Karaite Judaism

Shalom friends, today we are going to meet a very special community of the Jewish People- The Karaites (“kara’im”). It is very common among people to think that there are only two or three main streams or thoughts in Judaism: the religious people, the Masoratic and the secular ones. However, the reality is different. There are many different and diverse Jews in Israel and around the world.

The Karaites are a small movement (approximately 25,000 Jews in Israel and 10,000 in the rest of the world) that recognizes only the Old Testament (“Tanakh” or “Mikrah”) as the authority of the Jewish Law.

There are some verses from the Hebrew Bible that express the idea of this movement.

The Old Testament

The first is from Joshua 8:34-35-

“וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן, קָרָא אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה, הַבְּרָכָה, וְהַקְּלָלָה–כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב, בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה. לֹא-הָיָה דָבָר, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה מֹשֶׁה–אֲשֶׁר לֹא-קָרָא יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, נֶגֶד כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף, וְהַגֵּר, הַהֹלֵךְ בְּקִרְבָּם”

“Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.”

From this verse in Joshua we can learn that Moses got in Mount Sinai all the laws of G-d and he told it to Joshua who passed these laws to the Israelites. With this approach the Karaites believe that only what is written in the Bible is the truth and the word of G-d. If we use this approach, the oral tradition and the additions to Judaism do not have validity.

Another verse that can tell us the about the Karaites is from Deuteronomy as written:

” כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם–לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. וְלֹא-מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם, הִוא: לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲבָר-לָנוּ אֶל-עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה. כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.”

““For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

If there are no answers in the Hebrew Bible, each of the Karaites can and should find the answer on their own, it is not in heaven. Among the Karaites there are also sages that help people from the community to understand laws and interpret them. If the truth could be in our hearts, said the Karaites, we don’t need the help of other Scriptures and sages. The only way to serve G-d is by reading and learning the Hebrew Bible as written:

“אֵת כָּל-הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם–אֹתוֹ תִשְׁמְרוּ, לַעֲשׂוֹת: לֹא-תֹסֵף עָלָיו, וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ”

“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.”(Deuteronomy 13:1)

An ancient Karaites Cemetery

Let’s learn a few of the Karaites customs:

1. All of them don’t wear shoes in synagogues as the priests in the

Priest’s blessing.

2. The date of the Festival of Weeks is different every year due to a different counting from the Rabbinic Judaism.

3. The first month is as in the Bible – Month Nisan.

4. The Karaites don’t celebrate Channukah because this festival is not mentioned in the Old Testament.

What do you think about this movement in Judaism?

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Main phrases of the Post, Transcription & Translation:

סְפִירָה- Sefirah- Counting

תֹּקֶף- Tokkef -Validity

יַהֲדוּת- Yahadut -Judaism

קָרָא- Karah- He called

קָרָאים- Kara’im- Karaites

9 Responses to Karaite Judaism

  1. Awolowo Michael says:

    Is very interesting infact i felt as if I should continue reading about this wonderful people. I wish to know more about their manners and customs in future and I don’t mind if their is chance for me to come to Israel. Shavua tov.

  2. Eli'ezer ben Ephraim haKohen says:

    It is very nice that you have taken notice of Karaite Judaism. Most estimates of Karaite Jews in Israel now place the population at 40,000 and we can see this by the expanding number of Karaite Synagogues in Israel with Ashdod recently opening it second Synagogue.

    Many Karaite Jews do not ignore the Hasmonean observance of Hannukah, we just do not observe it in the fictitious manner of our Rabbanite brethern by making up a story of oil, when the book of Macabees itself tells us why we observe the remembrance of the event for eight days.

    One other comment, in stating that the Karaites believe that only the TaNaKh is the divinely inspired word of God, their whole position is overlooked. The now Karaite Chief Rabbi,Moshe Yosef Firrouz, was quoted in a May 22, 2007 article in the Jerusalem Post “Laying Down the Oral Law” that Karaite Judaism is based upon three foundational elements: 1. The TaNakh 2. Rational or Logical Interpretation of the TaNaKh; and 3. Sevel Hareyusha or Custom.