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Why Karaism: The Meaning

Updated on October 21, 2009

As the 'learned' men that wrote the Talmud sat about debating the parables and morals that had been passed down through the generations, they failed in a most startling manner to appreciate that God unlike themselves, had no reason or justification to speak in riddles and mysteries. As when he told Moses, hit the rock and water shall flow, he meant to do exactly that. And when he told Moses to speak to the rock, again he meant to do so, but Moses had neither the full understanding nor faith to believe it, so once again he hit the rock and God admonished him for this lack of faith. If a man like Moses could fail to appreciate the obvious when it was presented to him by God, how then could we even expect these Rabbis to even comprehend the moral tales they were trying to decipher. But sometimes when you look to the sky and say it's blue, that is exactly what colour it is. Not chartreuse, not turquoise, not aquamarine, but simply blue. Karaism in that regard is much like the colour of the sky. It's an acceptance that the sky really is blue no matter if there's a haze, or cloud cover on a particular day. As we look at some of these issues that they debated until they completely erased the original intent and meaning, let me provide the final word and restore that original intent, that essential meaning that a Karaite can see but these rabbinic sages could not. As Yakov Kahana pointed out repeatedly in Shadows of Trinity, when it came to the words of God, there were no shades of grey.

Metaphors were some of the greatest teaching tools of ancient Judaism.  And when God said them through Moses everyone understood their simple and  poignant meaning. But by the time of the Tannim when the power and authority had been removed from the priesthood and seized by the Rabbanite, they struggled to decipher even the simplest of metaphors as the one I'm about to relate demosntrates.   Rabbi Johanan said on behalf of Rabbi Bana'ah, "What is the meaning of the verse, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth the feet of the ox and the ass?"  In response the rabbis answered, it means blessed is Israel when they occupy themselves with Torah and acts of kindness their inclination is mastered by them, not they by their inclination, as it is said, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters. For what is meant by 'sowing' but doing kind deeds, as it is said, sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to mercy; and what is meant by 'water' is Torah, as it is said, Oh ye who are thirsty come to the water.The phrase that send forth the feet of the ox and the ass was explained in the Tanna debe Eliyyahu thusly. 'In order to study the words of the Torah one must cultivate in oneself the nature of the ox for bearing a yoke and of the ass for carrying burdens.' 

Let us remember that the sky is blue no matter what the weather because the clouds merely shield the sky from view.  So while the Rabbis chased clouds they missed what God had instructed.  It wasn't about what Israel would receive for itself by occupying themselves with the Torah but what Israel should have done with the Torah.  Like seeds to be sewn the words of the Torah were to be cast upon the waters and they would flow to all the people in all the lands.   And all the nations would drink from the rivers.  God even pointed out that the sewing was to be done by 'all' waters not just the local watering hole.  And to send forth the feet of the ox and the ass had nothing to do with taking upon oneself the yoke of the Torah for one's own personal gain.   How selfish and how isolationist these rabbis had become, not only from the rest of the world but from the common people of Israel as well.  For the meaning of the second part is readily clear when the first part is known.  God had instructed that this delivery of the Torah to the rest of the world was to be a task assumed by all the people of Israel.  Like the ox they hooked up to the yoke to till the field, and the ass that carried the sacks of seed, it was now Israel's task to don the feet of both pack animals and till the fertile fields of the other nations and bring the seed to to be sown so that the world would feast upon the Torah's wisdom and teachings.  It was the common people that would assume this role since they knew what it was like to do an honest day's work in the fields, unlike those that had abundant affluence to sit about and prepare their Talmud for they were not burdened by the tasks of the common man.

And when these sages of the Talmud, these learned Rabbis wished to enforce their isolationsist policies that built their hedge around the Torah just as they proclaimed they would, they continued to misinterpret the scriptures to mee their purpose.  When one rabbi asks in the Talmud, "How do we know that one should not hold out a cup of wine to a Nazirite a limb from a living animal to a Noachide?" the sages answered, "From Scripture, which says, Thou shalt not put a stumbling block before the blind. Now here, too, were it not held out to him he could take it himself, yet the one [who hands it] is guilty of placing a stumbling block before the blind! Here we may be dealing with a case of two persons on opposite sides of a river. You can prove it, indeed, by the use of the words 'one should not hold out': it does not say, 'one should not hand'. This proves it." 

