Traditional Karaite Jewish Shechita (Kosher Slaughter) Q&A

This video contains some of the basic questions commonly asked about Traditional Karaite Jewish shechita, or kosher slaughter. Answering is shochet Avraham ben Adam, aka Travis Wheeler of Six Star Foods, Inc. ( http://sixstarinc.net/ ) and is, to this date, the only shochet certified to perform Karaite Jewish shechita in the United States. He is certified by Universal Karaite Judaism out of Ramle, Israel.

This video was shot at the annual Sukkot Gathering of the Union of Torah Observant Minyanim (UTOM) outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

Misconceptions the Messianic Movement Has About Karaite Judaism

Transcript:

Shalom and welcome to the Okie Hebrew podcast. I’m Ken Lane, aka: Yefet ben Ezra and this is the second installment of our series on misconceptions people have about traditional Karaite Judaism. If you missed the last installment, it can found at http://www.okiehebrew.com. If you hear some extra sounds in the podcast, that’s because I’m recording this from my hammock with my cat Ramone. If it sounds like I’m recording this from within a cave, it’s because it’s really cold here in Tulsa, OK and I’ve had to leave most of my faucets running to keep the pipes from freezing! Anyways, let’s get to it. 
In this episode, we’ll be discussing a variety of misconceptions, but the first focus is on a more recent development: that there are theologically Christian, aka “ Messianic” Karaite Jews. This misconception is fairly off the wall, but because of certain preconceived about Karaite Judaism, one can almost see how this mistake can be made. 
I remember a few years ago, hearing about a Messianic leader who was calling himself a “Messianic Karaite.”   He believed that Jesus/Yeshua was the Messiah, but kept calling himself a Karaite. In Messianic circles, I’ve heard more than once someone saying they are more “Karaite” in their walk. Let’s stamp this out now. 

Ask people what they think of when they hear the term “Karaite” and the answers run from a misspelling of a form of martial arts to group of directionless tradition-bashers. For being a movement with over a millennia of rich history and tradition (yes, it has tradition), the last 20-or-so years have been tumultuous for Karaite Jewish identity. Many people have claimed the title having never studied Karaite Jewish history, writings, or having even met a single Karaite Jew. These individuals, out of their own ignorance and eagerness to belong or wear a title have almost single-handedly dragged Karaite Jewish identity through the mud in the eyes of the mainstream Jewish world. The oddest part about all of this is that most of these people can more closely theologically be defined as Christians. It is for the sake of rectifying this injustice that I share this concise breakdown of what traditional Karaite Judaism is and what it is not.

Recently, I had a conversation with an Orthodox Rabbi friend of mine about Karaite Judaism. He admitted that he had fallen victim to believing many of the misconceptions about what Karaism represents. According to what he had heard and read, Karaism was that directionless group of individuals that bashed Mishna, Gemara and other traditions of Rabbinic Judaism with the belief in a purely “p’shat” understanding of the Hebrew Bible. He subscribed to the notion that Karaites were an anti-halakhic, anti-minhag collection of self-proclaimed “Bible purists” who aimed most of their attention towards refuting Rabbinic tradition – even when these traditions were a permissible method of remaining obedient to the written Torah. None of this was my friend’s fault. This is a generalized understanding (albeit a false one) of modern Karaism. He no longer sees Karaite Judaism in this way. What changed his mind? A book called the Karaite Anthology: A Excerpts From Early Literature by Leon Nemoy. In this book is contained is a “sampler plate” of ideas about certain areas of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish traditional life from Karaite Jewish sages  – and yes, I use the term “sages” on purpose. What changed his mind even further was the revolutionary idea to actually speak to traditional Karaite Jews. Many of the modern self-proclaimed “Karaites” are unaware that this text or that even traditional Karaite Jews exist. Who are these people you ask? I’ll tell you – ignorant hijackers.

Within the last 30 years or so, many tens of thousands of Christians have become greatly disillusioned with the counter-Biblical traditions of modern Christianity. Many have “come out of the church” in regards to striving to understand the Torah and to keep it according to their own understanding as well as the understanding of other fellow disillusioned Christians. They have relinquished traditions such as Christian-inspired holidays (Christmas, Lent, Easter, Halloween, etc.), they have abstained from eating certain species of animals and have attempted to the best of their understanding to take hold of the commandments of Torah. While this can be applauded by the Jewish world, the primary reason it is not as much so is due to this single idea: you can take the Christian out of the church but you can’t always take the church out of the Christian. Donning many familiar Jewish elements, these individuals still cling to the idea that Jesus (or as they now call him by his Hebrew name: Yeshua) is not only the Jewish Messiah, but was the Passover lamb that was slain for the sins of the world and that “salvation” is only accessible through a belief in the claims of the New Testament. If they kept to themselves, the Jewish world wouldn’t have much problem with this 1st and 2nd century AD style of Christianity, but it is when they conduct missionary activities that target Jews for conversion to this belief is what Judaism has a problem accepting. Even if the individual is sincerely keeping Torah out of a love of Torah and not using Jewish symbols to deceptively target Jews for conversion (such as organizations like Jews For Jesus and Chosen People Ministries frequently do), this still concerns the Jewish world because these people still strive to convince Jews that they need Jesus to be saved from eternal hellfire. Furthermore from this, because these individuals have protested Christian tradition, they desire to cast off all tradition – including Jewish tradition. Still, because people naturally desire community, many of these theologically-Christian Torah lovers have gravitated towards of Jewish tradition that they have mistaken for an “anti-tradition” – Karaism. It is true that Karaite Jews do not believe that the “Torah Shebaal Peh” or Rabbinic Oral tradition on how to keep the written Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. While this is true, this is about as much as the “Messianic” movement of theologically-Christian Torah lovers know about Karaite Judaism. Still, this is enough for them to get behind the movement and wear the “Karaite” name tag for themselves. There is a huge problem with this.

