predecessors, had not the slightest interest in Jewish national aspirations and dreams. All these factors probably contributed to discontent with the status quo, particularly among the disadvantaged elements of the Iraqi Jewish community.

By the beginning of the tenth century, the schism had expanded from its Iranian-Iraqi birthplace into Syria-Palestine. The leading figure was Daniel al-Qūmisī (originally from northern Iran), who preached a spiritual return to biblical Judaism and a physical return to the Holy City. By returning to Jerusalem, studying scripture, leading an ascetic existence, and mourning for the destroyed Temple, these "Mourners for Zion" sought to hasten the divine salvation and the messianic era which they believed to be imminent. The Mourners would become the spiritual and intellectual core of the Karaite movement during the tenth and eleventh centuries, subsuming other sectarian groups such as the Ananites. Zealous Karaite missionaries traveled far and wide to the Jewish settlements in the Near East, preaching to both Karaite and Rabbanite audiences. During the second quarter of the tenth century, however, they encountered stiff opposition. Saʿadyah ben Joseph al-Fayyūmī (882942), the polymath gaon of the Sura academy in Baghdad, published several polemical works against Karaite teachings, condemning their proponents as outright heretics. Saʿadyah's prestige and forceful scholarly argumentation effected a decisive break between the two camps that has never healed. It also seems to have kept the Karaite mission from ever making serious inroads among Rabbanite populations in the Near East.

Bitter though it was in its earlier stages, the Karaite-Rabbanite controversy stimulated Jewish literary creativity in the East during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Influenced by Islamic and Christian models, Rabbanites and Karaites had begun to experiment with new genres in the fields of theology, philosophy, biblical exegesis, and Hebrew philology. But undoubtedly, the inter-denominational feuding motivated members of both camps to produce scholarship of the highest standard. A Karaite academy flourished in Jerusalem during this period, giving advanced training to students from sectarian settlements as far-flung as Muslim Spain and Byzantium.

Much closer to home, the Karaite community of Egypt grew in wealth and importance, which derived in no small part from the success of several members of the Tustarī family, prominent members of the Fatimid court. Since Syria was under Fatimid control for much of this period as well, Karaite prestige increased throughout the area and on the whole, relations with Rabbanites improved dramatically. Marriage documents and formularies from the eleventh century attest to Karaite-Rabbanite intermarriages, in which bride and groom agreed to recognize each other's respective religious practices. Such allianceswhich took place within the highest strata of Jewish societyindicate a general interest in maintaining communal unity and harmony.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Karaite population began to shift geographically. The Turcoman invasion of Syria (10711074) and then the Christian victory in the First Crusade (1099) all but ended Jewish settlementRabbanite and Karaite alikein Palestine. While the Cairo community remained intactsurviving in situ until the late twentieth centuryit seems to have declined in prestige during the twelfth century. Meanwhile, the Karaites of Byzantium, who had imbibed the teachings of the Jerusalem school, emerged as a distinctive, independent community which created a substantial scholarly literature over the course of seven centuries (see below). Constantinople remained the leading Karaite center until the seventeenth century when it went into a steep decline. In Islamic Spain, on the other hand, the presence of Karaites elicited sharp reactions from leading twelfth-century Rabbanite scholars including Judah Halevi, Abraham Ibn ˓Ezra˒, and Avraham Ibn Daud. Likely because of their isolation from fellow-sectarians and this unrelenting Rabbanite opposition, the Andalusian Karaites seem to have vanished by the end of the twelfth century. New communities were emerging, however, in Eastern Europe. The Rabbanite traveler Petahyah of Regensburg (1180), mentions a scripturalist group he encountered in the Crimea who appear to have been Karaites; there is clear-cut evidence of a community there by the late thirteenth century. Settlements in Poland and the Ukraine may date to the thirteenth century; they were certainly established by the early fifteenth century, when the Lithuanian community in Troki (Trakai, near Vilnius) emerged as the European center of the sect.

