KARAITES, kê'ra-aits.

The Sect in Babylonia (§ 1). Egypt and the Crimea (§ 4).
In Palestine (§ 2). Constantinople (§ 5).
Religious Philosophy (§ 3). Poland (§ 6).
Doctrine and Law (§ 7).

The name of the Karaites (Hebr. Kara'im, sing. Kara), a very important Jewish sect, may be an intensive noun from the verb kara, "to read," signifying "readers," i.e., readers of the Bible par excellence. It is better, however, to take Kara as a denominative form from mikra (Aram. kera), "Scripture" and to interpret it as an "adherent of the Scriptures," i.e., one who follows strictly the text of the Bible and rejects the rabbinical tradition of the Talmud. This explanation finds support in the fact that the Karaites are also called Bene Mikra, "sons (adherents) of the Scripture," as opposed to the Bene mishnah, or "sons of the mishnah" or of tradition.

1. The Sect in Babylonia.

The founder of the Karaite sect was Anan ben David, who, according to tradition, was disappointed in his expectations of becoming either gaon (head of one of the Babylonian academies) or resh galuta (head of the Babylonian diaspora), and therefore renounced the Talmud, founding at Bagdad in 761-762 a new community which rejected mishnaic and talmudic tradition. Like all prominent Karaites, he wrote a Sefer ha-Mizwot ("Book of Precepts") and two other works, of which only a few fragments are extant; the statement that he wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch is without proof. Anan's pupil Mocha and his son Moses (780-800) introduced a new system of vowels and accents which displaced the former system and promoted the Masorah, while other Karaites applied the so-called hermeneutical rules (middot), borrowed from Mohammedan theology, to the interpretation of the law. At a very early period the Karaites followed the philosophical tendency of Mohammedanism, and about 800 Judah Yudghan attacked the rabbinical doctrine of the anthropomorphism of God. His system was elaborated by Benjamin ben Moses Nahawendi, who flourished about 830. According to him, God is too exalted to reveal himself to man, and revelation was accordingly made by the medium of an angel, who not only created the world but also performed all the acts of God recorded in the Torah. Benjamin's writings, with the exception of his Sefer dinim ("Book of Laws") are known only from citations. With Benjamin and a few others the Arabic period of Karaism came to a close, and the Karaite communities of Babylonia and Persia soon lost their importance.

2. In Palestine.

Under the impulse of the Messianic expectations which are a marked characteristic of Karaism, Palestine now became the center of a Karaite propaganda, which, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, reached even to Greece and Spain, while the Karaites living in Jerusalem took the name of Shoshanim or Maskilim, with reference to Dan. xii. 3. Karaite congregations already existed in Egypt, and Constantinople was selected as a missionary field; but the chief object of attack was the first and last great teacher of Judaism to polemize against them, Saadia Gaon (b. 892; d. 942), who had assailed Hiwi al-Balkhi and Ibn Sakuyah in his Kitab al-Tamyiz ("Book of Distinction"), written in 926, and in his Sefer Emunot we-De'ot ("Book of the Articles of Faith and Doctrines of Dogma"), written seven years later. The first Karaite who wrote against Saadia was Solomon ben Jeroham (b. at Fostat c. 915-920; d. about 960), whose Milhamot Adonai ("Wars of the Lord") is still extant in its main portions. He also wrote commentaries on Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, The Psalms, and Lamentations, as well as others which are now lost. He denounced philosophy and all other sciences, and acknowledged only the study of the Torah, although he respected the Mishnah. His partizan, the Jerusalem Karaite Sahl ben Mazliah also wrote against Saadia and the latter's disciple, Samuel ben Jacob. Solomon ben Jeroham's successor, Yafith ibn Ali (Japheth ha-Levi) of Bassora, the greatest and most fruitful Karaite exegete, was also an opponent of Saadia, but he was moderate in his polemics and in his commentaries


quoted many passages from his opponent. He paid special attention to grammar, and in lexicographical respects his commentaries, which are extant on the entire Old Testament, are very instructive. Like Benjamin Nahawendi, he referred Isa. liii. to the Messiah and his sufferings, in opposition to the Rabbinical exegetes, who, on account of their hostility to Christianity, referred the chapter to the people of Israel. Yafith lived about 915-1008, and wrote his commentaries in the last quarter of the tenth century, apparently composing his Sefer ha-Mizwot before his commentaries. In the first half of the eleventh century lived Abu al-Faraj Harun of Jerusalem, the author of a grammatical work entitled Mushtamil ("The Comprehensive"), in which he compared Hebrew with Arabic. He also wrote an Arabic commentary on the Bible, in which he explained all difficult words and sometimes entire sentences. To the middle of the eleventh century belongs Jacob ben Reuben, the author of commentaries on the Bible, composed chiefly of compilations from older authorities.