If one were to approach a self-proclaimed “Karaite” Messianic believer (theologically-Christian Torah lover) and ask them what they thought of Issac ben Avraham of Troki’s work “Chizzuk Emunah” (“Faith Strengthened”), most of them wouldn’t know who you were talking about or what Chizzuk Emunah is about. Issac ben Avraham of Troki was a Lithuanian Karaite Jew who lived in the 16th century. His master work, Chizzuk Emunah, is one of the most influential works used to explain how Jesus/Yeshua does not meet the requirements to be the Jewish Messiah according to the Hebrew Bible, aka: “Old Testament.” This is a work that is not only studied by Karaite Jews, but by Rabbinic Jews as well. One of the reasons it stands out as such a universal tool for counter-missionaries is because it does not depend on Rabbinic tradition to make its case – using only a careful analysis of the Hebrew Bible. For this reason, it cannot be refuted on the grounds of “tradition” by those who believe the Hebrew Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. For a “Karaite Messianic believer” to continue to cling to “Karaism” following a reading of this work would be completely nonsensical. Even following the idea that a Karaite cannot believe in Jesus/Yeshua as Jewish Messiah and/or “Passover lamb that was slain for the sins of the world” because of Isaac ben Avraham of Troki’s work, there is still the question of what Karaism really is.

The etymology of the word “Karaite” itself simply means “Scripturalist” – which is where most “Messianic believers” will stop in their understanding of the greater connotation of the word. Much like the term “Hasid” just means “pious one”, the connotation of the term “Hasidic” would still keep many pious individuals from referring to themselves as such so as not to be confused with the followers of the Baal Shem Tov – a famous Jewish mystical rabbi who founded the Hasidic Jewish movement. This is just the beginning of common misconceptions about Karaite Judaism.

