Q&A: Get many converts to Karaite Judaism?

Question & Answer:

Troy from Pennsylvania writes:
Do you get many converts to Karaite Judaism? Shabbat shalom.
Ken:

Karaite Judaism certainly doesn’t have a shortage of people requesting to convert. Oddly enough, Karaite Judaism for the past few hundred years hadn’t really facilitated many conversions up until the early 2000’s here in the United States. That’s when the Karaite Jewish University was formed and they started giving online courses on Judaism. From there, they made a conversion program with coursework that could be taken online. All those converting would, of course, need to be physically present to go before a beit din (house of judges) before the KJU could sign off on their conversion. The issue with this institution is that is not a full-time one — meaning the members do so in their free time as a labor of love. While this is nice, it leads to many inconsistencies over the years and some teachers or leaders may be unavailable. This can lead to such instances as our current state, being that this institution is not currently in session.

Funny story: when I wanted to convert, I contacted some friends who had gone through the KJU’s conversion program to gather information. They said that the KJU wasn’t in session at the time. I ended up later converting through another Jewish community of which I am still an active member and leader. They are not solely Karaite. I had been a part of this community before beginning the process of conversion.

My advice to someone seeking a conversion to Karaite Judaism:

1. Don’t think about it as converting to Karaism, Karaite Judaism, Conservative Judaism, or Orthodox Judaism. It is a conversion to Judaism — to being a part of the Jewish nation. It’s like if someone were to move from Russia to Oklahoma and receive United States citizenship. They would say, “I am an Oklahoma citizen.” They are United States citizens first who just so happen to live in Oklahoma. The flavor of Judaism is dependant on the community where you actively participate on a regular basis.

2. Find a community you like. It doesn’t have a Karaite synagogue and it probably won’t be. Having a Jewish community to call home is more important than the denomination on the sign. Meet the rabbi, other members, attend services regularly, volunteer, etc.

3. When you find a community you like, after a few months, bring up conversion to the rabbi or other leadership. It should always be community first, conversion later. Just emailing a Jewish community to ask about their conversion program before spending time there is always a red flag to them that you mostly want the conversion certificate and that you may split soon after. Jewish communities are much more eager to help those with conversion whom they consider part of the community and who will contribute to it with their efforts and participation in the future.

I hope that somewhat answered your question! Anyone reading this is free to correct any errors I have written.

 

Sincerely & Shabbat Shalom,
Ken
If you have a question you would like me to take a swing at, let me know!

Everyone Has A Unique Perspective

Some of my favorite Jewish personalities are those who bring about fresh perspectives despite the well-worn paths in Torah. While many do little more than quote the scholars of the past, my personal favorite thinkers are those who will be quoted in generations to come from now for their unique insight. While you would assume that these individuals are incredibly intimidating, they also happen to be some of the most approachable figures in existence. They have their own doubts and fears just like the rest of us. In fact, many of these thinkers are so similar to the average person that one may not realize their own genius. I would go even further to argue that even every common person has their own contribution to Judaic thought. My main source for this theory would be Exhibit A: Myself.

While I have a blog online that discusses Jewish ideas, I’ve always said I’d rather be the talk show host than the interviewed guest. My knowledge of Hebrew is mediocre at best and I’m not particularly well-studied in comparison to many of my fellow online Jewish writers. I’ve sat across from scholars fluent in several languages, those who had entire works committed to memory — those with all sorts of titles before and after their names on very expensive pieces of paper. I am not one of these people. I am the one who dreams of simply reading the books published under their names. Despite this, I believe that every person has a unique perspective on the well-worn path of Torah scholarship and Jewish life. I didn’t realize this as much until someone brought one of my ideas up in conversation — me, a quasi-educated Midwesterner trying to catch up with my own Judaism.

In October of 2014, I published an article in which I argued that the 10th commandment of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) was the most underrated commandment of the ten. The piece was called “The Most Underrated Yet Most Destructive Sin.” In it, I basically argued that the act of coveting was the basis for all other averiot (sins). One must desire something in a way that is unhealthy before they act upon such a desire. One steals because they covet an object. They commit acts of violence or infidelity because something appears to be in the way of what they covet. Even desecrating the Shabbat is done so when one covets not being “burdened” by the Shabbat’s stipulations.

This didn’t necessarily seem like an earth-shattering piece to me, but fell more under the criteria of “Judaism According to Ken.” Some years later, I was visiting Congregation B’nai Israel, the headquarters of the Karaite Jews of America in Daly City, California — just a little ways outside of San Francisco. After Erev Shabbat dinner, I was sitting with my friends, Shawn Lichaa (creator of A Blue Thread) and Tomer Mangoubi — an MIT graduate and accomplished Karaite Jewish scholar. They both wanted to talk more about my idea about the 10th Commandment being linked to all other transgressions. They seemed to be making a bigger deal about it than I thought they would and seemed to hold the opinion in very high regard.

 

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 11.14.18 PM
Shawn, his son Reuven, Tomer, and James Walker (in kippah)

 

“Do you realize that this was an opinion held by the Karaite sage Hakham Nisi Ben Noach in his work ‘Bitan Maskilim’?” Tomer uttered.
I shrugged, as I had never heard of Hakham Nisi Ben Noach. They continued to shower me with compliments about coming to such an insightful conclusion.

“Yeah, well…how do you know that I didn’t just rip that idea off from ‘Bitan Maskilim’?” I murmured as a means of reminding them that it was me they were talking about — not some published authority.

“Because ‘Bitan Maskilim’ has never been translated into English and I know that your Hebrew isn’t that great,” Shawn said with a truthful laugh. He was right — my Hebrew, especially then, was trash. Though he had said this for the entire room to hear, the previous compliments on my ideas about “לא תחמד” more than outweighed any potential embarrassment I could have felt.

While I continue to study Torah, I would be tremendously surprised if I ever were to come up with many more ideas that would seemingly warrant such accolades — after all, coming up with “ooh-ahh” concepts is not the reason I study. Still, I would encourage any person to share their own perspectives with their peers. If someone like me — who couldn’t pass for a talmid hakham on TV — can come to an insightful conclusion worth repeating, surely you have an entire book to write.

“Whoever is able to write a book and does not, is as if he has lost a child.”

– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov