Who's a Jew: Karaite Perspectives

Once again the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Israel is debating the issue of who is and who isn’t a Jew.  One would think that after so many centuries of persecution, Anti-Semitism, expulsion, ghettoization they would have already figured out the answer; it’s anyone that suffers for being labeled as a Jew and has nothing to do with their petty notions of who bends to their will or doesn’t.  Sadly, they cannot let go of this issue because they fear they will lose their authority over determining the thinking, conduct and beliefs of all those that have called themselves Jew.  It is about power, it is about control and once again it is evidence that the leading council of Rabbanites have no idea of what is written in the Torah and Tanach and only wish to serve their own selfish interests.  The facts as they now stand is that this council is determined to convince the Israeli Knesset that only orthodox rabbis have the authority to perform conversions and this is contained in the Rotem Bill being introduced to the legislative assembly.  As a result, any that have been brought into the fold of Judaism through Conservative or Reform rabbis will be excluded.  They will have their ‘Judaism’ stripped away, as if that was possible.   But what it really amounts to is excommunications.  These poor unfortunates will be legally, through a paper exercise rejected from the Jewish religion that they have willingly embraced.  How ironic that which the Nazis with their evil intent were unable to accomplish, the elimination of the Jewish people, this self-asserted body of ‘robust’ Jews will attempt to do by first eliminated all those they consider inferior and then if successful will most likely move on to the next level, being the peripheral Jewish sects, or in other words, attacking and harassing Karaites once again as they have done for over a thousand years.

I Am Not Judean

Wherein lays the confusion? Let’s begin with the terminology of Jew itself. Until such time that the southern Kingdom became Judea, there was no such thing as a Jew, a shortened version of Judahite, implying one from the tribe of Judah. But subsequently, anyone living in the land known as Judea was referred to as a Jew. Much in the same way that anyone living in the US is an American, even though their ethnicity, beliefs and religion may be as varied. It was only because those not sharing the Hebraic faith were a minority that the reference became associated not only with a geographical population but a religious one as well. This still remains true with the majority of people in Israel practicing what is now referred to as Judaism but the fact is that there are many Israelites that are not Jewish. The same way that there are those in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Dubai, etc., etc., that are not Muslims even though they live in countries that are referred to as Islamic nations. It is common that there are countries defined by their religious practice even though there are citizens within those countries that do not practice the state religion.

The fact that my family was titled Kahana, one of the 24 families of Kohenim or High Priests meant that we were tribally Levites. As such according to the Torah, we had no strict nationality. We moved freely between the designated Levite cities that lay on both sides of the Jordan and therefore by strict definition were not Jews. We were, as described in Deuteronomy 33:4, “The law that Moses commanded unto us is an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob.” That as you will see was the original reference to our people’s religious affiliation. If Hebrew was a distinct reference to our origins, often associated with the Semitic wanderers known as Apiru, or the foreigners in ancient Egypt known as the Shasu, then it was only when we unified under a single religious umbrella that we became officially known as the “Congregation of Jacob.” And therefore it matters little what the Chief Rabbi of Israel and his religious henchman try to define as a Jew, it is more important what God defines as a member of this congregation to whom our ancestors belonged.


The Congregation of Jacob

From the quotation of Deuteronomy 33:4 it can be inferred that anyone whom adheres to the Laws that Moses commanded is to be considered a member of the Congregation of Jacob.  Had Moses wished to limit the membership to the religion of a specific race or ethnic population he would have used terminology that would have enforced this specificity such as ‘House of Jacob’ or ‘Seed of Jacob’ terms commonly used in the Old Testament to denote such.  The use of the word Congregation was deliberate and with purpose.  Moses was saying that anyone that chose to follow the laws of Moses, that being the Torah, was automatically to be included as a member of the congregation.   Isaiah certainly understood this principle when he stated, “from the sons of the stranger who join themselves to the Lord to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord and to be his servants. Everyone that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant, they shall be joined with them and be included in the House of Jacob.”  From this statement of 14:1 it is not only obvious that Isaiah saw them as colleagues in the faith but as brothers, joined with them through blood by making them part of the House of Jacob, not only part of the congregation.   This being the case, then since the term Jew is now used through common tradition in replacement of the expression, ‘Congregation of Jacob’, then it also holds true that anyone that practices a religion based solely on the Laws of Moses is to be considered a Jew and that God certainly did not provide the Orthodox council of Rabbic Jewry with the authority to make that determination. 

