Karaites in Israel
Life for Karaites was not easy in the early days after the exodus from Egypt, Crimea and Eastern Europe. In fact, between the years of 1949 until the early 60s, life was probably hard for all oriental Jewish communities due to Ashkenazi attitudes. Of course, isolation was a means of protecting the community and Karaites did set up their own village like entities in places like Ramla, Beer-Sheeba, Ashdod, Jaffa and Jerusalem. Within these enclaves, the traditions, customs and teachings could continue without outside interference. The Karaite Council was established in Ramla and the offices consisted of a library and offices for the Hahamim. Despite the restrictions on self-government, courtrooms and a religious court were also built as well as a large hall that would serve the communities for a variety of purposes. After seven years of construction, the first Karaite synagogue was built and dedicated by the President of Israel at the time, Yitshak Navon. This was the first of the synagogues with others to follow at Beer-Sheba, Matsliah and Ranan. But more significantly, the underground synagogue in Jerusalem, the one used by our spiritual founder, Anan ben David in the eight century was restored and rededicated. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that the relationship between Karaism and its new home in Israel would be a safe and prosperous one.
End of The Honeymoon
Like all marriages, the honeymoon only lasts for so long and then the reality sets in. In this case it is a mixed marriage with children torn between the beliefs of two arguing parents. At no time should it be forgotten that the Karaites are nothing more than a Jewish minority within a Jewish majority. Historically, one can think of the enclaves of Ebionites, or Nazareans trying to survive within the dominant Catholic political control of the Empire. Branded as heretics, they were doomed to extinction by the dominant Christian belief. The preservation of the Karaite belief system, the customs and the traditions are what defines us and the pressures to abandon these were and are constant. Throw into the lot other pressures exerted by a secular state where an entire population of modern Jews seem to have abandoned any formal religious affiliation and there is even more of a threat that young Karaites will drift away from the community and their heritage.
Though everything in the preceeding paragraphs gives the appearance of a normalization of the Karaite one has to remember that for the most part Karaite religious leaders have not been granted any true legal standing in Israel and their religious court in Ramla is constantly under fire from the Rabbanite authorities that feel it is in contravention of their secured rights as the one and only religious court in the country. As I have mentioned earlier, only through the intervention of Likud Knesset member Naomi Blumenthal was the Karaites' previous status restored to control their own marriages and divorces after that privilege had been removed..
And we must never forget the kabbalat divrei haverut , the forced perception of coversion to Rabbinical Judaism should a Karaite wish to marry a Rabbanite. Though many Karaites have accepted this humiliation with no real intention to abandon their beliefs, it still means that they have to endure several days of a rabbi preaching how wrong we are in our Karaite beliefs, impressing upon the love struck victim how following the Talmud is the true path of a Jew. Then the Karaite must appear before three rabbis and promise to give up his Karaite customs. This religious blackmail for the sake of love is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Invisible Israeli
Typical of the Israeli attitude regarding Karaites is being completely oblivious to their existence. In a conversation I had with a young Israeli girl that I met in New Zealand, she was quite intrigued by my differing beliefs. When I explained that one of the largest communities of Karaites in Israel had actually come from Egypt she blurted out, "One of my old boyfriends was from Egypt. I had wondered why he had different practices. I thought it was only because he was Egyptian. What did you call your belief again?" She really didn't know that Karaites even existed in Israel. That would appear to be the general sentiment in Israel.
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