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War of the Jews

Updated on August 8, 2009

 There are times you want to shout from the roof tops and other times that you can change the world with a whisper.  So many words have been exchanged over the last millennia between Karaites and Rabbanates that its difficult to know whether it will take shouting or whispering to heal the breach.  Perhaps both and perhaps neither.  Perhaps the need for the messiah is not to save us from the rest of the world but to save us from ourselves.  But then, which messiah will it be.  The Rabbinical miracle maker who will drown our enemies beneath the waters of the Red Sea, a warrior of magical proportions, or will it be the Karaite messiah, a man gifted with the insights to bring the entire world together into a single community that is finally at peace with itself.  One who is the destroyer, the other  the restorer.  I'm prejudiced with my Karaite beliefs, I'm praying for the latter.

Moses and Aaron

Two brothers, each with their own strong beliefs and as you read throught he Torah, constantly at each other's throats so to speak. The jealousies, the envy of one another, its all their behind the lines. When confronted by an external enemy, they were as unified as any two people could be, but when not facing an external threat they were constantly undermining one another. Moses was smart enough to know that in order for the people to be united then he had to minimize the friction between himself and Aaron. Aaron on the other hand, thinking that he had all the power of the priesthood behind him had no fear in constantly challenging Moses's authority. In a theocracy, as can be witnessed today in Islamic fundamentalist countries, the abuse of power can be absolute, so Moses was wise enough to ensure that he placed the governorship or military leadership under someone of his own choosing. Someone outside of the control exerted by the sons of Aaron. It created a balance which ensured survival.

Karaism and rabbinical Judaism are no different than the fraternal struggle between Moses and Aaron. Each has a right to pursue its own path but that does not mean that we must segregate ourselves into two distinct nations because the dominant religious power (being Rabbinical Judaism) cannot accept any balance, even as lopsided as it might be. This really isn't too unexpected since Rabbinical Judaism considers Karaism a form of heresy because it denies Talmudic law, which is the foundation of Rabbinic Judaism. The rabbinic sage Maimonides wrote that people who deny the Godly source of the "teaching of the mouth" are to be considered heretics, and that one who kills a heretic is afforded a tremendous benefit for removing a stumbling block for the pious (Hilchot Mamrim 3:2). With one of their great sages speaking thusly it's no wonder they harbor such animosity towards Karaites. But if confronted about this statement they will counter by reciting Maimonides (ibid. 3:3) that most of the Karaites and others who claim to deny the "teaching of the mouth" are not to be held accountable for their errors in the law because they are led into error by their parents and are thus referred to as a tinok she'nishba, or a "captive baby." Perhaps then he was saying that you should just kill the parents?  Sad that one they hold in high regard shoud speak thus.

When the State of Israel was in its early years of development, it was Ben Gurion's secular government that made the decision to allow the Karaites to immigrate under the Law of Return. After all, how could you say that one Jew was permitted but another Jew because he believed somewhat differently was not? But even after the law was passed it had opposition from the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Tzvi Pesah Frank, who said about the Karaites: "Heaven forbid that we should bring this deadly plague into Israel's vineyard." I don't know about you but I would think that this chief Rabbi was saying that he didn't like us very much. The hatred between two brothers was still very much alive. It is still very evident in how Karaites are treated now that the Rabbinical religious parties in Israel have found themselves controlling the balance of power. Unlike their Rabbinic counterparts, Karaite religious leaders have been granted no legal standing and their religious court in Ramle which has traditionally handled marriages and divorces within their community has always been a bone of contention to the Rabbis. And old hatreds never seem to be put to rest as seen recently when the ministry official who dealt with Karaite affairs retired, and the Karaites were suddenly lumped for administrative purposes with other non-Jewish communities. Outraged by this perceived lowering of status, the Karaite community in Israel protested the appointment of the new department head and for three months following their protest, they received no forms for registering marriages or divorces, and couples about to be married (or divorced) were left in limbo. Only through the intervention of Likud Knesset member Naomi Blumenthal was the Karaites' previous status restored.
The insults even go further. Israel's rabbinical courts require a Karaite who wants to marry a Rabbanite Jew to undergo a short process called kabbalat divrei haverut, which translates loosely as "accepting Rabbanite Judaism." After several days' study with a rabbi discussing the differences between the two religious communities, the Karaite must appear before three rabbis and promise to give up Karaite customs. "It is not conversion," Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, director-general of the country's rabbinical courts, says emphatically. Nor is there any requirement, for example, that a Karaite man undergo a token circumcision (hatafat dam), as the chief rabbinate initially required of Ethiopian Jews. Unbelievable that the Rabbis can still enforce their prejudices to humiliate their own brothers in an attempt to eradicate our existence. Why should they fear us so after a thousand years. Perhaps it is because we offer the people something they do not; Tolerance!

