Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites

Karaite Judaism (/ˈkɛərə.t/) or Karaism (/ˈkɛərə.ɪzəm/, sometimes spelt Karaitism (/ˈkɛərə.ɪtɪzəm/; Hebrew: יהדות קראית Yahadut Qara’it); also spelt Qaraite Judaism, Qaraism or Qaraitism)[Lidman, Melanie (28 January 2016). “Karaite Jews unanimously re-elect chief rabbi”. The Times of Israel. Retrieved 4 November 2018] is a Jewish religious movement characterized by the recognition of the written Torah alone as its supreme authority in halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology.[“Karaites and Karaism”. In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.]

Qaraites or Karaites,

a Jewish sect of the middle ages, claiming to be distinguished by adherence to Scripture as contrasted with oral tradition, whence the name (from קראqara, to read, as if “readers,” scripturarii; sometimes also בְנֵי מִקְרָא‎ “children of the Text” as read). They have frequently been identified with the Sadducees or with the Samaritans, with neither of whom have they any historical connexion or much spiritual affinity.

The schism arose at Bagdad about the middle of the 8th century, when the hereditary claims of Anan, a learned Talmudist, to the office of Resh Galutha were set aside by the Gaonim (heads of rabbinical schools) at Sura and Pumbeditha, because he was believed to undervalue the authority of the Talmud. Anan, nevertheless, allowed himself to be proclaimed Exilarch by his followers, a step construed into treason by the Mahommedan government. He was sentenced to death, but his life was saved by his fellow prisoner, Abu Ḥanifa, the founder of the great school of Moslem theology and jurisprudence. Ultimately he and his followers were permitted to migrate to Palestine. They erected a synagogue in Jerusalem which continued to be maintained until the time of the Crusades. From this centre the sect diffused itself thinly over Syria, spread into Egypt, and ultimately reached S.E. Europe.

Israel Abrahams

The Karaites

In the Geonic period there came into prominence the sect of the Karaites (Benē miqrā), “followers of the Scripture”, the protestants of Judaism, who rejected rabbinical authority, basing their doctrine and practice exclusively on the Bible. The sect was founded by ʽAnan in the 8th century, and, after many vicissitudes, still exists. Their literature, with which alone we are here concerned, is largely polemical and to a great extent deals with grammar and exegesis. Of their first important authors, Benjamin al-Nehawendi and Daniel al-Qūmisī (both in the 9th century), little is preserved. In the 10th century Jacob al-Qirqisanī wrote his Kitāb al-anwār, on law, Solomon ben Yeruḥam (against Seadiah) and Yefet ben ʽAlī wrote exegetical works; in the 11th century Abū’l-faraj Furqān, exegesis, and Yūsuf al-Baṣīr against Samuel ben Ḥophni. Most of these wrote in Arabic.

In the 12th century and in S. Europe, Judah Hadassi composed his Eshkol ha-Kōpher, a great theological compendium in the form of a commentary on the Decalogue. Other writers are Aaron (the elder) ben Joseph, 13th century, who wrote the commentary Sepher ha-mibhḥar; Aaron (the younger) of Nicomedia (14th century), author of ʽEẓ Ḥayyīm, on philosophy, Gan ʽEden, on law, and the commentary Kether Tōrah; in the 15th century Elijah Bashyaẓī, on law (Addereth Eliyahū), and Caleb Efendipoulo, poet and theologian; in the 16th century Moses Bashyaẓī, theologian.

From the 12th century onward the sect gradually declined, being ultimately restricted mainly to the Crimea and Lithuania, learning disappeared and their literature became merely popular and of little interest. Much of it in later times was written in a curious Tatar dialect. Mention need only be made further of Isaac of Troki, whose anti-Christian polemic Ḥizzūq Emūnah (1593) was translated into English by Moses Mocatta under the title of Faith Strengthened (1851); Solomon of Troki, whose Appiryōn, an account of Karaism, was written at the request of Pufendorf (about 1700); and Abraham Firkovich, who, in spite of his impostures, did much for the literature of his people about the middle of the 19th century.


Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley



Anan = Anan ben David: Persian Jew, founder of the Ananites, an antirabbinical order, which did not believe the Rabbinic Jewish oral law (such as the Mishnah) to be authoritative. He competed with his younger brother for the office of exilarch, head of the Jews of the Babylonian Exile. The office was a hereditary one, needing the confirmation of the ruling caliph, which Anan failed to obtain. He therefore declared himself antiexilarch, an action that caused him to be jailed by the civil authorities. At his trial Anan pleaded that the caliph had confirmed his brother as head of one religion but that he, Anan, had founded a new religion, one with similarities to Islam. As a result, he was released and given government protection. His followers were called Ananites and out of their movement, the still-existing Karaite religious movement developed.
Anan ben David’s Sefer ha-Mitzvot (“The Book of the Precepts”) was published about 770. He adopted many principles and opinions of other anti-rabbinic forms of Judaism that had previously existed. It has been suggested that he took much from the old Sadducees and Essenes, whose writings — or at least writings ascribed to them — were still in circulation. Thus, for example, these older sects prohibited the burning of any lights and the leaving of one’s dwelling on the Sabbath; they also enjoined the actual observation of the new moon for the appointment of festivals, and the holding of the Pentecost festival always on a Sunday.
A number of ben David’s teachings differ from those of Rabbinic Jews and of the majority of modern Karaites.

Abu Ḥanifa = Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān ibn Thābit b. Zūṭā ibn Marzubān = Abu Hanifa, also known reverently as Imam Abū Ḥanīfa by Sunni Muslims: 8th-century Sunni Muslim theologian and jurist of Persian origin, whose systematisation of Islamic legal doctrine was acknowledged as one of the four canonical schools of Islamic law (madhhabs – schools of thought). Considerable influence, too, was exercised on Anan his theology by Abu Hanifa, which showed great bitterness against the Talmud and its upholders (the “Rabbanites”) for their modification of the written law by arbitrary additions and subtractions.

The Ḥanafī school of Abū Ḥanīfah acquired such prestige that its doctrines were applied by a majority of Muslim dynasties. Even today it is widely followed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, South and Central Asia, and Arab countries.

Daniel al-Qūmisī = Daniel al-Kumisi: native of Damagan, the capital of the province of Qumis, in the former state of Tabaristan, and was one of the most prominent early scholars of Karaite Judaism. He favoured a rigorous interpretation of the Torah. His attitude to Anan ben David and his violent opposition to the Ananites (i.e., the first Karaites, Anan’s followers and immediate successors) are characteristic of his place in Karaism. At first he esteemed Anan highly, calling him rosh hamaskilim (“chief of the scholars”); but later he despised him and called him rosh ha-kesilim (“chief of the fools”). Nevertheless, Daniel’s opinions were respected by the Karaites.
Under his leadership, at the end of the ninth or at the beginning of the tenth century, a Karaite settlement prospered in the Holy Land, from which it spread as far as northwestern Africa and Christian Spain.

Solomon ben Yeruḥam: follower of Anan ben David; teacher of Bagnols Avignon Papacy Rabbi Levi ben Gershon

Yefet ben ʽAlī= Yefet ben Ali: perhaps the foremost Karaite commentator on the Bible, during the “Golden Age of Karaism”. He lived during the 10th century, a native of Basra ( in present-day Iraq) Later in his life, he moved to Jerusalem, between 950 and 980, where he died. The Karaites distinguished him by the epithet maskil ha-Golah (teacher of the Exile).

Abū’l-faraj Furqān = Abdul Faraj Furkan

Yūsuf al-Baṣīr= Yusuf al-Basir = Joseph ben Abraham = ha-Ro’eh = the Seer: Karaite philosopher and theologian who flourished in Babylonia or Persia in the first half of the eleventh century. He was the teacher of, among others, Jeshua ben Judah (Abu al-Faraj Furkan ibn Asad). By way of euphemism he was surnamed “ha-Ro’eh” (= “the seer”), on account of his blindness. This infirmity, however, did not prevent him from undertaking long journeys, probably as a Karaite missionary. In the course of his travels he frequented the religio-philosophical schools of the Mu’tazili, whose teachings he defended in his works.

Aaron (the younger) of Nicomedia = Aaron ben Elijah (Aharon son of Eliyahu) of Nicomedia (14° Century) the equivalent of his contemporary, Maimonides, the most distinguished Jewish scholar of the time and an outspoken critic of the Karaites. In fact, it seems likely that Aaron made it his ambition to rival Maimonides by defending the Karaites from his attacks. To achieve this, he studied the extensive religious literature of both rabbinical Judaism and Islam, as well as that of the Karaites.

<-> Aaron (the elder) ben Joseph (13° Century)

Aaron (the elder) ben Joseph of Constantinople (13° Century): eminent teacher, philosopher, physician, and liturgical poet in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, who took a prominent part in the regeneration of Karaism by the help of philosophical elements borrowed from Rabbanite literature.  He diligently studied the works of Abraham ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Nahmanides and Rashi.
He wrote the “Mibhar” (The Choice), in 1294, while following the profession of a physician in Constantinople. The “Mibhar” (The Choice), a commentary on the Pentateuch, written in the terse, concise, and often obscure style and after the critical method of Ibn Ezra, became to the later generation of Karaite teachers a source of instruction in religious philosophy and established his fame and influence despite his Rabbanite proclivities.

