Jewish sect, with about 30,000 members, that differs in several questions from mainstream Judaism to a degree that makes marriage between Karaites and other Jews prohibited.
|10 principles of Karaism
|1. Creation of the world
|2. The existence of an eternal Creator
|3. Unity and incorporeality of the Creator
|4. Superiority of Mosaic prophecy
|5. Perfection of the Torah
|6. The obligation to understand Hebrew
|7. The mission of non-Mosaic prophets
|8. Resurrection of the dead
|9. Divine providence
|10. The coming of Messiah
The name comes from the Hebrew word "qara", to read, and the Karaites themselves interprets their name into "Followers of the Scripture".
There are several explanations to their origins. Most scholars believe that Karaism grew out of a revolt among Jews in 8th century BCE Persia. The Karaites themselves believe that their orientation goes back to certain groups of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and that they represent the original form of Judaism, free from later theological inventions.
The main difference between Karaism and mainstream Judaism is that they reject the Oral Law, the Mishnah and the Talmud. The Karaites believe that man now lives in a period that can be referred to the "Great Exile". In this time, there are no acting prophets, and the only source to correct understanding of Judaism is through studies of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is an obligation upon every single Jew, and learning Hebrew well is a prerequisite in order to obtain good insight.
Yet, it is made clear that the texts must be interpreted with an open mind, and the Karaites accept that there can be differences in the understanding between individuals. In theory, interpretations of ones forefathers play no role for each one's interpretation. But even the Karaites have been forced to rely upon certain books of interpretations and explanations, even if these do not go as far as is the case is with the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Karaite philosophy was strongly influenced by the Mu'tazilis orientation of Islam. According to this, they rejected the causality of nature, claiming that every single thing happening in the world is the result of God's will, not a preceding happening. The only acts beyond the will of God were human actions. Hence, if the actions of a man causes bad effects, he is responsible and can be punished.
As so much of today's Judaism is defined in the Mishna and the Talmud, rejected by the Karaites, there are many differences in understanding of both religious truths and the performance of rituals between it and Karaism.
For the Karaites, no holiday lasts more than one single day. They celebrate Shavuot on a Sunday, Purim is celebrated in the month First Adar, they do not celebrate Chanukah, they have different fast days, in addition to some more minor differences.
Karaism also involves some differences in dietary laws. For instance, they allow eating of milk and meat together if they are from different species.
One of the more obvious differences are with the synagogues. There are no chairs, women and men pray together, and in kneeling position. A posture that resembles the part of the Muslim prayer with maximum prostration.
The liturgy of the Karaites is not as extensive with other Jewish synagogues. There is little poetry but much reading from scriptural texts.
Marriage between mainstream Jews and Karaite Jews is prohibited from both sides, as they perceive each other as mamzerim, illegitimate.
The Karaites have never formed any large groups, but were able to spread into Syria, Egypt as well as countries in mainly eastern Europe.
Today, the majority of the Karites live in Israel, about 25,000 of them. About 3,000 live in Poland and Lithuania, 1,200 in USA. There are also small groups in France, Switzerland, Turkey and Great Britain. The present leader is Chief Rabbi Eli Marzuk of Ofakim.
Around 760: Anan ben David in Persia establishes a rival exilarchate in competition with his younger brother. The Muslim ruler, the Caliph, jailed Anan, and in order to avoid death penalty, Anan claimed that he represented another religion, closer in its core to Islam. He was released, and could act as leader of his followers, who were known as Ananites.
770: Anan publishes the Book of Precepts, in which the basic rules of his orientation is clarified.
9th century: The Ananites start to refer to themselves as Karaites.
10th century: Karaites are called to establish themselves in Palestine, and found a congregation here.
Some leaders of mainstream Judaism try to exclude Karaites from Jewish communities.
14th century: Aaron ben Elijah, living in the Ottoman Empire, defines the Karaite lore through 3 important books.