There are large gaps in the Karaite historical record between the twelfth and early nineteenth centuries. For thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Byzantium, for example, the sole witnesses are Aaron ben Joseph the Physician and Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia, whose writings contain few contemporary references. Bio-bibliographic works, by David Ibn al-Hiti (fifteenth century), Mordecai ben Nisan (1699), Simah Isaac Lutski (1757), and others, provide the skeleton for a history of scholarship and are invaluable guides to Karaite self-perceptions and historical consciousness, but yield scant information about social, religious, and cultural developments. Travel accountsby Karaites, Rabbanites, and non-Jewscorrespondence, and topical treatises, on the other hand, give glimpses of communal life and concerns at specific moments. Thus, a dispute with Rabbanites in Cairo (1465) or an internal controversy in Constantinople over Sabbath lights (late fifteenthearly sixteenth centuries) are relatively well documented, while basic data concerning both communities in subsequent decades are lacking. All the same, certain generalizations seem warranted. Not infrequently, Karaite and Rabbanite communities existed in close proximity. Usually, the Christian and Muslim authorities did not differentiate between the two groups, regarding them both as Jews. Since Karaite populations almost invariably seem to have been smaller, they tended to remain on correct, if somewhat distant terms with their Rabbanite brethren. In one striking exception to this pattern, several Karaite scholars in mid-fifteenth-century Constantinopleincluding Elijah Bashyatchi, Caleb Afendopolo, and Judah Gibborstudied with an eminent Rabbanite teacher, Mordecai Comtino. Typically, teacher and disciples treated each other with respect, while attacking each other's legal views vigorously.

In general, conversions from one group to the other seem to have been relatively rare. The anti-Karaite polemic of some Rabbanite authors is merely theoretical, and is not grounded in any actual fear of defection to the Karaite cause. Moses Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135/81204), the most outstanding Jewish scholar of the medieval period, summed up the Rabbanite attitude by advising reserved but helpful behavior toward Karaites as fellow Jews, albeit wayward ones, so long as they desisted from hostile attacks on Rabbanite dogma and practice.

In the seventeenth century, the Karaite communities in the Crimea, Lithuania, and Poland assumed the leading role. By the end of the eighteenth century, these communities had all come under Russian rule. In the nineteenth century, several energetic leaders succeeded in obtaining from the tsarist government full citizenship rights for Karaites; this set them even further apart from the Rabbanite majority in Russia, which continued to bear the full weight of the oppressive and discriminatory anti-Jewish laws.

World War I affected the Russian Karaites only where they found themselves directly in the way of military operations. During World War II, the Karaites in the occupied territories of Poland and western Russia were generally not molested by the German authorities, on the groundgenerously supported by Rabbanite representatives consulted by the Germansthat they were ethnically not Jewish but rather were descended from the ancient Turkic nation of the Khazars, converts to Judaism who once ruled southern Russia. These Karaites were therefore not subject to wholesale extermination, as were their Rabbanite brethren. The nineteenth-century campaign to achieve independent, official recognition and the generally negative attitude in Russia after the 1917 revolution toward religion in general and Judaism in particular, led Karaites in the U.S.S.R. to distance themselves entirely from Jewish history, religion, and culture. In the Middle East after 1945, the Arab-Israeli conflict had a serious effect on the Karaite communities in the neighboring Arab states. Owing to emigration, the ancient community of Hīt, in Iraq, ceased to exist, and the equally ancient community in Cairo was vastly reduced when most of its members moved to Israel, Europe, and the Americas. At present, there are perhaps twenty-five thousand Karaites in the world (in Israel, Eastern and Western Europe, and the United States), though no truly reliable statistics exist.

Karaite Literature

Fragments of ʿAnan's code of law have survived in the original Aramaic. Both in language and in style, the work bears strong affinities to classical rabbinic texts. Benjamin al-Nahāwandī and Daniel al-Qūmisī also wrote codes, and al-Qūmisī composed the earliest surviving Jewish Bible commentaries; these works were all written in Hebrew. Between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, Karaite scholars in Muslim lands produced an extensive religious literature in Arabic. In Asia Minor, the Crimea, and Poland-Lithuania, the Karaite language of scholarship between the eleventh and twentieth centuries was Hebrew. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Karaites of Eastern Europe and the Crimea also wrote in their vernacular Turkic dialects.

