- Religion and Philosophy
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.