3. Religious Philosophy

With the first half of the tenth century began the first epoch of Karaite religious philosophy which was based upon the Arabic scholastic theology of the kalam (literally "word"; cf. logos), a system developed in the second century of the Hejira, and intended, according to the statements of the Arabs themselves, to harmonize tradition with philosophy. It therefore afforded a means of defending religious doctrines by arguments based on reason, and was primarily directed against the tenets of the heterodox sects, and secondarily against the teachings of the philosophers. Thus Aaron ben Elijah (see below, § 5) could contrast the Mutakallamun ("teachers of the word"), with the "philosophers," or the Aristotelians, whereas the main elements of the kalam were evolved from the Peripatetic philosophy. The Mutakallamun also include the Mohammedan sect of the Mutazilites ("Separatists, Dissenters"; see MOHAMMEDANISM), who were founded by Wasil ibn Ata (b. 699/700; d. 748, 749), a contemporary of Anan and the founder of an Islamitic religious philosophy which professed a rationalistic formulation of Mohammedan dogmas in opposition to the liberal belief of traditional orthodoxy. The Karaites were closely allied to this sect, and their teachers even called themselves Mutakallamun.

The first religious and philosophical work of Karaism was the Kitab al-Anwar ("Book of Lights"), written by Jacob al-Kirkisani in 937, and devoted to a summary of the marriage law of the Karaites, so far as it deviated from the rabbinical system. He also wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, and was followed in the eleventh century by Joseph ben Abraham ha-Roeh, who is mentioned by Maimonides in his Moreh Nebukim as a representative of the kalam and an opponent of Hai Gaon. Joseph was the author of Kitab al-Muhtawi, a philosophical work on "the roots of religion." Hitherto the Karaites, interpreting Gen. ii. 24 to mean that husband and wife form a unit, had made it almost impossible for them to marry among themselves. This theory was abolished by Joseph and his pupil Joshua ben Judah (Abu al-Faraj Furkan), although an exaggerated application of the method of analogy prohibited marriage within many degrees of affinity which were permitted by the rabbinical Jews. About the middle of the eleventh century Joshua ben Judah wrote an extensive commentary on the Pentateuch and a treatise on the law of marriage. According to his pupil Ibn al-Taras, the works of Joshua promoted Karaism in Spain, although they were soon counteracted by rabbinical Judaism.

4. Egypt and the Crimea.

In the twelfth century Egypt took the place of Jerusalem as the center of Karaism, and this century also marks decay of Arabo-Karaite literature, for its last representative was the physician Daniel, who wrote a work in 1682 in imitation of the Hobot ha-Lebabot ("The Duties of the Hearts"), composed by Bahya of Saragossa in the eleventh century, while Egypt was also the home of the Hebrew poet Moses Dari. There were also many congregations of Karaites in the Crimea, where a community is said to have existed in 1279. Crimean Karaite literature was extremely scanty, and little of it has been preserved, although it is known that the Karaites of the Crimea applied themselves diligently to the study of the law. Since they laid great stress on a sojourn in Jerusalem, which could easily be reached by way of Constantinople, several books of travel were written by Karaites, including Samuel ha-Kadosh ben David (1641-42), Moses ben Elijah ha-Levi (1654-1655), and Benjamin ben Elijah of Koslov (1785-86). About the middle of the eighteenth century there were 500 families in the Crimea, represented by four communities at Kala, Koslov, Kafa, and Manguf. In the Crimea the Karaites enjoyed special privileges, as when, in 1796, the Empress Catharine remitted half the poll-tax for every young man and also exempted them from military service.

5. Constantinople.

The Karaite community which existed at Constantinople in the early part of the eleventh century, and numbered 500 families in the second half of the following century, is important for the history and literature of the sect. There is no doubt that Karaites lived in Constantinople at the time of Judah Hadassi (b. at Jerusalem 1075; d. at Constantinople 1160), who began his Eshkol ha-Kofer (also called Sefer ha-Peles) in 1148. He classified all religion on the basis of the ten commandments and sought to oppose all heresies known to him. In natural history he had no superior among his contemporaries and he gave an extended and valuable account of the progress of philosophy, a subject which he also treated in his Sefer Teren bi-Teren on Hebrew homonyms. Karaite literature was especially promoted by two scholars named Aaron. The first of these was Aaron ben Joseph, whose literary activity falls between 1270 and 1300. He was a physician and wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch the earlier and later prophets, and the Psalms. His most important work was his commentary on the Pentateuch, entitled Mibhar ("Choice") and completed in 1294. Aaron was likewise the author of a grammatical and exegetical