Common Misconceptions About Karaite Judaism

  1. “‘Karaite’ just means ‘Scripturalist.’” – Like what was just discussed, certain words carry certain connotations. Karaism is a movement within Judaism that believes that, rather than believing in a certain interpretation of the Hebrew Bible simply because a learned one claims it to be true, one should use their own intellect to weigh the evidence and come to their own conclusions.
  2. “Karaites are anti-tradition.” – Believe it or not, there are many very specifically Karaite ways of keeping the Torah. These ways are not derived by an opinion taken out of thin air or simply put into practice because “that’s the way grandma did it”, but were the result of exhaustive study and analysis of the Hebrew Bible’s original intent. These studies were not purely spiritual, but also philosophical and even scientific in nature. Karaites do not depend solely on the “p’shat” level of Scriptural study (understanding texts solely on how they appear where they appear) but study texts on multiple levels – including how a passage is understood in context and how certain passages are to be understood (example: though the Torah says a man must marry his “brother’s” widow, the text later shows that it can actually be another family member – as “brother” is shown to be another expression for “kinsman” as shown in the Book of Ruth. This is a popular Karaite understanding of this mitzvah, though it is definitely not “p’shat”, rather is more hekeish). Yes, Karaite traditions may vary from community to community or depending on which Karaite sage you more closely subscribe to (much like Hasidic Judaism and its many Rebbes) on a matter, but there are many Karaite traditions that have lasted for centuries.
  3.  “Karaites don’t have a ‘statement of faith.’” – Though I’m not positive if this is accepted by all of Karaite Judaism, the Karaite sage Yehuda ben Eliyahu HaDassi did craft 10 Principles of Faith for the Jewish people that are recognized by most of Karaite Jewry today. They are valid as the result of exhaustive research into the Hebrew Scriptures on the part of Yehuda HaDassi. These principles pre-date Rabbinic Judaism’s 13 Principles of Jewish Faith as written by Maimonides. For a full breakdown of Yehuda HaDassi’s 10 Principles of Faith, Karaite Jewish personality Eli Shmuel of Karaites.org breaks them down in two videos – principles 1-5 and 6-10.
  4.  “Karaites are actually opposed to the Rabbinic Oral Torah because they believe it to be man-made.” – Karaite Jews would be pretty hypocritical if they rejected Jewish tradition being that they themselves have many traditions. There is absolutely nothing wrong in relishing in fulfilling the mitzvot (instructions) according to a particular tradition. The only Rabbinic traditions that Karaite Jews reject fall into two categories: a) when tradition contradicts written Torah and b) holding traditions up to the required level of written Torah.
    • b. An example would be declaring that certain traditions were commanded in Torah. One example of this is ritual hand-washing. While there’s nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat bread, even washing them according to the very specific instructions of Rabbinic ritual hand-washing, the problem comes with reciting the assigned blessing – “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.” While there is a portion of the Torah that speaks about the Kohanim, the Priests, washing their hands and feet before coming before the Holy Altar in the Temple, there is no mention of this practice being required by all Jews before they eat bread. Today, many Rabbinic Jews feel that eating bread without doing this very specific ritual hand-washing and reciting this blessing actually makes the bread not kosher for consumption (I’m open to input about this as I’m not sure if that is the consensus view).
    • Many if not most Rabbinic traditions are permissible according to keeping Torah within the bounds of Karaite Jewish thought. The main divergent opinion is that Karaite Jews do not believe that the Rabbinic Oral tradition was given to Moses on Sinai – rather, that it was compiled by rabbis over thousands of years as a method of keeping the written Torah. With that being said, there’s not much of it that Karaite Jews adamantly oppose. Actually, most learned Karaite Jews even study Talmud for Jewish wisdom as well as insights into Rabbinic Judaism. 
  5. “Traditional Karaite Jews never were taken seriously.” – One misconception is that Karaite Jews were also such a tiny minority in the Jewish world that they really had very little influence on Judaism. While it is true that Karaite Judaism has usually made up a small percentage of Jewry in the world, much of the motivation behind perpetuating this underestimation is as a means of perpetuating the idea that the Pharisaic/Rabbinic movement has always been the predominant authority on Judaism. Still, from around the year 900 till around 1100-1200, it is thought that Karaites made up as much as 40% of all Jewry. This is commonly referred to as the “Golden Age of Karaism” when a large number of Karaite texts were authored in the Middle East and Karaite Jews held prestigious positions throughout the Muslim world. Karaite and Rabbinic Jews alike as well as those involved in the study of Jewish antiquities have had some of their greatest archeological discoveries from Karaite genizas (vaults where documents that contain the 4-letter Name of God are kept after they are no longer used) and synagogues. Though Karaite Jews are still in the minority of Judaism, they still have many thriving communities world-wide – from places like Ashdod, Beer-Sheva, Ramlah and Jerusalem in Israel to communities in Poland, Turkey, Lithuania, the United States and more.

It has been a great affront to the Karaite Jewish community that the term “Karaite” has been so grossly misused. The Karaite Jewish community shouldn’t have to actively work to reclaim their own identity, but this is the world in which we currently reside. It is my hope that this article helps shine a little bit of light on the true essence of Karaite Judaism – a Jewish movement with rich traditions revolving around textual scholarship and thorough dedication to Torah observance. If you have any additional questions, do not hesistate to ask. If I cannot answer them, I’ll do my very best to find someone who can. If you’re interested in learning more about Karaite Judaism, see my post about building up your own Karaite Jewish library. There you will find many great resources about Karaite Jewish observance and Karaite Jewish thought.

 

Misconceptions About Karaite Judaism – Okie Hebrew Podcast

In this first episode of the Okie Hebrew Podcast, we discussion a few common misconceptions about Karaite Judaism. Here’s the transcript:

Shalom everyone and welcome to the Okie Hebrew Podcast. I’m Ken Lane, aka Yefet ben Ezra of OkieHebrew.com and in this episode, we’ll be discussing a subject that I believe gets bent around pretty frequently, especially online  – Karaite Judaism – more specifically, what people have said about Karaite Jewish belief and practice. In a series of podcasts, I’ll be discussing some common misconnections about Karaite Judaism. Hopefully in future episodes, I’ll have on some guests to provide additional perspectives on the subject. I was first inspired to talk about this from my frequently online searches about what non-Karaite Jews and non-Jews have to say about Karaite Jewish belief and practice – some misconceptions that are understandable and others…well…pretty much straight out of left-field. Just a disclaimer, I’m no Hakham – rather just a simple Jew. That means I make some mistakes and get some details incorrect, so bear with me. Still, the hope of this is to open the dialogue, get people asking questions, and hopefully get some really concrete answers – if not from me, from some Karaite Jewish scholars. To get things started, let’s tackle the biggest misconception I can think of: Karaites reject the Oral Tradition. Now, while this isn’t totally a misconception, there is a slight misconception in terminology. When I say “Oral Tradition”, the Oral Tradition to which I’m referring is the Rabbinic Oral Torah – the belief that our Kodesh Baruch Hu, in addition to the instructions in the Written Torah contained in the Chumash – in the same sefer Torah you can find at virtually any synagogue on the planet, spoke additional instructions on how to keep those mitzvot to Moshe. The belief is that this expansive body of knowledge was transmitted orally throughout the ages until it was finally codified in the Mishna in around the 2nd century. From there, the discussions and commentaries concerning the commandments given in the oral law were contained in such Rabbinic compendiums such as the Gemara and the Balvi and Yerushalmi editions of the Talmud. Around the time these Rabbinic works started making their way from being simply orally transmitted to studied not only as religious texts, but also as holy mitzvot, there were a group of Jews that objected to the divine origin of this oral tradition. So, the misconception lies with the Oral Tradition in the sense of a written work of rabbis and scholars being considered as somewhat of a Torah 2.0. Getting their names from Kara – or B’nai Mikra – meaning “People of Reading” or “Scripture”, the Karaite Jews were then referred to those denied the Oral Tradition. Oddly enough, Karaite Jews are not opposed to oral tradition in the sense of carrying down a tradition by means of how to keep Torah. The objection is raised when a specific tradition is elevated to the level of being divine. The Karaite Jews themselves have several oral traditions revolving around methods of keeping the the mitzvot of the Written Torah, but none consider their tradition to be inspired by God – rather, they acknowledge that it is developed by man as a way of keeping the Torah rather than the way. The way the original misconception would have many to believe that Karaite Jews are opposed to the contents of the Rabbinic writings on Torah. This is not true as many Karaite Jews have incorporated many Rabbinic customs into their practice or Torah where they see they line up with the Written Torah and add value to a Jew’s walk. Many Rabbinic Jews have claimed the divinity of the Oral Torah or Torah Shebal Peh on the basis that it is utterly impossible to understand and keep the Written Torah without it. Their examples range from how to slaughter animals for kosher down to how to make tzitzit. Karaite Jews counter their arguments with the idea that, upon extremely in-depth study of the Hebrew Bible, one can observe the mitzvot of Torah. Karaite Jews have historically done so with many different exegetical methods. Though many are familiar with the Rabbinic “PARDES” method (PARDES being an acronym being Peshat, Remez, Derash, and Sod levels), a lesser known method is that discussed by Karaite Jewish sages such an Yaakov al Kirkisani as well and Rav Eliyahu ben Moshe Bashyatzi involves a sinking deep into the Tanakh in order to obtain information on how to keep the Torah as close to its original context as possible. Similar yet different than PARDES, some of the levels are the Katuv (the most literal yet logical meaning reading of the text), the Hekeish level – that which can be logically derived from studying the text in an expanded context as well as in-depth linguistic analysis, and the Sevel HaYerusha – looking into how an aspect of Torah was traditionally understood. By these means and others, Karaite Jews have historically comes to understandings on how to best approach the mitzvot of the Torah based on the text of the Tanakh itself. We’ll touch on these levels of exegesis a little more later. Coming back to the common Rabbinic claim that Karaite Jews can’t possible understand the Torah without the Rabbinic Oral Torah, one example used frequently is shechita – kosher slaughter. The Rabbinic Oral Torah goes into great detail as to how to properly slaughter an animal even though it seems that the text of the Written Torah contains very few specific instructions on this is to the be done. However, when the Karaite Jewish exegesis is commenced on this topic, several new details come to light. If one was the study the katuv of the text, we see that Torah plainly instructs B’nai Yisrael that “…be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you…” in Deuteronomy 12. This would mean that all of the blood would need to be completely drained from the animal. Hold onto that thought and we’ll come back to it. Keeping the katuv in mind, one could move onto the hekeish – a larger picture that we can frame the katuv within. Throughout the Tanakh, we see very clear instances were B’nai Yisrael are instructed to treat their animals with kindness and respect. Levitcus 22 makes it