The first major scholar of the golden age of Karaite literature was Yaʿqūb al-Qirqisānī (second quarter of the tenth century), whose magnum opus is a two-part Arabic commentary on the Pentateuch. The first part, titled Kitāb al-anwār waʾl-marāqib (Book of light-houses and watchtowers), comments on the legal parts of the Pentateuch and forms not only a detailed code of Karaite law but also a veritable encyclopedia of early Karaite lore. The second part, Kitāb al-riyā waʾl-adāʾiq (Book of gardens and parks), deals with the nonlegal portions of the Pentateuch. Al-Qirqisānī also wrote an extensive commentary on Genesis that seems to have dealt in detail with various philosophical problems, such as the nature of God and of matter, creation ex nihilo, and good and evil. Of all his works, only Kitāb al-anwār has been published in full. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Karaite scholars connected with the academy in Jerusalem produced a number of important works, mostly in Arabic, in the areas of exegesis, philology, theology, law, apologetics, and polemics. Among the most important authors were Salmon ben Yeruīm (a polemicist and exegete), Japheth ben Eli (the first Jew to compose commentaries on the entire Bible), Sahl ben Malia (an exegete, legal scholar, and polemicist), David al-Fāsī (a lexicographer), Joseph ben Noah (president of the Jerusalem academy), Abuʾl-Faraj Hārūn (Hebrew: Aaron ben Jeshua; a grammarian and exegete), Yūsuf al-Baīr (Hebrew: Joseph ha-Roʾeh; an eminent theologian), and Abuʾl-Furqān ibn Asad (Hebrew: Jeshua ben Judah; an exegete and legal authority).

With the growth of the Greek-speaking community in Asia Minor, it became necessary to translate the Karaite Arabic classics into Hebrew, the literary language of Byzantine Jewry. Translators such as Tobiah ben Moses and Jacob ben Simeon produced Hebrew versions which are notable for their awkward syntax, strange technical vocabulary, and Greek glosses. In the twelfth century, a more natural Hebrew style appears in an extensive encyclopedia of Karaite scholarship begun in 1148 by Judah Hadassi and titled Eshkol ha-kofer (Cluster of henna), and in Jacob ben Reuben's terse Bible commentary. By the late thirteenth century, the Karaites of Byzantium were writing a fluent Andalusian Rabbanite Hebrew. Drawing upon Maimonides and Abraham Ibn ˓Ezraʾ, Aaron ben Joseph wrote a philosophical commentary on the Pentateuch; he is best known, however, as the redactor of the official Karaite liturgy. Subsequently, Aaron ben Elijah (d. 1369), composed an invaluable trilogy: ʿE ayyim (The tree of life), a Karaite Guide of the Perplexed ; Gan ʿEden (The Garden of Eden), a code of law; and Keter torah (The crown of the Torah), a commentary on the Pentateuch. Elijah Bashyatchi (d. 1490) and his brother-in-law Caleb Afendopolo (d. after 1522) compiled another code, Adderet Eliyyahu (The mantle of Elijah), which became the most esteemed legal manual among modern Karaites. A versatile scholar, Afendopolo indexed older books (such as Eshkol ha-kofer and ʿE ayyim ), wrote scientific works, and composed Hebrew belles-lettres. A contemporary, Judah Gibbor, composed an important Pentateuch commentary in verse, which was the subject of later Karaite supercommentaries. Other authors of note include Moses Bashyatchi (d. 1572?), who incorporated Arabic citations of al-Qirqisānī into his own treatises, Moses Messorodi, who composed an important collection of sermons, and Elijah Yerushalmi (d. c. 1700), who sought to bring traditional Karaite learning from Constantinople to the Crimea.

Egypt produced a few important Karaite authors. Born in Alexandria, Moses Darʿī (thirteenth century?) was the group's preeminent Hebrew poet, writing an impressive body of secular verse in the style of the great Andalusiams. In the fifteenth century, Samuel al-Maghribī wrote the last known Arabic code of Karaite law and a popular set of homilies on the Pentateuch, while David Ibn al-Hītī composed a brief but important chronicle of Arabic scholars from ʿAnan down to his own time. Moses ben Samuel produced a corpus of Hebrew poetry, including an epic account of his tribulations in the service of the emir of Damascus, who in 1354 forced him to become a Muslim and to join a pilgrimage to Mecca. He finally escaped to Egypt, where he seems to have returned to his ancestral faith.

As the Ottoman Empire progressively declined, the center of Karaite literary activity again shifted northward, to the Crimea, Lithuania, and Poland. The Karaite community of Troki counted as one of its most illustrious sons Isaac ben Abraham Troki (d. 1594, or perhaps 1586), the author of a critical tract against Christianity titled izzuq emunah (Fortification of the faith), which was later admired by Voltaire. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a group of Protestant theologians (Rittangel, Peringer, Puffendorf, Warner, Trigland) drew parallels between the Karaite secession from the Rabbanite synagogue and the Protestant secession from the Church of Rome. They encouraged the composition of several works by Polish Karaite informants, including Mordecai ben Nisan of Kukizów (near Lviv, in Polish Galicia) and Solomon ben Aaron of Troki (d. 1745), which set forth their view of Karaite history, dogma, and ritual. Simah Isaac ben Moses of Lutsk (d. 1766) composed the first substantial Karaite literary history.

