Aug 10, 2007

Something I know nothing about.

Surprise surprise. I'm almost completely ignorant of Karaite Jews. Why? Probably because there's only 35,000 of them and they all live in the Middle East for the most part. Or perhaps because they haven't had converts for more than 500 years. But now, well, they just converted some folks. And I'm intrigued by their take on Judaism -- no Talmud, no post-biblical writings. Chicken and milk is okay (yes! that's how I roll and how I interpret the text), but mikvah is not. Neither is tefillin.

As such, guess what my new-found academic obsession will be? You guessed it. Karaite Jews.

Click here for the story.


Unknown said...

Hi and shalom Chaviva.

That article ia nice and timely, but a few errors, inaccuracies and misconceptions need to be corerected. So here goes:

1. While the article claims Qaraite Judaism traces its origins to 8th century Persia, the truth is Qaraites had already existed before even without being known explicitly as "Qaraites". Already during the Byzantine Theodosius I's reign, Qaraites migrated from Persia to Andrianople (in what's today Turkey). What's more, back in the late 19th century the Qaraite Jews in Cairo still possessed a document stamped by the palm of Egypt's first Muslim ruler wherein he instructs the Rabbinic Jews not to interfere with the Qaraites' practice of religion.

2. Qaraite Judaism is a Jewish movement or denomination, so it is inaccurate at best to label Qaraism a sect. By the same logic underlying that word's usage, also Orthodox Judaism may be dubbed a sect.

3. The figure of 35,000 Qaraite Jews worldwide is in much dispute and by no means authoritative. Those in the know agree that at *absolute minimum*, the grand total of Qaraite Jews in Israel stands at 25,000 while the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs' website has estimated the toll of Qaraites in Israel to be 40,000. In any event, outside of Israel exist at least 2,500 authentic Qaraite Jews.

4. "Customs" like prostrate prayer and foregoing footwear in the sanctuary are not Qaraite inventions. They used to be common in *all* Jewish movements all the way back to the Second Temple era at least. In Rabbinic Judaism they gradually ceased being practiced only during the Middle Ages.
Also, let's bear in mind that other non-Rabbinic movements up until the 10th century differed with the rabbis on the interpretation of at least some kashrut laws, and even within Rabbinic Judaism there were different interpretations of these laws at least up until the the Gaonic era starting about 640 AD.

5. The notion that Qaraites disaprove of using any lights on Shabbat is a spillover from pre-electricity times when the only way to light up a place was by fire.
Most Qaraites do not believe the prohibition on kindling fires during Shabbat causes a sweeping ban on the use of electricity for lighting purposes. Opinions vary on the matter. Some think electricity from all sources is banned, others believe electricity may be used as long as it's from non-grid sources like solar power, wind power and batteries. Still others accept solar and wind power but disapprove of using batteries. Others allow all sources of electricity for light on the condition no work be done with electrical and electronic appliances on Shabbat.

6. KJA isn't the only Qaraite congregation in America. Smaller congregations exist in LA, Chicago, the metropolitan NYC area, Albany NY and northern Texas.

7. The toll of 30,000 Qaraites worldwide is in dispute and by no means authoritative. While the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs estimates the Qaraites to number 40,000 in Israel, the absolute minimum grand total of the Qaraite population in Israel stands at 25,000. In any event, outside of Israel live at least 2,500 authentic Qaraite Jews.
Moreover, Syria has been devoid of a Qaraite population at least 200 years.

Thank you for taking your time to have the article's errors and misconceptions dispelled for yourself.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...


Thanks for your note. As I haven't begun researching the group yet, I hadn't made any assertions about the group. I thank you for your details, but believe me, I'll be doing my own research.

Thanks for the concern.

Unknown said...

You're welcome, Chaviva.

I've stumbled upon so much misinformation that I invariably know when a source is reliable or not within 2 minutes.
Not only am I Qaraite myself, I'm familiar with this topic from reading countless internet webpages, both Hebrew (on a daily basis) and English. I've also been in regular contact with Israeli Qaraites.


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