Wednesday, November 01, 2006

History is written by the victors - Sefer Milchamot Hashem

Reading the translation of the first three cantos of the Sefer Milchamot Hashem, I am struck by several impressions:

Firstly, how pious the Karaite is. He is not a rebel or a mocker. He truly believes that he is in possession of the truth, and the Rabbanites are heretics. He is trying to show them the error of their ways.

Secondly, how his arguments are not very different from those voiced on many j-blogs today. (Not necessarily by the bloggers themselves)

Thirdly, how the Karaites basically disappeared from the radar of the Jewish world.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

Karaites used to be common in Egypt - Alexandria, I believe. Persuaded to leave because the Arabs were peevish that Israel was reborn.

Many now live in France. Others in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Below the radar, yes. But they still exist.

November 02, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

You are right. I believe that many of the Egyptian Karaites moved to Israel.

However, when you think that at their height, perhaps up to 40 percent of Jews were Karaites (don't have a source to back up this number), it is rather astounding how they have diminished...

November 02, 2006 11:01 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

I theorize that both Rabbanites and Karaites perfectly represent their time of origin and the environment in which they originated.

The Karaites pre-date rabbanite Judaism, and represent an old established community, with its own traditions that stimulated and supported its survival. Egyptian Jewry from the days when most Jews were in the land or looked to the land. As such, the Temple was not their main focus, their community existed separate from mainstream Judaism, and survived independently.

The Rabbanites represent a Jewry determined to maintain and carry on despite the destruction of the Temple. And as such, the law acquired importance as a replacement focal point.

To put it differently, each community hangs its cloaks on different hooks, and has neither a need for, nor much interest in, the coatrack of the other.

But what that would mean is that the Karaite is mostly location-specific, whereas the Rabbanite carries an entire Jewish world within, and is more mobile.

An argument might even be made that Rabbanite Jewry is portable and peripatetic - a Judaism that can and does move all over, because its geographic centre is in the mind, not in any particular place.

By extension, a further argument could be made that the vast spread of Rabbanite Judaism was inevitable, the geographic limitation of Karaism equally so.

November 03, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I am not as knowledgeable about Karaites as I'd like to be, but I am not sure if I fully agree with you on this...

I am not sure if the Karaites predate rabbinic Judaism. Of course there were Jewish groups, such as the Sadducees, that denied the concept of the Oral Law, but the link between their demise and the appearance of the Karaites in the 10th century is very tenuous. The rise of Karaism seems to be more an intellectual challenge of the ideas of the Rabbanites in situ( stretching the expression) rather than an appeal to a Karaite mesorah going back to the Sadducees. Though it would be fascinating to learn if such a mesorah did exist.

You mention the Egyptian Jews - it is true that the community in Egypt goes back to the days of Yirmiyahu, but frankly, even though Egypt had a large Karaite community, I am not sure it arose from the original communities in Egypt. It is true that at least parts of the Egyptian community wanted autonomy, as evidenced by the Elephantine temple, but I am not sure if it is indicative of the entire community, especially in Alexandria.

I especially don't understand why you think the Karaites are location bound - there were communities in Bavel, in Egypt, in Sepharad, and in Europe.

Looking forward to your reply...

November 05, 2006 7:47 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Hello e-kvetcher,

Sorry for the delay. Will have to do some research on those issues - basically both reread books and reconstruct the internet searches.

Please be patient. Even if I don't turn it into a posting on my own blog, I will go further into the subject here (and if I do, the posting there and the comment here will be substantially the same, and reference each other).

Solst hobn a gitn shabbes,


November 16, 2006 6:29 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks for the ping. Looking forward to the discussion!

November 16, 2006 7:27 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Might take a while. The book I'm thinking of is somewhere, several layers deep. I'll look for it over turkey-yontif.

November 20, 2006 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey don't get out much do you? The rise in converts to Karaism is expoential in just the last 10 years or so. It is not astounding how they have diminished but rather spectacular how they are increasing daily!

December 25, 2006 3:53 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Can you back up your claim about the exponential rise of the Karaites? It is true that I don't get out much, much , but your statement needs substantiation.

December 25, 2006 7:41 AM  

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