In the nineteenth century, the outstanding Karaite man of letters was Abraham Firkovitch (17861874), who during his travels in the Crimea, the Caucasus, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt amassed a large collection of Karaite manuscripts, one of the richest in the world, now in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. He was also a prolific writer, although the authenticity of many historical data he cited from colophons and from tombstones has been rejected. An older contemporary of his, Mordecai Sultansky (d. 1862), wrote several works, among them a history of Karaite Judaism, Zekher addiqim (Memorial of the righteous), valuable mainly as an exposition of the modern official version, authorized by the leading circles of the Russian-Polish-Lithuanian community.

During the twentieth century, several members of the Egyptian community were active authors: Mourad Farag (18671956), a jurist and poet; Tobiah Babovitch (18791956), the last Karaite Chief Hakham (Rabbi) in Cairo; Mourad El-Kodsi (1919), a communal historian; and Yoseph El-Gamil (1943), a historian and editor of texts.

The invention of printing with movable type was eagerly seized upon by Rabbanite Jews to produce an enormous library of religious and secular literature from the 1470s down to the present day. On the Karaite side the picture is quite different. No Karaite incunabula were printed, and only four Karaite booksthe first, an edition of the Karaite liturgy, published by the Christian bookmaker Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 15281529appeared in the sixteenth century, all set in type and run off the press by Rabbanite compositors and pressmen. Only one Karaite book came out in the seventeenth century, printed in 1643 at the Amsterdam press of Menasseh ben Israel, a Rabbanite scholar and publisher known also for his negotiations with Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell on the readmission of Jews into England. The earliest Karaite presses were those of the brothers Afeda and Shabbetai Yeraqa in Istanbul (1733) and in Chufut-Kale, in the Crimea (17341741); there was also another press in Chufut-Kale (18041806). They were short-lived and succeeded in publishing only a few books. The first more or less successful Karaite press was established in 1833 in Eupatoria (or Gözlöw), in the Crimea, and published several important old texts.

One can only guess at the reason for the typographical backwardness of the modern Karaites. One factor was very likely their historical dislike of innovative change. Their limited number and the comparative paucity of prospective purchasers and interested readers among them probably also made printing unprofitable unless supported from time to time by a wealthy patron from their own midst. In recent years, however, the Karaites in Israel have issued a large number of texts; some are photomechanical reproductions of nineteenth-century prints, but many more have been newly set and published by Yoseph El-Gamil.

Dogma and Practice

Karaite Judaism is epistemologically grounded in scripture and reason. During its formative period, it borrowed its theology wholesale from the teachings of the Muslim Mutazilites of Basra. The Karaite Yūsuf al-Baīr (d. c. 1040) and his Rabbanite contemporary Samuel ben Hophni Gaon thus shared common views on many doctrinal points. While Rabbanite scholars distanced themselves from Mutazilite theories, successively embracing Neoplatonism and then Aristotelianism, the Karaites held fast to their old theology until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In his ʿE ayyim, Aaron ben Elijah actually attempts to synthesize the kalām teachings of Yūsuf al-Baīr with Maimonidean Aristotelianism. Although the experiment cannot be said to have succeeded in full, it remained influential within the Byzantine Karaite camp.

In his code of law, Adderet Eliyahu, Elijah Bashyatchi formulated the Karaite creed in ten articles, corresponding to the Ten Commandments: (1) that the physical universe was created; (2) that it was created by God, who is eternal; (3) that the Creator has no form and is unique; (4) that He sent Moses, His prophet; (5) that He sent the Torah, which is perfect, with Moses; (6) that the believer must know Hebrew, the language of the Torah; (7) that God inspired all other true prophets who came after Moses; (8) that God will resurrect the Dead on the Day of Judgment; (9) that God rewards and punishes all human beings according to their deserts; (10) that God has not abandoned the people in exile, and that though they suffer, they must anticipate the coming of the Messiah who will effect the divine salvation. No Rabbanite could find any of this objectionable.