very clear that one can’t take an animal from it’s mother for 7 days after its born. For this reason, Karaite Jews also do not slaughter pregnant animals even though, in many instances, Rabbinic standards see no problem with this. We also see in Deuteronomy 22 that a donkey and an ox can’t be yoked together for work. The kind treatment of animals is leading to an understanding that animals, whether for work or for food, must be treated with compassion. Now, combining the katuv with the hakeish, we can now come to an understanding of proper shechita. It’s then much more evident that the animal must be slaughtered in the manner that 1) drains the blood completely onto the ground and 2) causes the very, very least amount of suffering. To meet the criteria where both of these commands of Torah are fulfilled, Karaite Jewish sages establish a means of shechita that some argue is more rigorous than Rabbinic shechita in many ways – all the while using the Written Text as the primary guide for establishing these traditions. This is just one example of Karaite Jewish exegesis in order to understand an aspect of Written Torah that seems somewhat mysterious to readers. Another Misconception – Karaites aren’t Jews. As silly as it might sound, especially after going through that seemingly exhausting process of trying to determine how to keep an aspect of Torah, I have come across people online that question whether or not Karaite Jews are Jews at all. Even the Israeli government, because of massive influence from the Rabbinate, is confused on whether or not Karaite Jews are Jews. Part of this confusion has to do with Rabbinic Jews being the majority of the population of Jews. Though Karaite Jews were, at one point, as much as 40% of the Jewish population of the world, their numbers have fluctuated cons
iderably over the years. Because of this, what it means to be a Jew has been all but completely defined by the majority Jewish population – Rabbinic Jews. This means Rabbinic tradition, in some instances, has become synonymous with Jewish tradition in general. Because Rabbinic and Karaite Jewish traditions diverge periodically, this has also lead to Karaite Jews not being easily identifiable as Jews in comparison to the majority Rabbinic Jews by antisemitic oppressors. Many Karaite Jews were at times left untouched by antisemitic oppressors because those oppressors were ignorant of the Written Torah and thereby couldn’t recognize some of the traditions of the Karaite Jews as being Jewish. Though a large segment of the Karaite Jewish population were wiped out during the crusades, they almost completely flew under the radar through World War II. Another one of the reasons for this confusion stems from a major divergence between Rabbinic and Karaite Jews – Rabbinic Jews believe that one’s Jewishness is passed through the mother while Karaite Jews hold to the Written Torah’s idea that descent is through the father. Because of this detail, many Rabbinic Jews question the true Jewishness of the Karaite Jewish community. The Written Torah very frequently defines Jewishness in genealogies with the mothers rarely ever being mentioned. One plain instance of a Jewish children being born to a non-Jewish mother and Jewish father were Ephraim and Manashe. Though Yosef was very clearly an Israelite – the son of Ya’akov – Yosef’s wife, Asenath, was a non-Jewish Egyptian woman – the daughter of the Egyptian priest Potipherah. Though Rabbinic tradition holds that Asenath converted to Judaism prior to marrying Yosef, the Written Torah never mentions this. Rabbinic tradition openly admits to changing the Written Torah’s patrilineal stance to a matrilineal on a technicality. During the Hellenistic period, children of mixed marriages where the mother was not Jewish were, in many time, accepted as being Jewish. It wasn’t till later was the tradition of Jewishness of the mother determined the Jewishness of the child in Rabbinic circles. Though Karaite Jews hold to the belief that a child born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is not automatically Jewish, they have avenues for the children to be raised as full fledged Jews. Ok, we’ve made our way to our last misconception for this podcast episode: Karaite Jews don’t get along with Rabbinic Jews. One could think that with the difference between them that Karaite Jews don’t get along with Rabbinic Jews, this isn’t so much the case. Not only are any Rabbinic Jews fully welcomed to join a Karaite Jewish service in their synagogues, but history has unique tales of their relationship. For Karaite Jews and Rabbinic Jews alike, the written four-letter Name of God is immensely precious – so precious, in fact, that anything containing this name cannot be thrown out or destroyed. Rather, from Sefer Torahs to prayer books, anything containing the name of God is either buried in a Jewish cemetery or is kept in a special storage area called a geniza. For the Egyptian Jewish population for a time, not only were documents containing the Name of God stored in a geniza, but anything bearing Hebrew writing as Hebrew was seen as a holy language. For nearly a thousand years, a geniza in a synagogue just outside of Cairo was filled with Hebrew documents ranging from Sefer Torahs to grocery lists. Upon exploration of this Cairo Geniza, archeologists discovered something very surprising, ketubot, Jewish marriage contracts, between Rabbinic and Karaite Jewish couples. These and other documents unearthed the truth that, for generations, Rabbinic and Karaite Jews were intermarrying each other, conducting business and were overall friendly neighbors. It’s thought that only within the past few hundred years that any kind of beef between the two Jewish groups has formed. It’s my prayer that Rabbinic and Karaite Jews can once again be unified – may it happen swiftly and soon, Amen! Ok – that will do it for this episode and this edition of Misconception About Karaite Judaism. I’m Ken Lane, aka: Yefet ben Ezra of OkieHebrew.com and this is the Okie Hebrew Podcast. Shalom.  