Once again the obvious escaped the mind of these men.  A lesson of value from scripture that has been twisted until it is something ugly, an excuse too mistreat or refuse to help those that are not Jewish.  God's  words are obvious.  One does not place a stumbling block before a blind man because to do such a thing would be an evil and abusive act.  And if that is wrong then the opposite must be true!  One should lend a hand to the blind man, one should ensure his path is clear and easy. And if that is the case then God would be saying let the Nazarite drink from your cup of wine and feed the Noachide from your table because then you would be an example to them of how a man of God should behave and they will seek to follow in your path.  Such is the manner in which men who see the blue skies behave.

There is an instruction in the Torah to remember that 'once you were a stranger in a strange land.'  It is in regard to how we should treat those from other nations and other religions.  Our doors should always be open to them and we should always befriend them as once we had been welcomed into their nations in time of famine and plague.  But it would appear that this too had been forgetten as being instructed by God for it is written in the Talmud that, "It has  been taught: Rabbi Ishmael says, Israelites who reside outside Palestine serve idols though in pure innocence. If, for example, an idolater gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews in his town, then, even though they eat of their own and drink of their own and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols, as it is said, And he will call thee and thou wilt eat of his sacrifice.  But does not this apply to actual eating? — Said Raba: If that were so, the verse would have only said, And thou shalt eat of his sacrifice; why then say, And he will call thee? That extends the prohibition to the time of the participation. Hence during the entire thirty days [following a marriage celebration] whether it is or it is not mentioned that the banquet is connected with the wedding, [participation in it] is forbidden; from that time onward, however, if it is stated that it is connected with the wedding, it is forbidden, but if its connection with the wedding is not mentioned, it is permitted. And how long [is it forbidden] if it is connected with the wedding? — Said Rabbi Papa: For a twelvemonth thereafter. And how long is it forbidden beforehand? — Said Rabbi Papa in the name of Raba: From the time when the barley is placed in the tub. Is it, then, permitted [to partake of food in the house] after the twelvemonth? Yet Rabbi Isaac the son of Rabbi Mesharsheya, who happened to be in the house of a certain idolater more than a year after a marriage, when he heard that they were feasting [because of that event] abstained from eating there! It is different with R. Isaac the son of R. Mesharsheya who was a highly esteemed man.

Clearly there is no wisdom in such an act only xenophobia.  By refusing to eat at the celebration of a non-Jewish neighbour one only serves to insult the neighbour and his entire household.  By refusing to eat for a further twelve months in his house because in their own minds they feel it would be misconstrued that they were still in some way participating in a celebration to foreign gods long after the festival had ended only fanned the flames of hostility that rose between the Jews and other nations.  These were interpretations made without wisdom.  These were laws of transgression against neighbours without the foresight of knowing what would happen when one man repeatedly insults another.  These were judgments with no foundation of God's instructions to never forget that once we were strangers and therefore we must always be hospitable and gracious. 

Next time you look at the sky, remember it does not matter what shade of blue it might be.  Let us all appreciate only the fact that it is blue and seek what is obvious and correct.  As this Karaite floats his words down the rivers that run from my newly sown fields find comfort in knowing that God never required men of esteemed wisdom to interpret his words, he only required wise men to recognize them as they were!


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    • Kahana profile image

      Kahana 8 years ago

      You are very insightful Alan. Because of what we failed to do we have brought down our own punishments and corrupted the future. As you know, both Christianity and Islam both accused Judaism of failing to perform as God intended. I cannot argue with that opinion because as Karaite we know that the Rabbanites did create the schisms that affected the world. But sadly, as Zadokites and Karaites we failed to stop them from doing so and therefore in part, we are guilty as well. Perhaps now we'll stand up and correct the errors of the past.

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      alanbedford 8 years ago

      "It wasn't about what Israel would receive for itself by occupying themselves with the Torah but what Israel should have done with the Torah." Correct -- in other words: "Don't ask what the Torah should do for you, but ask what you should do for the Torah." And just like you say, the Jews renounced their mission to evangelize the world and thus became "isolationist" and "xenophobic." Had the Israelites not become "Jews" after the exile to Babylon, and had they not been Babylonianized, and had they not replaced the Mosaic Law with the Man-made laws of the Talmud, there would have been no reason for Jesus to have appeared (and, I must add, had the "Christian" religions not gone corrupted, there would have been no reason for the Prophet Mohammed to have appeared).


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