Where the two groups have always differed, however, is in their attitude toward the postbiblical (Talmudic and rabbinic) tradition: for Rabbanites, the Oral Law is of Mosaic origin and mediates the understanding of Scripture; for Karaites it is at best a body of non-authoritative knowledge, and at worst a malignant, man-made fabrication. But even the rejection of the rabbinic tradition has turned out to be not quite absolute, for with the passage of time, changing conditions have forced the formation of a native Karaite tradition in order to cope with new situations and problems that were not anticipated by Moses the lawgiver. Hence the development of the three pillars of Karaite legislation: (1) the scriptural text (Heb., katuv; Arab., na ); (2) analogy (Heb., heqesh; Arab., qiyās ) based on scripture; and, in cases where the first two pillars are of no help, (3) the consensus of scholarly opinion (Hebrew qibbu or ʿedah, "community," the latter term possibly influenced by the Arabic ʿādah, "customary practice, common law"; Arabic ijmāʿ, "agreement"; later termed in Hebrew sevel ha-yerushah, "burden of inheritance").

Consequently, the Karaites and Rabbanites finally part ways in their religious practices, and here the differences are substantial and fundamental. For the Jewish calendar, which governs the fixing of the dates of holy days, the Karaites rejected the rabbinic mathematical reckoning and depended solely on the observation of the phases of the moon; only comparatively recently was limited reckoning admitted. In dietary law, the scriptural interdict against seething a kid's flesh in its mother's milk was not broadened (as it was in rabbinic law) to cover all meat and dairy foods. In the law of consanguinity, the Karaites originally followed the so-called catenary (chain) theory (Heb., rikkuv; Arab., tarkīb ), which permitted piling analogy upon analogy to deduce further forbidden marriages from those explicitly listed in scripture. The social consequences of this practice finally became so threatening to the physical survival of the Karaite community that Jeshua ben Judah succeeded in modifying it, although the Karaites still employ a much more extensive definition of consanguinity than the Rabbanites do. This remains, however, the only instance of a major reform in Karaite law. The scriptural prohibition of kindling fire on the Sabbath day is interpreted literally to mean the total absence of all fire, even if kindled before the onset of the Sabbath and left to continue burning, as permitted by rabbinic law. The modest relaxation of this rule in the Byzantine, Crimean, and Eastern European communities, where the absence of light and heat throughout the cold and sunless winters inflicted real hardship, aroused strong opposition. Other differences relate to ritual cleannessparticularly rigorous for Karaite womeninheritance (the Karaite husband has no claim upon his deceased wife's estate), and various dietary laws. Polygyny is not officially prohibitedas it was by a medieval European rabbinical enactment recently extended to eastern Jewries as wellbut it seems to have been quite uncommon even in Muslim countries, probably for social and economic reasons; in Western countries it was, of course, outlawed and was recognized as such by Jewish law. The Karaite liturgy, originally limited to selected biblical psalms and prose passages, was eventually developed into a large corpus of both prose and versesome written by Rabbanite poetsquite distinct from the Rabbanite one.

The connection between the Karaites and Sadducees, suggested by some early Rabbanite polemicists, or between the Karaites and the Qumran sect, as advanced by some modern scholars, remains hypothetical. Similarities in some observances may be nothing more than earmarks of the age-old continuous chain of dissent in Judaism. (The outstanding example, the rule that Shavuʿot must always fall on a Sunday, seems to be one of the oldest points in Jewish dissent.) Verbal parallels between certain early Karaite writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls are more suggestive. The chief stumbling block here is the hiatus of some five hundred years between the Sadducees and the Qumran community on the one hand, and the earliest known Karaites on the other. The most that can safely be said at present is that the primitive Karaites may possibly have had access to some Sadducee or Qumranite literary documents. Whether they have been influenced by them, and if so, to what extent, cannot yet be determined.


The modern critical study of Karaite Judaism dates back about a century and a half. Until recently, very few scholars devoted their full attention to the subject, despite the existence of a large and extremely important Karaite literature which remains in manuscript, awaiting publication and analysis. Certain aspects of Karaite historyfor example, the role of social and economic factorshave only now begun to attract interest. Many of the older works retain their basic value, but require updating. Fortunately, the situation seems to be changing. During the past two decades, there has been growing interest in Judeo-Arabic literature generally, and Karaite writings in particular. Since 1989, moreover, the great collections of Karaite manuscripts in St. Petersburg at the Russian National Library (RNL) and the Institute of Oriental Studies have become accessible. The RNL manuscripts, which had been assembled by Abraham Firkovitch during the nineteenth century, are now being catalogued for the first time. They will serve as the basis for a comprehensive rewriting of early Karaite history and literature. At the same time, Karaite texts in Hebrew from Byzantium, the Crimea, and Eastern Europe are now being studied critically and analyzed in their proper contexts. Despite their historically small numbers, the Karaites, their forms of belief and practice, and their place in Jewish history, are now beginning to receive the attention they deserve.

