Historical Consciousness, Haskalah, and Nationalism Among the Karaites
of Eastern Europe
Or the possibility that the Karaites
of Turkey were a type of "Jewish Protestant"?
They don't accept the "Oral Torah"--the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch and other halachic (Jewish legal) texts--but they consider themselves to be devout Jews: The Karaites
numbered about 40% of the Jewish people at their height, but today they have shrunk to less than 1%.
Linguists (Joshua Blau), historians (Moshe Gil), talmudists (Mordechai Friedman), scholars of Arab and Jewish philosophy (Joel Kramer, Daniel Lasker) and mysticism (Paul Fenton), as well as those whose studies focus on the Karaites
(Haggai ben-Shammai), have all contributed original, if at times short, essays, each in his own area of expertise.
For the specialist, the racialized world view of the Nazi regime is well known, but I wondered what an undergraduate reader would make of the passing discussion of the willingness of Himmler to allow Jews of the Karaite
sect to serve in the Waffen SS because he had "been persuaded by a Jewish rabbi that the Karaites
were racially Turkish and not Semitic" (71).
He chose to stress Bible study and the development of methods of exegesis based on the simple meaning of the text in order to outdo the Karaites
using their own techniques.
At its core were indigenous Arabic-speaking Rabbanites and Karaites
with a Judeo-Arabic culture, including some who claimed to trace their residence in the country to the pre-Islamic era" (Beinin, 2).
The discussion of its present whereabouts is an intriguing reminder of how complicated a people we are-and of course the very question of the Karaites
as Jews/not Jews is an important reminder of how, within the garden of impossible definitions, no tree is taller than that of what defines a Jew.
, a minute sect unknown to most Jews, adhere to patrilineality.
In answering this question, he explores how European Jews interacted with the foreign cultures they encountered, whether Sunni Muslims, Druze, Ismailis and Levantine Christians, or Near Eastern Jewish communities and Jewish sects such as the Karaites
There are also minor errors such as confusing da-at (knowledge) with dat (religion) and describing Sadducees and Karaites
as heretics (22-23).
Sa'adia Gaon's reservations regarding the Karaites
and their exegesis (48) may have led him to stress the Torah's heavenly origin and present Moses as God's scribe.