ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why Karaism: Debating Dan Ross Part 1

Updated on July 4, 2011

In the old days it was not unusual for a Karaite scholar to sit across from a Rabbanite clergy and debate the essential differences between our two sects. Those days are sadly gone becuase with our dwinding population, there is no longer a concern that as Karaites we will persuade the mass of Jews to switch their theological allegiance to our view. That being the case, the Rabbis are no longer that concerned that we represent a threat to their coveted authority and therefore they no longer believe there's a need for direct debate. Essentially its a form of contempt but that is nothing new from those that have always held us in low regard. But that's fine since there are enough recent literary discussions regarding their views of Karaism that I can take my proper place in my third great grandfather's shoes and challenge them through the utilisation of their own media releases. Dan Ross's Acts of Faith which is subtitled "A Journey To the Fringes of Jewish Identity" provides you with the author's attitude before opening the book cover. Already labelled as a fringe of Jewish identity, the implication is already implanted in the reader's mind. What else do we associate with 'the Fringe?' There's lunatic fringe, societal fringe, the paranormal Fringe television series, outsider's fringe, religious fringe, being on the fringe, in fact almost all have negative connotations except for one which is fringe benefits. But even then it is an implication that the benefits are outside the so-called norm.

The True Heretics

Ross begins his chapter with the comment that Karaites benefitted in World War II from the Nazi obsession of who was a Jew and who wasn't. The implication is that somehow all Karaites escaped the death camp because the Nazis were confused by our origins. Yes, there were many that survived the persecution because the Nazi Home Office was persuaded that Karaites were all of Tartar origins and therefore did not meet their definition of who was a Jew. But at the same time, many of the death squads never bothered to try and sift through the Jews in the communities they were assigned to cleanse. It was too much of a bureaucratic nightmare and when it became time to round the people up and shift them out it was done with big nets that didn't descriminate. Those in my family taken from their homes in Vienna and sent to die at Thereisenstadt certainly didn't have an identity card that said "we are Karaite." It didn't matter. And when Dr. Rikhail Iosefova Goldenthal refused to leave off her medical administrations to the Jews in Odesssa being abused by the Nazi occupiers, it was far more expedient to kill her than keep sending her warnings to stop. So yes, there were some stories of leniency in Romania, the Ukraine, etc. that meant that even the Final Solution would never have been final since there would have been survival of some Karaites but to suggest that somehow in general we were left completely untouched by the Nazi oppression and death camps is a complete falsehood.

Ross makes it clear that he sees the Karaites as something outside Judaism, not part of it. He says we practice a truncated form of Judaism, rejecting the Talmud and other rabbinical writings. That we all claimed to be from Tartar tribes who adopted a Jewish like religion and we all spoke a Tartar dialect. Yes, the genes for blonde hair and blue eyes run in my family. Three of my four children have blonde hair and blue eyes, but that does not make myself or them any less descendants of Semitic stock than any other Jew. Tartar dialect, no, but Arabic spoken in the family, yes but not since the passing of Jakob Goldenthal in 1867. What would have been more accurate was to suggest that Karaites were probably more likely to adopt the dialect of the land in which they lived and use it more commonly than Yiddush or Hebrew in every day life. And not only did we adopt the local language but often the local dress code as well, appearing more like the general population than the Ashkenazi Jews that surrounded us. Did that make us Tartar? No, that made us in many ways more progressive even though the accusation was that our practices were archaic and that we as a people were trapped in a time warp. To infer that our Judaism was truncated also suggests that in some way it is incomplete. And rejected the Talmud and rabbinical writings implies that somehow we turned away from something that is right or unquestionable. How about expressing it more correctly in that we only follow what was given to us by God and we are unwilling to accept the writings of men that have often twisted or corrupted the original words. What we have been accused of rejecting is nothing more than a commentary and implying that by doing so we have rejected part of the religion is not only false and misleading but displays an arrogance that is the hallmark of Rabbanite Judaism.

Ross qualifies his non-Jew statement by saying that this was the claim made by the Karaites themselves but most non-Karaite scholars knew they were Jews but just happened to be heretics. Once again we are being labelled with the term 'heretic'. How is it that disagreeing with Rabbanite interpretations makes us heretics? Logic would say that those that have insisted there is a need to interpret and twist the words of the Torah to suit their own end would be the heretics. A heretic is one that rejects the original word and sees a need to interpret it in a different way. That being the case, then the Rabbanites are actually the heretics. Rather than having endured this accusation for a thousand years, my Karaite brethren and ancestors failed to reverse the accusation and call a spade a spade. We were the orthodoxy, they were the heretics and we permitted them to brand us incorrectly.

The Census

At the time Ross wrote his Chapter he said there were about ten thousand Karaites living in Israel. He could not give exact numbers because Karaite Law forbids their being counted in a census. Funny that, I thought that was Tanach Law. That God instructed his prophets to condemn any King in Israel that tried to take a census. That he forbade Jews from doing so as no man was to know the actual count of the Children of Israel. They were to be like the stars in the heavens; innumerable. Thus, an ordination from God is now being accused of being a Karaite Law as if we were in the wrong. Very peculiar.

Ross then states that Karaite status under Israeli law is ambiguous. That they are considered Jews but have their own rabbis, chief rabbinate, national council, kosher slaughterers, mohels, and religious courts. And then makes the statement that they are not legally permitted to marry other Jews. I fail to see the ambiguous part. Having our own religious structures and religious services should not implay in any way that our status as Jews is doubtful. The Rabbanite orthodoxy, conservative and reform movements all have their own councils, teachers and practices and no one is accusing any of them of being of an ambiguous status. And as far as I understand it, the illegality of Karaites marrying a Rabbanite Jew is imposed by the Rabbanite orthodox courts insisting that a Karaite must abandon his/her centuries old faith and become a Rabbanite in order to marry. Ambiguous? Sounds prejudicial and smacking of religious intolerance. There is nothing ambiguous about it. In fact it is all very obvious.

The ground work is now laid for this debate. Over the next few articles I will challenge statements made by Dan Ross in his book. Hopefully it will invite comments from both sides. The hiatus is over. It is time for Karaites to rechallenge the old accusations and let the world know that we are a presence and we do not intend to fade away.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • stans5425 profile image


      7 years ago

      A great article. Well done, articulate, and most of all, true. The rabbinical idea of what is God's Torah has confused and led many astray for years. This is why it is so important that we find out for ourselves just what that Torah teaches, just as the Karaites have for so long.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)