Karaites

Doctrines Karaite Jews differ from other Jews in their rejection of the "Oral Torah" of rabbinic tradition, and their efforts to live according to the authority of the Hebrew Bible alone. Their name is derived from the Hebrew word for "scripture" (mikra), and they were originally characterized by a form of asceticism and rigid adherence to the literal interpretation of biblical laws. They adopted some Essene practices such as total separation from gentiles and ablutions before entering the synagogue, and did not practise many of the most universally accepted customs of rabbinic Judaism such as the use of phylacteries (tefillin) in prayer, the prohibition of eating meat with milk and the celebration of the festival of Hanukkah. Intermarriage with non-Karaite Jews is forbidden. In contrast to the Thirteen Articles of Faith of Maimonides accepted by most Jews, the Karaites have instead a code of ten, one of which is the religious duty to know the language of the Bible. Modern Karaites have their own prayer book.

History The founder of Karaism was Anan ben David, a prominent Jewish scholar in eighth century Babylonia. His opposition to rabbinic authority was due partly to personal rivalries within the establishment, and partly to his recognition that Talmudical Judaism was going through a period of stagnation at the time and might be revived by the stimulus of renewed Biblical and Hebrew research. Influenced by Islamic scholarship, his achievement, paradoxically, was to inaugurate a new epoch in the history of orthodox rabbinic Judaism which was to culminate in the work of the great mediaeval Jewish scholars. The Ananites, as his anti-rabbinic followers were called at first, included some of the greatest Jewish personalities of the day. They were renamed Karaites in the next century by Benjamin of Nahavend, and could have become a major force within Judaism had it not been for the counter-offensive led by Saadiya, the greatest of the Geonim (882-942). Thereafter Egypt was the chief centre of oriental Karaism until it was weakened by the authority and reputation of Maimonides in the twelfth century.
Karaites spread to Byzantium and Asia Minor, and existed for a brief period in eleventh century Spain. From the twelfth century there were Karaites in Russia and Lithuania, where they were often treated more hospitably by the Christian host communities than the orthodox Jews. In 1939 the Nazi authorities stipulated that Karaites were to be categorized as non-Jews, and there were some cases of Karaite collaboration with the Germans. Celebrated Karaite scholars include Judah Hadassi of Constantinople, 12th century author of a kind of Karaite encyclopedia and a number of hymns still printed in Karaite prayer books, and the colourful Russian writer and archaeologist Abraham Firkovitch (1786-1874). The majority of Karaites now live in Israel where they have their own religious courts. They are not permitted to marry Jews.

Symbols The Karaites employ the same symbol system as other traditions within Judaism.

Adherents There are estimated to be 1500 in the USA, about 100 families in Istanbul, and about 12,000 in Israel, most of them living near the town of Ramleh

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Moshav Mazliah, near Ramleh, Israel