hand-book entitled Kelil Yofi ("Diadem of Beauty") and a book of prayers which enjoyed great popularity among the European Karaites. The second Aaron was Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia (b. at Cairo 1300; d. at Constantinople 1369), who wrote Ez ha-Hayyim ("Tree of Life"), in which he developed the doctrinal system of the new faith, showing how the Jew should practise his religion to gain eternal life. He sought to blend the system of the Mutakallamun with the school of Maimonides, and thus produced an eclectic system, although at the same time he defended the kalam, which he followed rather than the Aristotelian method. In his Gan 'Eden ("Paradise") he recapitulated all his predecessors. This work, which is to the Karaites what the Maimonidean Yad ha-Hazakah is to the rabbinical Jews, is based upon the principle that the belief in the unity and other attributes of God as well as in his government of the world forms the end and aim of the law, while his Keter Torah ("Crown of the Law"), a commentary on the Pentateuch, is intended as an elucidation of his philosophical Ez ha-Hayyim. The latest bloom of Karaite literature in Constantinople is represented by the writings of Elijah Bashyazi (b. at Adrianople c. 1420; d. there 1490), the author of the Aderet Ehyahu ("Mantle of Elijah"), a summary of the works of his predecessors. His pupil and nephew, Caleb Afendopolo (b. 1465), completed the work of his master, in addition to writing independent works on theology, astronomy, and medicine, while his two kinot ("Lamentations") on the expulsion of the people of God from Spain, Russia, and Lithuania (1493) are historically interesting. A contemporary of Caleb was Judah ben Elijah ha-Gibbor, who enriched the liturgy of the Karaites, while his son Elijah Shusbi wrote a poem on the calendar. Moses Bashyazi, a great-grandson of Elijah Bashyazi, was a distinguished figure of the sixteenth century.

6. Poland.

While the literature of the Karaites in the Byzantine countries was mainly doctrinal, their Polish coreligionists, who were the last to produce Karaite literature, were obliged to write controversial books owing to the inquiries of Christians. The first Karaites entered Poland at the end of the fourteenth century at the request of the king, coming from the Crimea to Lithuania, where Grand-duke Witold took them under his protection and granted them privileges which were afterward (1446) confirmed by King Casimir Jagellon. The first communities were at Lutsk and Troki, the two principal cities of Lithuania, and in 1581 Stephen Bathori allowed the Karaites to settle also in Volhynia, Podlasie, and Kiev. The first Karaite to make an open attack on Christianity was Isaac ben Abraham Troki (b. 1533), who opposed the Christian faith in the first part of his Hizzuk Emunah ("Confirmation of Faith") on the ground that the prophecies of the Old Testament can not refer to the founder of Christianity, while in the second part he criticized the contradictions in the Gospels. Mention may also be made of Mordecai ben Nisan, who wrote a treatise in answer to four questions propounded by Jacob Trigland, professor at Leyden, in Apr., 1698, the first being whether the Karaites were the ancient Sadducees or originated with Anan. Though full of anachronisms this treatise (entitled Dod Mordechai) possesses a certain amount of importance, since it was long the chief source for the history of Karaism. For the king of Sweden Mordecai wrote his Lebush Malkut on the differences between the Karaites and the Rabbanites, and was also the author of a book of grammatical rules (Kelalim). Equally noteworthy was Solomon ben Aaron Troki, the author of Appiryon (c. 1700), containing an account of the distinctive features and the origin of Karaism, together with an outline of its ceremonies, written for the information of the minister of the Swedish government. The second part of another work of the same name contains refutations of Christianity. In 1756 Simhah Isaac Lutski, one of the most revered and learned of the Karaites, wrote his Orah Zaddikim, containing a list of the most celebrated Karaites and their works.

Karaite literature ends with Abraham Firkovich of Lutsk (d. at Chufut-Kale, 1874), whose valuable services to the criticism of the Old Testament are overshadowed by the systematic falsifications of manuscripts and epitaphs by which he sought to prove that the Karaites were the descendants of the Israelites who had been led into the Assyrian captivity and who had settled in the Crimea during the reign of Cambyses. Since 1830 the Crimean Karaites have had a printing-establishment at Eupatoria, where editions of their most important manuscripts have been published. Karaite communities are found not only in the Crimea but also in Jerusalem and Constantinople, as well as throughout Egypt, Galicia, Moldavia, Wallachia, and southern Russia. In 1871 the Karaites numbered about 6,000, but this number has decreased to some 5,500, the majority of whom live in Russia.

7. Doctrine and Law.

The Karaites recognize as binding precepts for religious and moral conduct only those which can be deduced from the Bible by means of an accurate exposition of the literal sense according to usage and context. From this main doctrine, which has been compared with that of Protestantism, other principles are inferred as necessary corollaries. They acknowledge no traditional exposition of passages of the Bible, but every experienced teacher is permitted to correct or change former interpretations according to the best of his knowledge and belief, provided his views are justified by the text; and such rabbinical laws as are recognized by the Karaites are regarded as valid solely because they are based on the Bible, this category including injunctions concerning slaughtering, fixing of the new moon, circumcision, and marriage. The introduction of new laws and the recognition of those which are non-Biblical are forbidden, and the Karaites, therefore, do not celebrate the Feast of Lights (Hanukkah). This strict adherence to the letter of the law, as based upon textual hermeneutics, has also exerted an influence upon individual rules and regulations. Important divergencies exist between the Karaites and the rabbinical Jews with regard to the Sabbath, phylacteries,


(see TEPHILLIN) and the calendars, while less essential differences concern the celebration of the feasts, especially Passover, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as the fasts and religious exercises. The earliest Karaite teachers formed the liturgy by omitting all rabbinical additions, so that religious customs have been exempt from change or discussion. The rigor with which the Karaites observe all their customs has had a deep influence on their lives. They are not content with religious worship on festivals and on semi-festivals like Purim, but refrain from work even on the intermediate days, while on fast-days they abstain from all commercial pursuits. The laws of ritual purity are also extremely exaggerated, and their strictness in the observance of legal obligations extends to the moral duties. They attend to their avocations in quiet simplicity, and generally wear dark clothing in their aversion for everything which pleases the sight.

The main principles of the religious system were fixed as early as the time of Hadassi, and were formulated in ten articles by Elijah Bashyazi and his pupil Caleb Afendopolo, as follows: (1) The universe was created (made out of nothing); (2) there is a Creator, who was neither created by any other power nor self-created; (3) he has no form, is one in every respect, and is like none of his creations; (4) God sent Moses, our teacher; (5) through him God revealed the Torah, which contains the absolute truth; (6) every Jew is bound to read the Torah in the original; (7) God also revealed himself to the other prophets; (8) God will raise the dead on the Day of Judgment; (9) God will recompense every one according to his deeds; (10) God will deliver Israel from their affliction and send to them the son of David. On the whole it may be said that the Karaites agree with the rabbinical Jews in fundamental doctrines, but differ from their opponents in carrying them out.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A minute, critical and extensive guide to literature concerning the Karaites, including the productions of their leaders, is given in Hauck-Herzog, RE, x. 54-60, cf. 881-882. Consult also: S. Pinsker, Likute kadhmoniot, Vienna, 1860 (in Hebrew, on Karaite history and literature); A. Neubauer, in JA, 1865, i. 534-542; idem, Aus der Peteraburger Bibliothek; Beiträge und Dokumente zur Geschichte des Karäerthums, Leipsic, 1866; G. Karpeles, Geschichte der jüdischen Litteratur, pp. 404-412 et passim, Berlin, 1886; The Anti-Karaite Writings of Saadiah Gaon, in JQR, x (1898), 238-276; A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by Jephet ben Ali the Karaite, ed. in Arabic with transl. by D. S. Margoliouth, in Anecdota Oxoniensa, 3d ser., i., part 3, Oxford, 1889.

On the history consult: J. M. Jost, Geschichte des Judentums und seiner Sekten, 3 vols., Leipsic, 1857-59; J. Fürst, Geschichte des Karäertums, 3 vols., ib. 1862-69 (to be used with caution); A. Gottlober, Bikkoret letoledot Karaim, Vilna, 1865; J. Gurland, Ginse Yisrael, St. Petersburg, 1865-66; W. H. Rule, Hist. of the Karaite Jews, London, 1870; A. Harkavy, Denkmäler aus der Krim, St. Petersburg, 1876; M. Steinschneider, Polemische Literatur, Leipsic, 1877; idem, Arabische Literatur der Juden, Frankfort, 1902; H. Grätz, Geschichte der Juden, especially v. 163-204, Leipsic, 1895, Eng. transl., London, 1892; Semitic Studies in the Memory of Rev. Dr. A. Kohut, pp 435-456 Berlin, 1897; David ben Sa'del, Ibn al-Hiti's Arabic Chronicle of karaite Doctors, transl. by G. Margoliouth, London, 1897; Ersch and Gruber, Encyclopädae, section II., vols. xxvii., xxxiii.; JE, vii. 438-447.


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