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Regarding Karaite Marriage and Children

Updated on January 23, 2013


It goes without saying that the laws regarding Karaite marriage would obviously be derived from the Tanach and that would mean that Specifically, Leviticus 18 would be the guiding light so to speak.  But what is essential to remember is that the overall principle that governs Karaism refers to how we read the Law and interpret it is on an individual basis.  Contrary to the Rabbanites that claim we were and still are rigid in our adherence to the Law,  that is misleading.  We adhere to the intent and spirit of the Law but that does still provide us with flexibility.  Anan ben David was well aware of that when he was quoted as saying that he did not expect everyone to have the identical interpretation as he did.  He accepted that his was not the only way contrary to the rabbinical picture painted of him of being an arrogant and belligerent bully.  What he was not willing to accept was the deliberate alteration of the intent and meaning of the Law, which is how we as Karaites view the creation of the Talmud.   For all intent by the Rabbanites, their Talmud has replaced the Torah.   So understanding this perspective, one can see how even Leviticus 18 can still be open to personal interpretations, many of which I will be providing throughout this presentation of the marriage laws, yet rigid enough that it did not require a Talmudic rewrite.



It’s a much nicer way of saying bastard which is how it translates and it is evident from the Law that the issue of any prohibited marriage is to be considered a mamzer.   But those bearing such a label have been castigated and anathemized far worse than was ever warranted by the term.   All it clearly states in the Torah  is that the mamzer is not to mingle with the community of Israel.   But at no point does it state that the mamzer cannot marry another member of the community, hast to be ostracized, or for that matter ridiculed.  So what does it mean by not mingling as that is the only prohibition.  Mingling is an expression of movement within the community.  It’s an act of obtaining a higher profile, getting to know a lot of people and usually this is for the purpose of attaining a worthy position in society.  Therefore the law is actually instructing the mamzer to assume and maintain a low profile while not trying to stand out through actions that would make them prominent within the community.  It would appear to be nothing more than an instruction that the mamzer is not to draw attention to themselves, and that is a sensible approach to avoid accusations and finger pointing.  But what it’s not is a condemnation of the mamzer.  He or she is not being blamed for their condition nor in any respect other than being advised not to try to elevate their position are they being punished.  So by one Karaite interpretation, they can marry, have a family of their own and will always be part of the community.  S

So, to be a mamzer by Karaite interpretation what must one do in order to have a such a child from a prohibited marriage?  The list is quite complete with the emphasis of not being permitted to marry near relatives.  Looking from the male side, but the same would hold true for the female perspective, a man cannot marry nor have carnal knowledge of his mother, stepmother, full sister, half sister, sister-in-law or stepsister, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, or aunt.  But then there is further complicated by the issue of who can you marry when you have multiple wives.  And yes, as a Karaite, it is not forbidden to have more than one wife as long as the first wife is treated with the respect of being primary wife and therefore respected as such by the rest.  But the consequences of having more than one wife at the same time should be warning enough that no one should try it in today’s society unless you dwell in a society that permits polygamy then the rules are quite clear.  You may not marry or have carnal knowledge of the daughter of the woman that is your wife, the mother of your wife, the sister of your wife, or even your wife’s neighbor.  In that last ordinance, in a close knit community the wife’s neighbor can probably be translated as her best friend.  To do so would be to invite jealousy and destroy the friendship.  Anyone else is fine. 

Therefore what is evident is that no matter whether or not the child is from a prohibited marriage, they are not any less Karaite than the paternal parent.   Those that say otherwise are practicing more in the manner of the Rabbanites by adding and adulterating what is written rather than interpreting what God has written through his intermediary Moses.