Hijacking Karaite Judaism

Disclaimer: I do not claim to represent the whole of traditional Karaite Judaism or act as its spokesperson. I have too much respect for it to make such a claim or hold such a title. 

Karaite: Not Only a Term Stolen, But Also a Culture

Ask people what they think of when they hear the term “Karaite” and the answers run from a misspelling of a form of martial arts to group of directionless tradition-bashers. For being a movement with over a millennia of rich history and tradition (yes, it has tradition), the last 20-or-so years have been tumultuous for Karaite Jewish identity. Many people have claimed the title having never studied Karaite Jewish history, writings, or having even met a single Karaite Jew. These individuals, out of their own ignorance and eagerness to belong or wear a title have almost single-handedly dragged Karaite Jewish identity through the mud in the eyes of the mainstream Jewish world. The oddest part about all of this is that most of these people can more closely theologically be defined as Christians. It is for the sake of rectifying this injustice that I share this concise breakdown of what traditional Karaite Judaism is and what it is not.

Recently, I had a conversation with an Orthodox Rabbi friend of mine about Karaite Judaism. He admitted that he had fallen victim to believing many of the misconceptions about what Karaism represents. According to what he had heard and read, Karaism was that directionless group of individuals that bashed Mishna, Gemara and other traditions of Rabbinic Judaism with the belief in a purely “p’shat” understanding of the Hebrew Bible. He subscribed to the notion that Karaites were an anti-halakhic, anti-minhag collection of self-proclaimed “Bible purists” who aimed most of their attention towards refuting Rabbinic tradition – even when these traditions were a permissible method of remaining obedient to the written Torah. None of this was my friend’s fault. This is a generalized understanding (albeit a false one) of modern Karaism. He no longer sees Karaite Judaism in this way. What changed his mind? A book called the Karaite Anthology: A Excerpts From Early Literature by Leon Nemoy. In this book is contained is a “sampler plate” of ideas about certain areas of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish traditional life from Karaite Jewish sages  – and yes, I use the term “sages” on purpose. What changed his mind even further was the revolutionary idea to actually speak to traditional Karaite Jews. Many of the modern self-proclaimed “Karaites” are unaware that this text or that even traditional Karaite Jews exist. Who are these people you ask? I’ll tell you – ignorant hijackers.

How the Heist Went Down

Within the last 30 years or so, many tens of thousands of Christians have become greatly disillusioned with the counter-Biblical traditions of modern Christianity. Many have “come out of the church” in regards to striving to understand the Torah and to keep it according to their own understanding as well as the understanding of other fellow disillusioned Christians. They have relinquished traditions such as Christian-inspired holidays (Christmas, Lent, Easter, Halloween, etc.), they have abstained from eating certain species of animals and have attempted to the best of their understanding to take hold of the commandments of Torah. While this can be applauded by the Jewish world, the primary reason it is not as much so is due to this single idea: you can take the Christian out of the church but you can’t always take the church out of the Christian. Donning many familiar Jewish elements, these individuals still cling to the idea that Jesus (or as they now call him by his Hebrew name: Yeshua) is not only the Jewish Messiah, but was the Passover lamb that was slain for the sins of the world and that “salvation” is only accessible through a belief in the claims of the New Testament. If they kept to themselves, the Jewish world wouldn’t have much problem with this 1st and 2nd century AD style of Christianity, but it is when they conduct missionary activities that target Jews for conversion to this belief is what Judaism has a problem accepting. Even if the individual is sincerely keeping Torah out of a love of Torah and not using Jewish symbols to deceptively target Jews for conversion (such as organizations like Jews For Jesus and Chosen People Ministries frequently do), this still concerns the Jewish world because these people still strive to convince Jews that they need Jesus to be saved from eternal hellfire. Furthermore from this, because these individuals have protested Christian tradition, they desire to cast off all tradition – including Jewish tradition. Still, because people naturally desire community, many of these theologically-Christian Torah lovers have gravitated towards of Jewish tradition that they have mistaken for an “anti-tradition” – Karaism. It is true that Karaite Jews do not believe that the “Torah Shebaal Peh” or Rabbinic Oral tradition on how to keep the written Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. While this is true, this is about as much as the “Messianic” movement of theologically-Christian Torah lovers know about Karaite Judaism. Still, this is enough for them to get behind the movement and wear the “Karaite” name tag for themselves. There is a huge problem with this.

Ask a “Messianic Karaite” About Chizzuk Emunah

 

If one were to approach a self-proclaimed “Karaite” Messianic believer (theologically-Christian Torah lover) and ask them what they thought of Issac ben Avraham of Troki’s work “Chizzuk Emunah” (“Faith Strengthened”), most of them wouldn’t know who you were talking about or what Chizzuk Emunah is about. Issac ben Avraham of Troki was a Lithuanian Karaite Jew who lived in the 16th century. His master work, Chizzuk Emunah, is one of the most influential works used to explain how Jesus/Yeshua does not meet the requirements to be the Jewish Messiah according to the Hebrew Bible, aka: “Old Testament.” This is a work that is not only studied by Karaite Jews, but by Rabbinic Jews as well. One of the reasons it stands out as such a universal tool for counter-missionaries is because it does not depend on Rabbinic tradition to make its case – using only a careful analysis of the Hebrew Bible. For this reason, it cannot be refuted on the grounds of “tradition” by those who believe the Hebrew Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. For a “Karaite Messianic believer” to continue to cling to “Karaism” following a reading of this work would be completely nonsensical. Even following the idea that a Karaite cannot believe in Jesus/Yeshua as Jewish Messiah and/or “Passover lamb that was slain for the sins of the world” because of Isaac ben Avraham of Troki’s work, there is still the question of what Karaism really is.

chizzukemunah

The etymology of the word “Karaite” itself simply means “Scripturalist” – which is where most “Messianic believers” will stop in their understanding of the greater connotation of the word. Much like the term “Hasid” just means “pious one”, the connotation of the term “Hasidic” would still keep many pious individuals from referring to themselves as such so as not to be confused with the followers of the Baal Shem Tov – a famous Jewish mystical rabbi who founded the Hasidic Jewish movement. This is just the beginning of common misconceptions about Karaite Judaism.

