- Religion and Philosophy
Why Karaism: Debating Dan Ross Part 3
In many ways I am fortunate that Rabbanites are so scripturally minded. In that essence, they produce a perfundity of written documentation and they cannot resist writing about Karaism, simply because we are the proverbial thorn in their side that will not go away. For years they have proclaime we were non existent, a sect that had gone the way of the dinosaurs, and in that regard they made no mention of us to their congregations. The old 'out of sight, out of mind' philosophy. If rabbinical Jews had no knowledge of the alternatives available to them, they would not be able to question their allegiance to anything other than rabbinical Judaism. To turn their backs on the Talmud meant leaving Judaism in its entirety since Karaism was an unknown to them. And now they are faced with what I believe is a coming resurgence of Karaite followers; those of us whom are the descendants of Karaites and those that are recent converts having seen the light. Growth is a geometric phenomena. It begins with one, then two, who in turn become four and then sixteen. It was the way it was from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries when Karaites were free to speak out and challenge the established systems that had been essentially hi-jacked from the original intent of Judaism. We grew exponentially until we numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Of course in those days, threats were often dealt with via excommunication, expulsion and eventually violence. It was enough to forces us into exile, silence our most brilliant minds, and have us virtually disappear from the pages of Eastern and European history. But those days are now long behind us. The stupour which silenced our voice for 800 years has been lifted and this modern world with its electronic communication permits us to shout from one corner of the globe and within the blink of an eye be heard across the world. These articles concerning my debating the points raised by Dan Ross in his book Acts of Faith are now being read world-wide. What could not be achieved by my ancestors can now be performed with the mere pressing of a button. Keep in mind that as I challenge the issues raised in his book it is not for the purpose of argument sake, it is for survival!
Ross's version of history as I mentioned previously is prejudically distorted. He implies that Orthodox Jewry was under attack from the Karaites, rocking on its heals as it prepared for the knock out blow by the followers of Anan ben David. From the sand of Egypt a saviour arrives in the form of Sa'adiah early in the tenth century and he leads the counterattack, first by declaring Karaites as heretics and then enforcing laws that ostracized Karaite Jews from "good" Jews. Having stemmed the tide and exposed the villainy of these Karaites, the leaders of Karaism had to search for new fertile soil to plant their seeds of dissent, looking towards Syria, Palestine, Egypt and as far away as Spain. Karaite centres of prominence began to spring up like weeds; Jerusalem, Cairo, Constantinople, the Crimea and Lithuania. But no matter how far they spread, they could not win over the hearts and minds of 'believing' Jews becaus e of the bans Sa'adiah had instituted against them. Ross then sums up his version of Karaite history by questioning why so few Karaites remained in Iraq and Iran after the 10th century, the only surviving community into modern times in the town of Hit on the shores of the Euphrates. The sixty-seven Iraqi Karaites in Hit that survived the 1948 riot by their fellow Iraqis have since moved to Israel and settled in Beesheba.
The actual details concerning Sa'adiah are well documented. Karaism already existed in those areas mentioned by Ross long before the rise of Sa'adiah. In fact, this hero of rabbinical Judaism actually describes his disgust with the surging tide of Karaism in Egypt and Palestine which he encountered constantly in his travels in those lands. In fact his hatred for Karaites was bred in Egypt and was one of his main reasons for wishing to come to Mesopotamia where he would have the authority to actually pass oppressive edicts against this people whom he despised. The opportunity arose when several leading Jews in Babylonia had to lend money to the Exilarch David Zakkai and he became heavily indebted to them. Since their own enterprises were being challenged by competitors whom happened to be Karaites, when the position of Gaon as head of the religious academy became vacant, they insisted that it be filled by this Egyptian Jew, Sa'adiah. Using their ability to call in their loans, they forced the Exilarch to appoint their candidate, the first time an outsider or non-Babylonian had become Gaon. As for the disappearance of Karaites from Iraq and Iran in the tenth century, let's not plead ignorance Dan Ross. Though hard to find any documentation that refers to the physical persecution of the Mesopotamian Karaites led by Sa'adiah due to a purge of anything that refers to it in recent times, the fact is his good squads even resorted to the slaughter of innocent Karaites, exhonerated for their crimes by Sa'adiah's infamous statement that to kill a Karaite is no different than to kill a dog. His crimes were not overlooked as the extent of them came to the attention of the Exilarch and a warrant for Sa'adiah's arrest was registered. The Gaon ran for his life and fortunately for the Karaites, this manifestation of evil was dead by the year 942.
Karaites in Jerusalem
Continuing his mistaken and misleading representation of Karaite history, Ross still insists that the appearance of Karaism in Jersualem didn't occur until the late ninth century and was the result of Iraqi and Iranian pilgrims. Yes, there was an influx during this time as a result of the aforemention persecution by Sa'adiah but they were only fleeing to an established community where they would find sanctuary. Since it is well documented that Anan established his synagogue personally in Jerusalem in the eigth century, one can only assume that Ross intentionally overlooked this historical event to remove legitamacy from Anan ben David. The minimalistic references by Ross to Anan cannot be attributed to a lack of knowledge. Ross comments that by the end of the ninth century the Karaites represented the majority of the Jewish population in Jerusalem. This ascension of Karism did not happen overnight as he implied. The popularity of Karaism was evident and it was a contributing factor to Sa'adiah's hatred towards the community. After all, if Karaism was to become the predominant sect, people like Sa'adiah would be out of a job, unable to live longer on the community purse. On July 15, 1099 the Karaite community came to an end under the Crusader conquest led by Godfrey of Bouillon. As he entered the city on that day he herded all the Karaites into their synagogue and set it on fire. No one survived.
In 1967, following the six day war, the Israeli army liberated the ancient synagogue of Anan ben David which was located in the Arab section of the city and lay in ruins. It was handed back to the Karaite community and after eleven years of rebuilding and restoration it was finally rededicated in 1978. What should have been a great celebration of an ancient faith was marred by the hordes of Rabbanites that decended upon the synagogue. Throughout the rededication these Rabbanites jeered and shouted, the ceremony eventually reduced to a fistfight between the two sects. Over one thousand years later and the specter of Sa'adiah Gaon, with his vile hatred of Karaites and his resorting to physical persecution and violence has not abated one iota amongst his followers. Dan Ross, the Sa'adiahs of your own time are alive and well and still fill me with revulsion.