What does this mean in real world application?  For those that are concerned amongst the many that have converted to Karaism through the American Karaite movement it means that you need not worry.  In God’s eyes you are Jewish and since we have little concern for the edicts of prejudiced rabbis then their edict matters little. Know this, that because they have abused this direct commandment from God, and ignored the wisdom of Isaiah, then it is they that will be held answerable and accountable.  To my brothers and sisters of the Telugu community in India, have no fear of what they decide.  The Rabbanites have already rejected your application to be recognized as Jews simply because you have no sheets of paper to prove your heritage.  Instead all you have is a thousand years of history of withstanding the abuses and prejudices by your world for adhering to your Jewish traditions.  Again, the Lord sees your situation and calls you the Community of Jacob. 

But to my Messianic readers, those that claim they honour Yehsua,  while proclaiming themselves as Jews, recognize this, Yeshua spoke directly to you and said he came not to change the laws of Moses but to confirm them.   That being the case then he asked not that you honour him and raise him above all others.  And in fulfillment of the Laws of Moses, Jesus said, Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and should teach men to do so, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  And you should not forget what is written in Psalm 119:44, “And I shall keep they commandments forever and ever.”  I have no doubt that forever meant exactly that and I doubt Yeshua as a devout Jew had any different interpretation.  So why do you that profess to follow his teachings claim that you can alter these unalterable laws and commandments and still be part of the Congregation of Jacob.   The two are mutually exclusive and cannot be.  So for your sake I paraphrase Isaiah’s teaching, “you whom are the sons of strangers that have practiced the religion of the Gentiles, abandon your old ways completely, embrace the Laws and the Covenant of the Lord and join with us in the Congregation of Jacob, we who are Jews, were always Jews, and will always be Jews.

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Comments 11 comments

Kahana profile image

Kahana 3 years ago Author

Shalom Chaya. Yes it is my belief that anyone that chooses to believe in the laws of Moses, and the belief in one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, can be Jewish. But there still is a distinction between one who follows Judaism and one who is born a Jew. As for being born Jewish, as Karaites, we do find references throughout the Tanach to the Patrilineal descent. Some of it clearly stated, otherwise inferred. But they are clearly there. The daughters of Zelopchad in Numbers 27 had to beseech Moses to overrule patrilineal inheritance so that as women they could inherit. This would clearly indicate that only men were recognized as inheritors and it was from the father. There are many proofs that historians will use to demonstrate that Judaism was patrilineal descent. These are based on the biblical stories, and one might argue that this is not a proof but it does recur consistently which provides historical credibility. As already explained in many of my articles, familial relation is based purely on the family of one’s father, so it is understandable that HaShem’s covenant with Abraham was passed to his male descendants, to Issac, to Jacob, to Judah and Levi (political and religious inheritance)…, skipping the daughters. This is consistent, and supports the view that the covenant was not only inherited but only passed down to one’s sons and not to any daughters.

But let us not stray from the true context of my article as to what is more important. When it comes down to the bottom line, believing in Judaism, living the covenant, morally practicing all that was proscribed in the Torah, is what makes a Jew. To be merely born a Jew but not believing, not adhering to what is required of us, in my opinion does not give you instant recognition as a Jew and I would think HaShem would prefer the former and not the latter. Shalom Aleichim.

chaya 3 years ago

since anybody who accepts the law of Moses is considered a Jew from your point of view, then why the Karaites follow a paternal line? It is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah that a Jew is defined by the mother or the father. the paternal line was more a tribal issue and the maternal line was instituted by the Rabbanites. my point of view both maternal and paternal lines are valid.

Kahana profile image

Kahana 6 years ago Author

We must not forget that the Orthodox Rabbanite have a controlling hand in the Knesset. As such, definitions of Judaism are subject to their determinations. Throughout history the greatest destructive force against Judaism have been the fractionation of Jews ourselves. Only when we can rise above our pettiness, our infighting, our failure to deliver our message to the world will we finally achieve our destiny.

M.A.Noble profile image

M.A.Noble 6 years ago from UK

What amazes me is that the greatest population in 1997 (I don't what it is today) was secular Jews. There are still many secular Jews who eat pork, only go to synagogue for festivals, never on Shabbat and practice worldly corrupt and immoral acts. Yet they are accepted into the land of Israel as Jews, whereas those who desire to be part of Israel to make Aliya are exempt because they do not fall into their requirements as practicing Jews! I also know that in 1996 Israel took in thousands of Russians many of which had no Jewish connections at all yet were allowed to become citizens of Israel, through conversion. You would think that now when

in times of trouble, when Israel's enemies of increased power are engulfing Israel ready to pounce that Israel would recognise it needs all the allies it can get (outside of Israel)including those who are Jews that perhaps fall short of their Judaic principles!

Kahana profile image

Kahana 6 years ago Author

Chaim, to dismiss the Idumeans and the Hasmonean so cavalierly is a denial of our heritage. They were part of us and directly were resposible for what and who we are today. You cannot exclude them from the Jewish identity. As for a Great Karaite, no they were my ancestors. Today, all I see is a man waging a battle against the tides of time and dimunition but in so doing it gives me some inspiration. To answer your comment, I cannot do justice in this small forum of commentary so instead I have written a response which can be read at http://hubpages.com/hub/Whos-A-Jew-2-Karaite-Persp... I hope it will help clarify my position on this question.

chaim 6 years ago

The law is clear, you need 3 generations in order to became part of the people of Israel. Of course I never intended to suggest the matrilineal line of David, but to point that our greatest King had some non jewish origin, but after 3 generations was perfectly ok for David. How a great Karaite could refuse the strictness of the law? It puzzles me. And Josephus tell us that those idumeans were not a ideal type of jews. And Hashmonaim were a forced dinasty of Kings upon us. So, between a rock and a hard place, those 2 people were forgettable as jews.

Kahana profile image

Kahana 6 years ago Author

Actually Chaim, the Idumeans came to Jerusalem to defend the city against the Romans, found the forces of Eliezer busy fighting with those of Simon Gioras, then John of Gischala got into the picture and all they saw was Jews killing Jews. So they packed their bags and left the city. Josephus provides a good account of that. As for Herod, no better and no worse than the Hasmoneans.

Ruth, I get a different message from, having nothing to do with the generations but one that says that she made a conscious decision to practice Judaism and that she was recognized for it by God and within the time from Boaz to Jesse, she mothered a King of Israel. Not her third generation, but her, therefore suggesting that you do not require at least three generations. It was also a lesson to the Pharisees and the Rabbanites that the maternal line is not the defining issue of who is a Jew as obviously Ruth did not undergo any formal conversion process.

chaim 6 years ago

Allen, yes, the Idumeans were converted by force. Brilliant idea. Some years later, they arrived in masse to Jerusalem in order to kill romans and jews, and then, the Temple followed.

Nor forgetting they gave us Herodes, a big killer. Those are the fruits of "conversion".

Please check the law, you need to live 3 generations with Israel for your descendants to be considered part of the people. You cannot be a part of Israel by option just as that. Of course, those 3 generations need to observe the law. Check out the Ruth story. 3 generations were needed to make David a legitimate Hebrew.

Kahana profile image

Kahana 6 years ago Author

To the first part, it was the Church itself which proclaimed the prophets persisted until John because it had to if they were to justify Revelations. But since that is part of the Christian theology, it does not relate to the question of one's Jewishness. It does indicate thought that if one accepts that statement, then one can consider themselves Christian.

As for the latter, I have to disagree that conversion was a rabbanite invention. The largest mass conversion was conducted by Alexander Jannai after conquering the Idumeans, and he was definitely not part of the rabbinic infrastructure considering he persecuted most of them. The rules to being Jewish were as stated in the Torah. Follow the Laws of Moses, perform the required commandments, adhere to the restricitions, accept the Decalogue, do not add or subtract to what is written in the Tanach, and remember that there is only one God.

chaim 6 years ago

to John:"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it

Says who?

To Allen:

"What does this mean in real world application? For those that are concerned amongst the many that have converted to Karaism through the American Karaite movement it means that you need not worry. In God’s eyes you are Jewish"

I disagree. As Karaite you know that there are very clear rules to be counted as part of the people of Israel. Something called conversion is a rabbanite invention, not suitable for karaites.

aguasilver profile image

aguasilver 6 years ago from Malaga, Spain

Excellent hub, even if we do differ.

"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it."

But you do make some very relevant points.



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