Common Misconceptions About Karaite Judaism

  1. “‘Karaite’ just means ‘Scripturalist.'” – Like what was just discussed, certain words carry certain connotations. Karaism is a movement within Judaism that believes that, rather than believing in a certain interpretation of the Hebrew Bible simply because a learned one claims it to be true, one should use their own intellect to weigh the evidence and come to their own conclusions.
  2. “Karaites are anti-tradition.” – Believe it or not, there are many very specifically Karaite ways of keeping the Torah. These ways are not derived by an opinion taken out of thin air or simply put into practice because “that’s the way grandma did it”, but were the result of exhaustive study and analysis of the Hebrew Bible’s original intent. These studies were not purely spiritual, but also philosophical and even scientific in nature. Karaites do not depend solely on the “p’shat” level of Scriptural study (understanding texts solely on how they appear where they appear) but study texts on multiple levels – including how a passage is understood in context and how certain passages are to be understood (example: though the Torah says a man must marry his “brother’s” widow, the text later shows that it can actually be another family member – as “brother” is shown to be another expression for “kinsman” as shown in the Book of Ruth. This is a popular Karaite understanding of this mitzvah, though it is definitely not “p’shat”). Yes, Karaite traditions may vary from community to community or depending on which Karaite sage you more closely subscribe to (much like Hasidic Judaism and its many Rebbes) on a matter, but there are many Karaite traditions that have lasted for centuries.
  3. “Karaites aren’t necessary Jews.” – Quite the contrary – Karaites see themselves as Jews first and then Karaites. If someone converts to Judaism through a Karaite organization, they are explicitly taught that they are not converting to “Karaism” but rather they are becoming a part of the Jewish people. There had been some debate in the past about whether some Karaites are Jewish because they would trace Jewish ancestry through the father’s side. They do this because this is how Tanakh determines one’s ancestry. In Rabbinic Jewish circles, it was later changed as Jewish women were abused and raped by foreign invaders – bearing their children and leaving a huge question as to the child’s status as a Jew. Though this is tragic, it does not justify changing the text and a child can become Jewish in other ways.
  4.  “Karaites don’t have a ‘statement of faith.'” – Though I’m not positive if this is accepted by all of Karaite Judaism, the Karaite sage Yehuda ben Eliyahu HaDassi did craft 10 Principles of Faith for the Jewish people that are recognized by most of Karaite Jewry today. They are valid as the result of exhaustive research into the Hebrew Scriptures on the part of Yehuda HaDassi. These principles pre-date Rabbinic Judaism’s 13 Principles of Jewish Faith as written by Maimonides. For a full breakdown of Yehuda HaDassi’s 10 Principles of Faith, Karaite Jewish personality Eli Shmuel of Karaites.org breaks them down in two videos – principles 1-5 and 6-10.
  5.  “Karaites are opposed to the Rabbinic Oral Torah.” – Karaite Jews would be pretty hypocritical if they rejected Jewish tradition being that they themselves have many traditions. There is absolutely nothing wrong in relishing in fulfilling the mitzvot (instructions) according to a particular tradition. The only Rabbinic traditions that Karaite Jews reject fall into two categories: a) when tradition contradicts written Torah and b) holding traditions up to the required level of written Torah.
    • a. One very easily identifiable example where we can see that Karaites oppose Rabbinic tradition was discussed above: matrilineal descent. The Hebrew Scriptures clearly express that one is Jewish either by conversion or by having a Jewish father. Rabbinic Jews will very plainly agree with this, but say that rabbis had the authority to change this for the sake of convenience. Karaite Jews believe that no one has the authority to add to, take from, or change Torah instruction.
      b. An example of the second would be declaring that certain traditions were commanded in Torah. One example of this is ritual hand-washing. While there’s nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat bread, even washing them according to the very specific instructions of Rabbinic ritual hand-washing, the problem comes with reciting the assigned blessing – “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.” While there is a portion of the Torah that speaks about the Kohanim, the Priests, washing their hands and feet before coming before the Holy Altar in the Temple, there is no mention of this practice being required by all Jews before they eat bread. Today, many Rabbinic Jews feel that eating bread without doing this very specific ritual hand-washing and reciting this blessing actually makes the bread not kosher for consumption (I’m open to input about this as I’m not sure if that is the consensus view).
    • Many if not most Rabbinic traditions are permissible according to keeping Torah within the bounds of Karaite Jewish thought. The main divergent opinion is that Karaite Jews do not believe that the Rabbinic Oral tradition was given to Moses on Sinai – rather, that it was compiled by rabbis over thousands of years as a method of keeping the written Torah. With that being said, there’s not much of it that Karaite Jews adamantly oppose. Actually, most learned Karaite Jews even study Talmud for Jewish wisdom as well as insights into Rabbinic Judaism.
  6. “Traditional Karaite Jews never were taken seriously.” – One misconception is that Karaite Jews were also such a tiny minority in the Jewish world that they really had very little influence on Judaism. While it is true that Karaite Judaism has usually made up a small percentage of Jewry in the world, much of the motivation behind perpetuating this underestimation is as a means of perpetuating the idea that the Pharisaic/Rabbinic movement has always been the predominant authority on Judaism. Still, from around the year 900 till around 1100-1200, it is thought that Karaites made up as much as 40% of all Jewry. This is commonly referred to as the “Golden Age of Karaism” when a large number of Karaite texts were authored in the Middle East and Karaite Jews held prestigious positions throughout the Muslim world. Karaite and Rabbinic Jews alike as well as those involved in the study of Jewish antiquities have had some of their greatest archeological discoveries from Karaite genizas (vaults where documents that contain the 4-letter Name of God are kept after they are no longer used) and synagogues. Though Karaite Jews are still in the minority of Judaism, they still have many thriving communities world-wide – from places like Ashdod, Beer-Sheva, Ramlah and Jerusalem in Israel to communities in Poland, Turkey, Lithuania, the United States and more.