Anan Ben David

Tolerance is a word that the Rabbis will say should never be associated with Karaites. They will point out that the spiritual founder of Karaism, Anan ben David was anything but tolerant in the religion he proposed. They will say that in some ways Anan was even more restrictive in the dietary laws than the Rabbis were as he maintained that as long as the Children of Israel were in exile the only flesh of animals they coud eat were the deer, the pigeon and the turtle-dove and all esle was forbidden from being eaten even though Anan did permit meat to be eaten with dairy unlike the Rabbanates. They would then point out that whereas the Talmudic dictum orders the act of slaughtering to cut through two blood vessels, the eosophagus and the windpipe, Anan insisted that at least two more arteries or veins should be severed. As a means to ensuring the animal bled out faster and therefore suffered less, Anan was probably the more humane in his dictum. But what the Rabbis don't even realize what they were saying here was a contradiction of the first claim of Anan's restriction on what meat could be eaten. Sheep and cattle are farmed and therefore would undergo ritual slaughter. Deer were hunted with bows and arrows. Anan was speaking of foods in additon to what was normally eaten, not a total replacement. It was a symolic gesture. A people without a home would be like the nomadic wanderers of ancient days hunting for their food. He didn't want us to become complacent and forget that we were a displaced people.

The Rabbis will also condemn Anan for his intent to increase the fast days practiced by Karaites which included the seventh day of every month; the 14th and 15th of Adar and the seventy days from the 13th of Nisan to the 23d of Siwan when neither food nor drink could be partaken of during the day but the fast would be broken each evening. Superficially, it was an attempt by Anan to demonstrate that Karaites were more pious and therefore willing to give up more luxuries than their rabbinical brethren. Harsh it may have been but was it worthy of condemnation.

The Sabbath evening Anan declared must be passed in darkness, insisting that lights kindled in the daytime on Friday must be extinguished at nightfall as he considered it forbidden to pass the Sabbath in a place artificially illuminated. The avoidance of work on the sabbath meant that cooking and baking had to be done on Friday, not only for Friday evening and Saturday morning meals, but also for Saturday night which again was more extreme than the Rabbis who permitted artificial light and permitted cooking to begin again Saturday evening. It was an idealistic attempt at strictly following the forbidding of work ethic on the Sabbath but as most Karaites came to realize, it was not practical and the restrictions were removed.

Yes it could be argued that Anan ben David was not tolerant when he forbade the use of medicines and of medical aid in general by quoting the Torah, "I, God, am thy physician" (Ex. xv. 26) which he held up as a prohibition of drugs and doctors. But at the same time he did not stop the people from seeking medical attention.

The rabbis will also claim that he was in opposition to the astronomical determination of the festivals saying that he declared astronomy as a branch of the astrology and therefore forbidden in the Torah, but if that was the case then it would be hard to explain the Karaite dependency on the lunar calendar.

Within a single generation most of the highly restrictive edicts that Anan tried to institute at the time of the formation of Karaism were removed and the extremists in the religion were gone. And the change was justified by Anan ben David himself who established his key and overriding principle; "Search thoroughly in the Torah and do not rely on my opinion." Benjamin Ben Moses Nahawendi a student of Anan's as a result of this principle turned free and independent individual study of the Scriptures into the basic tenant of Karaism. This not only allowed for tolerance of differing interpretations but established the live-and-let-live attitude that is fundamental to Karaites.

There were many other saying attributed to Anan ben David. Some of these were anecdotal and passed to me by relatives I have talked to, some are comments he personally wrote on his treatises. But what they do provide is a more in depth view of the man that Maimonidies referred to as the heretical parent that deserves to be killed and the killer should be richly rewarded for doing so.

As you read some of these saying, keep in mind that this is a man the created a religious community that the Rabbis still cannot accept.

1. Read the Torah and if what you read seems good to you then it is right. --a call for individual relationship between a person and God.

2. Follow not the path of an angry man for he will certainly lead you away from the path to God. --must have been speaking about the Rabbis here.

3. I have seen the end of days and it is without ending. -- Anan believed in the transmutation of the soul. I believe in the sould returning to the Shekinah. Perhaps we are looking at the same thing from two different perspectives.

4. Look not (elsewhere) for that which is right in front of you. -- He was a believer in the obvious meaning and against looking for hidden meanings.

5. The truth is not always that which everyone chooses to believe. -- Once again he is promoting individual thought.

6. Righteous is the man that bears injustice and finds God. --I interpret this as meaning if you can still believe in God and goodness even though your life is a living hell, then you are special.

7. That which was, is, and will always be. -- Anan I believe is speaking of the immutable nature of God.

8. Look into the well to find water; Look into the sky to find the stars; But look into the heart to find the truth. --Anan was a bit of a poet.

9. The Rabbis talk like the birds sing; Sweet upon the ear but without meaning. --Self explanatory

10. The light unto the world has been locked away in a dark room. --Anan's view on Rabbinic Judaism.


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