Recently, I’ve had a lot of encounters with people who had heard of Karaite Judaism yet were fairly unfamiliar with the history of Karaite Jewish thought. I thought I’d assemble my “must haves” for anyone who wants to “get their read on” about Karaism. I’m leaving a lot of works out for now. If there are some you’d recommend, leave them in the comments. This list is designed to just be a starting point for those interested in Karaite Jewish thought and history.
Disclaimer: I am not being paid to endorse any of these books. If you’d like me to check out a book to recommend, let me know!
As It Is Written: A Brief Case For Karaism
by Shawn Lichaa (of A Blue Thread), Nehemia Gordon and Meir Rehkavi
This is a primer for Karaite Jewish thought. It covers what is and what isn’t Karaite Judaism. Following the old motto of MTV’s Real World, the same can be true for Karaism: “You think you know, but you have no idea.” This book is designed to be short, but sweet – you could probably read it on your lunch break or a Shabbat afternoon. It doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but it’s designed to be an appetizer into what hopefully be much more advanced Karaite Jewish studies.
Karaite Anthology: Excerpts from the Early Literature
by Leon Nemoy (no relation to Spock, to my knowledge)
I had one Orthodox Rabbi friend of mine tell me that this work completely blew his mindset about Karaite Judaism – whom he had only thought was some anti-Talmud movement perpetrated by anti-Rabbinic wingnuts. This is a master work of Nemoy as he gives you the taste-test platter from most of Karaism’s greatest sages. With biographies on all of the commentators as well as samplings of their works, this is a must-have for anyone trying to build a semblance of a Jewish library – Karaite or otherwise. In the back are also English translated breakdowns of Karaite liturgy that have never-before been read by those whose Hebrew is not the strongest. Want to know what Yefet ben Eli thinks about the Sefer Rut (Book of Ruth)? It’s in there. Want to read up on Karaite wedding ceremonies? It’s in there. Shop around used book dealers as well and you can get quite the deal.
The Karaite Jews of Egypt: 1882-1986
by Mourad El-Kodsi
Less about Karaite Jewish halakha and more about the history of a people, this is an amazing work highlighting the history of Karaism’s huge influence in Egypt for over 100 years. This covers the rise and oppression of the Karaite Jews in Egypt. Though Karaite Jews are in the extreme minority of organized Judaism in this day-and-age, this book gives a very unique look at when Karaite communities were booming in Egypt. This also documents the relationship that Karaite Jewish communities had with their Rabbinic counterparts in the region. This work contains stories as well as photographs of Karaite Jewish communities in this hundred-year period. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but you’re also contributing to future Karaite Jewish works (either new works or translations of older never-before-translated works) by picking this book up – and I highly recommend that you do.
Mikdash Me’at: English Summary of Adderet Eliyahu by Rav Eliyahu ben Moshe Bashyatzi
Prepared by Tomer Mangoubi with help from Shawn Lichaa and Baroukh Ovadia
This work has not yet been published in book form and is only available in draft form, but it’s a hearty meal to chew on when it comes to Karaite Jewish exegesis of Rav Eliyahu ben Moshe Bashyatzi. Combining Karaite Jewish thought with extremely sound analysis of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), this is not only recommended for those interested in Karaite Jewish thought, but Biblical study in general. I will update this link once the work is completed and published. You know I’ll have to get my hands on some of the first copies! For now, download them, print off the sections (if you open them in Adobe Acrobat, you can print them off in book-form) and enjoy!