Ankori, Zvi. Karaites in Byzantium: The Formative Years, 9701100. New York, 1959.

Astren, Fred. Karaite Past and Jewish History. Columbia, S.C., 2004.

Baron, Salo W. A Social and Religious History of the Jews. 2d ed. 18 vols. New York and Philadelphia, 19521983, 5: 209285.

Ben-Shammai, Haggai. "The Karaite Controversy: Scripture and Tradition in Early Karaism." In Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter, edited by Bernard Lewis and Friedrich Niewöhner, pp. 1126. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1992.

Birnbaum, Phillip, ed. Karaite Studies. New York, 1971.

El-Kodsi, Mourad. The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 18821986. Lyons, N.Y., 1987.

Frank, Daniel. "The Study of Medieval Karaism, 19891999." In Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World, edited by Nicholas De Lange, pp. 322. New York, 2001.

Frank, Daniel. Search Scripture Well: Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentary in the Islamic East. Leiden, 2004.

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 6341099. Cambridge, U.K., 1992. See pages 777820.

Goldberg, P. Selvin. Karaite Liturgy and Its Relation to Synagogue Worship. Manchester, U.K., 1957.

Lasker, Daniel J. "Karaism in Twelfth-Century Spain." Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 1 (1992): 179195.

Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, vol. 2: Karaitica. Philadelphia, 1935; reprint, New York, 1972.

Miller, Philip E. Karaite Separatism in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Joseph Solomon Lutski's Epistle of Israel's Deliverance. Cincinnati, 1993.

Nemoy, Leon. Karaite Anthology. New Haven, Conn., 1952.

Olszowy-Schlanger, Judith. Karaite Marriage Documents from the Cairo Geniza: Legal Tradition and Community Life in Mediaeval Egypt and Palestine. Leiden, 1998.

Polliack, Meira. The Karaite Tradition of Arabic Bible Translation: A Linguistic and Exegetical Study of Karaite Translations of the Pentateuch from the Tenth to the Eleventh Centuries. Leiden, 1997.

Polliack, Meira, ed. Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources. Leiden, 2003.

Poznanski, Samuel. "The Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon." Originally published in the Jewish Quarterly Review, old series vols. 1820 (19061908), reprinted, London, 1908; reprinted again in Karaite Studies, edited by Phillip Birnbaum (see above).

Rustow, Marina. "Rabbanite-Karaite Relations in Fatimid Egypt and Syria: A Study Based on Documents from the Cairo Geniza." Ph.D. diss, Columbia University, New York, 2004.

Vajda, Georges. Al-Kitāb al-Muhtawī de Yūsuf al-Basīr. Edited by David R. Blumenthal. Leiden, 1985.

Wieder, Naphtali. The Judean Scrolls and Karaism. London, 1962.

Leon Nemoy (1987)

Daniel Frank (2005)


views updated May 17 2018


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 Writingsand 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 taxesequal to those collected from the surrounding populationsor 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.

Sociopolitical Organization

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 Judaismbeliefs 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)


views updated May 17 2018


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 CairoHarat 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 artisansprimarily as gold- and silversmithsor 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.



views updated Jun 08 2018

Karaites (from Heb., ‘readers’, i.e. of scripture). Jewish sect basing itself on scripture, not subsequent interpretation. The name ‘Karaite’ was not used until 9th cent. CE. The sect is usually thought to have been founded by the ascetic Anan b. David in the 8th cent., when his younger brother Hananiah was elected exilarch. Their basic doctrine was that the Bible is the only source of law, and that scholars must study scripture for themselves and interpret it according to their own consciences. From the 12th cent., however, a process of systematization began under such scholars as Judah b. Elijah Hadassi (who summarized Karaite theology in his Eshkol ha-Kofer), Aaron b. Joseph ha-Rofe (who was an eminent biblical exegete and wrote Sefer-Mivhar, the classic Karaite commentary), and the codifier, Aaron b. Elijah the Younger, whose Gan Eden earned him the title of ‘the Karaite Maimonides’. They were perceived as Jews by their gentile rulers, and were in general subject to the same edicts. During the Second World War, the German government pronounced that the Karaites were not Jews and they were thus spared the horrors of the Holocaust. In Israel, they have their own bet din and they are not permitted either by halakhah or by their own laws to intermarry with the rest of the population.


views updated May 17 2018


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


views updated May 14 2018

Karaite member of a Jewish sect which bases its tenets on literal interpretation of the scriptures. XVIII. f. Heb. kerā'îm scripturalists, f. Kārâ read; see -ITE.