It has been a great affront to the Karaite Jewish community that the term “Karaite” has been so grossly misused. The Karaite Jewish community shouldn’t have to actively work to reclaim their own identity, but this is the world in which we currently reside. It is my hope that this article helps shine a little bit of light on the true essence of Karaite Judaism – a Jewish movement with rich traditions revolving around textual scholarship and thorough dedication to Torah observance. If you have any additional questions, do not hesistate to ask. If I cannot answer them, I’ll do my very best to find someone who can. If you’re interested in learning more about Karaite Judaism, see my post about building up your own Karaite Jewish library. There you will find many great resources about Karaite Jewish observance and Karaite Jewish thought.

The next time you hear of someone claiming to be a Karaite, remind them of what that title encompasses and ask them to reevaluate that statement before they risk hijacking Karaism even more.

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The Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma

This is part blog post, part event invitation.

The Idea

For the longest time, I have dreamt of a Karaite Jewish community forming in my hometown of Tulsa, OK. Most of the time, I live as a Karaite Jew alone in this buckle of the Bible belt without any synagogue to speak of besides my own living room or occasionally going into nature to pray and study amongst creation. This seemed like especially far-fetched dream of mine due traditional Karaite Judaism in the United States being limited to but one officially recognized Karaite Jewish synagogue in Daly City, California and handful of micro-communities flung throughout the continental United States. Even with that, the sparks of Karaite Jewish thought are being fanned by the passionate and the curious alike. It’s only recently that I’ve felt in my tishkes that the potential for a Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK could be a reality – no matter how small it may be.

Why Tulsa, OK

Many tell me that I should move to city with a larger Jewish community. They suggest Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and even New York City. I don’t feel like that’s necessary or where I’m being led. At one point in time, none of these cities contained even a single Jew, yet that’s how all of these communities began. I feel like Judaism, especially Karaite Judaism, has the potential to flourish in a place even as seemingly remote and non-Jewish as Tulsa, OK. Despite the odds, Tulsa has proven to the world that it is capable of supporting a Jewish community and does so. Because of that and in combination with the slightly less typical spiritual vibe of Tulsa – a place where people are searching for a spiritual home – I believe that Karaism can have growth in Tulsa.

Not a Faith of Opposition

This is not an act in opposition to the existing Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. We would like to work in concert with the Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa to help those who are curious about any strain of Judaism be able to learn more about it and interact with those involved within it. Karaite Judaism is rather just another option, another style, of Judaism that may appeal to those who may feel like Rabbinic Judaism doesn’t jive with them. If Karaite Judaism doesn’t jive with you, I’d even recommend another Jewish community in town where you feel more at home.

For the Karaite-Curious

If you feel drawn towards the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and His Torah, I’d suggest that you give Karaite Judaism at least a look. The few of us that share this mindset in Tulsa are very warm and welcoming. We don’t bite! Ask as many questions as you want and we will try and supply with the very best answers we can.

The Invite: 

This coming Erev Shabbat (Friday night, just before the Sabbath commences) July 11, 2014, myself and notable Karaite Jewish personality/soon-to-be full-time Tulsan Isaac Kight will be conducting traditional Karaite Jewish Evening Prayers for Erev Shabbat. This will be the first of hopefully many gatherings of the traditional Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. The exact time and location have not been determined yet, but we’ll figure it out.

We’re you’re Jewish…
…non-Jewish…
…Karaite…
…Karaite-curious…
…Rabbinic…
…or anything else, hit us up!

Feel free to hit me up on Facebook or email me at kenjaylane@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to get back with you very promptly. If you attempt to add me as a friend on Facebook, please first send me a message outlining your intentions (“Hey Ken, I saw your blog post about the Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa…” etc.) so I know why you’re attempting to friend me!

Shalom,

Ken