Aaron (the younger) of Constantinople – Aaron ben Elijah (Aharon son of Eliyahu) of Constantinople: an Ottoman scholar to seek a philosophical basis for Karaite beliefs whose views are summarized in his compilation of Karaite lore, in three books, ʿEtz ḥayyim (1346; “Tree of Life”), ‘ Gan Eden’ (1354; “The Garden of Eden”), and ‘Keter Torah’ (1362; “Crown of Law”), a commentary on the Pentateuch, based on literal interpretations of the text.

Tatar dialect used by the Karaites mainly belonged to Crimean Tatar belonging to the same division of the Turkic languages, as the Kipchak language. It had its roots in the language of the Golden Horde in the 13th century and was the official literary language in Crimea until the 17th century, when it was replaced by the standardised register of the Turkish language used in the Ottoman Empire (14th to 20th centuries CE) Ottoman Turkish. It was revived as a literary language in the 19th century but declined in use in the 20th century after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars.
Ottoman Turkish was largely unintelligible to the less-educated lower-class and to rural Turks, who continued to use kaba Türkçe (“raw/vulgar Turkish”; compare Vulgar Latin), which used far fewer foreign loanwords and is the basis of the modern standard.[ Glenny, Misha (2001). The Balkans — Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804–1999. Penguin. p. 99.]
The Ottoman reform movement in the Tanzimât era (1839–1876) under the reigns of the sultans Abdülmecid I and Abdülaziz, saw the application of the term “Ottoman” when referring to the language[Kerslake, Celia (1998). “Ottoman Turkish”. In Lars Johanson; Éva Á. Csató (eds.). Turkic Languages. New York: Routledge. p. 108. ISBN 0415082005.] (لسان عثمانی lisân-ı Osmânî or عثمانليجه Osmanlıca); Modern Turkish uses the same terms when referring to the language of that era (Osmanlıca and Osmanlı Türkçesi). More generically, the Turkish language was called تركچه Türkçe or تركی Türkî “Turkish”.
In 1928, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, widespread language reforms (a part in the greater framework of Kemal Atatürk‘s Reforms) saw the replacement of many Persian and Arabic origin loanwords in the language with their Turkish equivalents. It also saw the replacement of the Perso-Arabic script with the extended Latin alphabet. The changes were meant to encourage the growth of a new variety of written Turkish that more closely reflected the spoken vernacular and to foster a new variety of spoken Turkish that reinforced Turkey’s new national identity as being a post-Ottoman state.

Isaac of Troki = Isaac ben Abraham of Troki: Lithuanian Karaite scholar and polemical writer, pupil of the Karaite scholar Zephaniah ben Mordecai. He studied Latin and Polish literatures by Christian teachers and moved in Christian circles, where he often was called upon to take part in religious controversies. He acquainted himself with the tenets of the various Christian sects and in the course of his studies he became interested in the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish writings of his contemporaries and compatriots Nicholas Paruta, Martin Czechowic, and Simon Budni. To refute the arguments of the writers against the Jewish religion and to show the superiority of Judaism, Troki wrote his epoch-making “Ḥizzuḳ Emunah.”

Moses Mocatta: English Sephardic community member. He was a diligent student of Hebrew, and well read in Biblical and Jewish literature. His “Faith Strengthened” (1851) is a translation from the Hebrew of the famous “Ḥizzuḳ Emunah” of Isaac ben Abraham of Troki. His other translation, entitled “The Inquisition and Judaism” (1845), was a contribution to controversial literature, and comprised a sermon on Isa. xlii. 22 addressed to Jewish martyrs on the occasion of an auto da fé at Lisbon in 1705, and a reply to the sermon by E. Vero (a posthumous work of the author of the “Secret History of the Inquisition”).
In 1840 twenty-four gentlemen, eighteen of the Sephardic and six of the Ashkenazic section of the community, determined to organise a congregation in which their ideas as to decorum in the service should be carried out. Mocatta was one of those members of Bevis Marks who seceded from the parent community and helped to establish the West London Synagogue of British Jews. The new congregation dedicated its synagogue in Burton street Jan. 27, 1842, notwithstanding a “caution” which had been issued Oct. 24, 1841, against the prayer-book to be used by it, and a “ḥerem” issued five days before the inauguration of the synagogue against all holding communion with its members. This ban was not removed till March 9, 1849.

