- Religion and Philosophy
Why Karaism: Idolators
“Abodah Zarah?” you ask, “Isn’t that from the Talmud?” Yes it is. “But isn’t it about idolators?” you continue. And once again I say, “Yes it is.” But more importantly it is using what the Rabbanites have given us to support our beliefs as Karaites and to understand that all along the Rabbis acknowledged that Karaism was the correct path but they knew to say so would be to write themselves out of a profession that had proven to be very lucrative for themselves. After all, where can you sit around, debate the Torah so that you can write volumes of material on how God didn’t really mean what He said and be paid for it through the community purse so that you never have to really work a day in your life?
So what does it say in Abodah Zarah? Well in it Rabbi Levi says, “He who discontinues [learning] words of the Torah and indulges in idle gossip will be made to eat glowing coals of juniper, as it is said, They pluck salt-wort with wormwood; and the roots of juniper are their food.” That sounds an awful lot like he’s condemning his fellow Rabbis for what they’re doing in regards to their writing the Talmud. Arguing that the words of the Torah are wrong in some cases and therefore have to be discontinued then engaging in years and years of debate which took on the form of idle gossip. So well said Rabbi Levi, you are in agreement with our Karaite point of view.
And let’s not forget what Resh Lakish had to say. “ To him who is engaged in the study of the Torah by night, the Holy One extends a thread of grace by day, as it is said, By day the Lord will command his loving kindness, and in the night his song shall be with me.” No mention of studying the Talmud because it’s only the Torah that the Holy One recognizes. Well put, Resh Lakish.
Now Rabbi Hinena b. Papa pointed to the following contradiction he claimed existed in the Torah. He said, “Scripture says, as to the Almighty, we do not find him [exercising] plenteous power, yet it says, Great is our Lord and of abundant power and also, Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power!” In their self proclaimed wisdom the Rabbis declared that there was no contradiction as the former referred to the time of judgment, while the latter referred to a time of war. This is amazing that this group of men could actually fixate when God was omnipotent and when he wasn’t. Personally I think they would have been far wiser to proclaim that God exercises His glorious power at His own discretion. We are not privileged in knowing the time nor place that will be. But not these Rabbis for they see themselves on a level far above the rest of us and they know these things. Idolatry, as Abodah Zerah refers to, perhaps they were thinking this in respect of worshipping their own greatness.
But this is not the only example of their own arrogance. Rabbi. Hama b. Hanina pointed to another contradiction that he found in the scripture saying, “Fury is not in me, yet it also says, the Lord revengeth and is furious!” Once again his fellow rabbis declared that there was really no contradiction as the former referred only to Israel and the latter to idolaters or in this case the rest of the world. Personally, I thought it was always the opposite. God could be more forgiving of the rest of the world because they did not have the Torah, whereas Israel did and therefore should know better before it transgressed. Did they really believe that Israel could misbehave and God would not respond? Any parent know that you will discipline your own child far more harshly than you would someone else’s child left in your care. Firstly because your own child should know better and secondly you can’t expect someone else’s child to know your rules.
Of course this belief that we will not be punished for our sins like other nations is part of the teaching of Rabbi Alexandri who explained, “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘When I judge Israel, I do not judge them as I do the idolaters concerning whom it is said, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, but I only exact payment from them [little at a time] as the hen does her picking.’” This is confirmed by what R. Abba said, “Though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against Me? I thought I would redeem them by depriving them of monetary possessions in this world, so that they be worthy to merit the world to come.” You would think by now today’s rabbis would admit how wrong these sages of the past were. In fact Israel suffers far more at the hand of God because we are intended to be God’s instrument to show the rest of the world what He expects. When we falter in that purpose we actually are creating a far greater sin than those that do not have the benefit of his guidance.
And let us not forget what benefits these sages of the past expected for their show of holiness. As it is recorded in the Talmud, Rabbi Abbahu commended Rabbi Safra to the Minim as a learned man, and he was thus exempted by them from paying taxes for thirteen years.” That sounds like quite the benefit. Considering all the suffering the prophets endured in order to pass on God’s words, it’s not too shabby a deal these rabbis were expecting. But what is even more interesting is when the men of the Minim encountered Rabbi Safra on the road. The Talmud records, ‘One day, on coming across him, they said to him; ‘It is written: You only have I known [or loved] from all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities; if one is in anger does one vent it on one's friend?’ But he was silent and could give them no answer; so they wound a scarf round his neck and tortured him. When R. Abbahu came and found him [in that state] he said to them, Why do you torture him? Said they, ‘Have you not told us that he is a great man? he cannot explain to us the meaning of this verse!’ Said he, ‘I may have told you [that he was learned] in Tannaitic teaching; did I tell you [he was learned] in Scripture?’ And there you have it! An admission that the sole purpose of the recommendation was to receive a tax break. Rabbi Abbahu concealed the fact that Rabbi Safra didn’t even know or understand the Torah. This shameful behaviour was typical, yet the Jewish populace were led to believe that these men held the future of Judaism in their hands. How can those that don’t even know scripture be placed in a position to lead? As you have come to realize, only Karaite Jews have never abandoned the Torah and preach that the wiseman’s reward for teaching the Torah is God’s love; not tax breaks as was obviously the motivation in this story.
Why Karaism, you might ask once again. Because as I will continue to show you, everything in the Talmud supports that it is truly God’s direction to believe so.