Canaanite Temple Marriage Ritual

 As a side note, there is a reference in Leviticus 18:21 that you shall not give any of your seed to set them apart to Molech.  One might at first wonder what does this have to do with eligible marriages.  The Rabbanites will tell you that this is a reference to child sacrifice that was practiced by the worshippers of Molech.  And because they have said this long enough over the centuries, most people fail to question their reasoning and accept it.  The fact that can’t be ignored was that this was a chapter on prohibited marriages, not on child sacrifice and therefore their focus was in error. Rather than admit they were deficient in their knowledge, the rabbis decided to provide an answer even if it had nothing to do with what Moses was trying to say.  In particular, he was referring to the practice of the Canannites in their temples to perform a marriage ceremony with their particular god whether it was Molech, Ashtarte (Istar) or Baal.   It didn’t matter which one because it was common to all.  There were two levels of this ceremony, one involving the use of surrogate brides and grooms which were provided from the temple priests and priestesses and they would engage in the sexual act with the members of the congregation to conduct this marriage which would ensure good health, divine protection and good harvests.  The second practice involved a more imaginative marriage ceremony in which one would, as the description in Leviticus 18:21 describes, the men would masturbate into the sacred altar flames ie. Setting their seed apart for Molech or more accurately passing it through the flame, again for the assurances of health, protection and harvest.  For how dangerous the lure of this fertility ritual may have been at the time we only have to look to the reference of ‘playing with fire’ in Leviticus 10:1-4 to see its general acceptance as a common religious practice.  Here we find Aaron’s two eldest sons offering strange fire at the altar and as a result they are consumed in flames as punishment by God.   By example, the union of man with god in this manner was most certainly a prohibited marriage and without question punishable by death.

The Non-Jewish Bride


You may have noticed that the list of prohibited marriages never included women not of Jewish birth.  In fact, there is a total absence of any such prohibition from all of Leviticus.  Therefore one must conclude that it was not prohibited.  It must be remembered that Karaism is a patriarchal society with inheritance of one’s birthright passed down father to son but as you can read in my hub there was a purge of non-Jewish wives from the community as soon as the exiles from Persia returned to Israel.  Ezra did this not only in contradiction to the absence of such practice in the Torah but also in a manner that betrayed the patriarchal descent by saying anyone not born of a Jewish woman could not be considered Jewish and therefore would lose his inheritance in the land.  To the nobles returning from Babylon, whom it is clear had a strong influence over Ezra, it was a very quick remedy of being landless upon their return as they could now appropriate the property from those not willing to part with their wife and also any children that inherited born of foreign mothers due to this new edict.  With time, the Pharisees and later Rabbanites made this their definition of being Jewish to the exclusion of any groups that still practiced the original father to son inheritance of faith such as the Zadokites, Samaritans and Karaim.  As we can see from Exodus 34:16 the only concern was that taking a wife from non-Jewish tribes ran the risk of turning the husband to their religion.  It was a warning and should you take such a wife then you were not permitted to allow her to have her idols within your home.  In that way she would ultimately adopt the husband’s religion and to that there was no objection.   Others may argue from Deuteronomy 7:3 that God was quite emphatic that there should be no intermarriage, but it is just as clear that this was in reference to specifically seven nations that were in the land and that these nations were not only hostile but in much greater number than the Israelites.  Therefore, as seen in the story of Samson, any such relationship with woman from these particular nations would always be suspect and run the risk of causing harm to the Jewish nation as a whole.  To further emphasize that this particular prohibition only applied to these seven nations we merely have to look at Deuteronomy 21:10-15 to see that making a woman captured in war from any other nation your wife was perfectly fine as long as certain rules were adhered to for the month after capture.  It could not be any clearer that God was satisfied as long as the woman from a foreign nation did not practice her pagan religion as before and that she was treated properly with respect and not as a slave.

So once again it is clear that whether or not the child is from an intermarriage, as long as the paternal parent was Karaite and the mother was accepting of the Karaite ways, then that child is no less a Karaite than any other.  There is no requirement that the mother passes through some ritual, or certification program, or under the scrutiny of any community leader to prove herself.  Her word is her bond.  If she accepts the one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and declares so, then that is proof enough.


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