Solomon of Troki = Solomon ben Aaron Troki: 17-18th century Karaite scholar and relative of Mordecai ben Nissim. Author of the “Dod Mordekai,” whom he surpassed in knowledge both of rabbinical literature and of secular science, of which latter he made use in his writings.
A controversy between Karaites and Rabbinites made him to write “Leḥem Se’orim,”  a 2- volume work, each containing five chapters, on the differences between the Karaites and the Rabbinites, in the form of questions and answers. In “Appiryon,” a religious code in two volumes, he gave the Karaite view of the Mosaic precepts in the first part, entitled “Reḥaba’am ben Shelomoh,” and refuting the Christian dogmas in the second volume, entitled “Yarabe’am ben Nebaṭ.”

File:Ruman Firkovichphoto.jpg

Abraham Firkovich. Late 1800s. – National Library of Russia.

Abraham Firkovich = Abraham (Avraham) ben Samuel Firkovich = Avraham ben Shmuel Firkovich: Russian-Lithuanian Karaite archeologist, collector of ancient manuscripts, scholar and a Karaite Hakham (1786-1874), who settled in Çufut Qale, Crimea. Firkovich paid much attention to rabbinical literature, by which his Hebrew style was influenced. He was accompanied by Simcha Babovich to Jerusalem in 1830, where he collected many Karaite and Rabbinite manuscripts. On his return, he remained for two years in Constantinople, as a teacher in the Karaite community. He then went to the Crimea and organised a society, to publish old Karaite works, of which several appeared in Eupatoria (Koslov) with comments by him. He wished to eliminate any connection between Rabbinic Judaism and the Karaites by declaring that the Karaites were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes.[Jonathan Frankel (1994). Studies in Contemporary Jewry: X: Reshaping the Past: Jewish History and the Historians. OUP USA/Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. p. 33. ISBN 9780195093551.] Firkovich successfully petitioned the Russian government to exempt the Karaites from anti-Jewish laws on the grounds that Karaites had immigrated to Europe before the crucifixion of Jesus and thus could not be held responsible for his death.[Bernard Dov Weinryb (1973). The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800. Jewish Publication Society. pp. 21–22. ISBN 9780827600164.]
Abraham Firkovich is the father-in-law of Gabriel Firkovich of Troki and the author of “Abne Zikkaron”, containing the texts of inscriptions discovered by him (Wilna, 1872). Among the treasures in the Firkovich collection is a manuscript of the Garden of Metaphors, an aesthetic appreciation of Biblical literature written in Judeo-Arabic by one of the greatest of the Sephardi poets, Moses ibn Ezra.

Of late years much Qaraite literature has been published. The most valuable contribution to learning made by it is in the direction of Hebrew philology and the natural exegesis of the scriptural text. Little information as to the Qaraites can be derived from their liturgies; they differ fundamentally from those used by Rabbanites in being composed almost entirely of scriptural versicles and in containing practically no Piyyutim (liturgical poems).

The controversies as to the rule of faith which so deeply divided the Christian Church in the 16th century gave to this obscure sect an illusory and passing importance, the Catholics frequently hurling the epithet Karaei, in token of contempt, at the Protestants, who in their turn willingly accepted it as sufficiently descriptive of their attitude towards Scripture. The Qaraites never have been numerous; in 1904 their total number was estimated at 12,000, 10,000 being found in Russia: the present community in Jerusalem numbers only a few families. They occur in Constantinople and elsewhere in Turkey, and in Egypt, but are chiefly met with in southern Russia, and especially in the Crimean districts of Eupatoria, Theodosia and Sevastopol. Here their historical capital and chief synagogue was formerly the “Jews’ Castle” (Tshufut-Kale), near Bakh-chisarai. The place is now deserted; its cemetery was the seat of Firkowitsch’s notorious forgeries (inscriptions of 1st century), by which he sought to establish a fabulous antiquity for his sect.
According to Strack (A. Firkowitsch u. seine Entdeckungen, 1876) the oldest tombstones do not go back beyond the 14th century. The modern Qaraites are generally, well spoken of for their honesty, perseverance and simple habits of life; they are gradually approximating to the Rabbanites, with whom, in some places, they are on terms of social intimacy. The Russian government exempts the Qaraites from the restrictions to which the rest of the Jews are subject; this circumstance is probably due to the insignificance of the Qaraites numerically.

Israel Abrahams

Among the older authorities may be mentioned Morinus, Exercit. Bibl. lib. ii. ex. 7 (1669); and Triglandius, Diatribe de Secta Karaeorum (1703). See Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, especially in vol. v. (1806), with the additions and corrections of Harkavy in the Hebrew translation; and Fürst, Gesch. des Karäerthums (1865); S. Pinsker, Liqquṭe Qadmoniyyot: articles by A. Harkavy and by S. Poznanski in the Jewish Quarterly Review (e.g. x. 238–276, and vols. xviii.–xx.). See also Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Anan,” “Karaites,” &c.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah

Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash

Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah

Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy

Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm



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