Hi, I’m Ken…and I’m Not a Karaite.

ken lane in tefillin

For regular readers of Okie Hebrew, this is going to sound a tad bit strange — I’m not a Karaite.

“Wait a minute, Ken — this blog is linked across the American Karaite Jewish blogosphere. You’re vocal in Karaite Jewish groups online and even as a featured speaker in Karaite Jewish conversation podcasts. How can you say you’re not a Karaite?”

I guess my answer to this question requires an examination of what it means to be a Karaite. The Karaite Jews have an amazingly rich history and culture that spans continents, ethnicities, and over a thousand years. In addition to anti-semitism, Karaite Jews have faced their own hardships associated with being a fringe group within a fringe group — a minority of a minority. Karaite Jewish tradition also stands in a league of its own. In few other areas of religious thought has tradition run parallel with innovation as it has in the Karaite halachic process for hundreds of years.

With the rise of the internet, what is and what isn’t Karaite Judaism became unclear. Many self-proclaimed Karaites, regardless of affiliation or subscription to traditional Karaite Jewish halacha, have cropped up. The misconception that Karaite Judaism is simply Judaism free of Rabbinic influence is one that has run rampant not only in the non-Jewish circles but has starting to creep into the mainstream Jewish world. To be a Karaite is subscribing not only to a particular school of halachic thought but aligning with the specific culture associated with Karaite Judaism.

It’s with this idea put forward that would make it dishonest of me to claim to be a Karaite.

ken lane in tefillinWhile I have an affinity to for Karaite Judaism and enjoy studying Karaite halacha, culture, and interacting with people from traditional Karaite communities, I would be mispresenting Karaite Judaism to claim that I am a Karaite. Even for all of my interest in Karaism, I’m probably most accurately described as a Modern Orthodox or Masorti/Conservative Jew with an interest in Karaism. I attend a Conservative synagogue and am a student of Rabbinic thought. My own Jewish studies lean much more into the realm of the rabbis of the Mishna, Gemara, Talmud and even Chasidut with much of my observance based on their insight. I consult a rabbi on most issues of halacha. For all intents and purposes, I’d say I’m a Jew with an interest in the observance and progression of halacha (Jewish law) as well a meaningful experience of Jewish prayer.

The reason for this article is two-fold.

1. To be honest with you, my audience. I would be disappointed in myself if one of you found some image of me praying in tefillin, wine on my Pesach table, or some other non-Karaite Jewish observances and felt that I had somehow misled you as to my own lifestyle and affiliation. I have no official association with any Karaite Jewish organization and I never have. I have prayed with them and studied with them. I will continue to do so in the future on occasion as I do with many different types of Jews, but I am not a Karaite.

2. To encourage certain parties to cease misrepresenting Karaite Judaism. There seem to be many personalities with self-prescribed authority who have felt it necessary to claim to represent Karaite Judaism when in reality, they frequently represent nothing more than their own personal interpretation of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. While Karaite Judaism is founded on the idea of interpreting the Tanakh according to your own understanding, claiming that such-and-such a way is in alignment with Karaite halacha is not academically honest or culturally sensitive. While I can see where it could be acceptable for these individuals to claim, “My interest in Judaism leans Karaite”, I would ask these individuals to please specify when their ideas diverge from Karaite halachic norms — which seems to be frequent. I would also ask for them to divulge their lack of affiliation with official Karaite organizations and cease from forming their own under the false moniker of being Karaite.

So, going forward — will I continue to post on Karaite topics? Occasionally, yes. I’ll also post on many great sources from some of my favorite rabbis as well as my own interpretations of Torah. This blog is not exclusively the domain of any particular Jewish affiliation. This blog is a place for an honest discussion of Jewish ideas. I can’t wait to dive into these ideas with you even more in the future.

“One should accept the truth from whatever source it proceeds.” – Maimonides