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Qaraites or Karaites

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QARAITES or KARAITES (Hebr. Bene Miqra', sons of the Scripture), a mediaeval Jewish sect claiming to return to primitive Judaism by restoring the Scriptures to their rightful place now usurped by tradition (the Oral Law). Neither his torically nor spiritually have they any connection with the Sad ducees, the Samaritans or with Schechter's Jewish Sectaries of Damascus. Karaism was an anti-Rabbinic religious innovation prompted by politics, but the Karaites have always endeavoured to prove their antiquity and to trace their origin to former sects that had existed and decayed before Karaism arose. The founder, Anan ben David of Baghdad, in 76o claimed to succeed Isaac Iskawi his uncle as Exilarch, but the Ge5nim (see GAoN) ulti mately chose Anan's younger brother Josiah, whose appointment was confirmed by the Caliph al-Mansur. Anan proclaimed himself as anti-exilarch and succeeded in enlisting the support of various sects such as the Isawites, the Yudganites and the Shadganites. This act on the part of a dhimmi in Islam was treasonable. In 767 Anan was arrested but saved from execution by the advice of a fellow-prisoner, the famous Abu Hanifa. Anan pleaded that his was a new religion which venerated Islam and followed Muslim law in many ways, e.g., in fixing the calendar by observation instead of by calculation. In 77o he published his code (Sefer ham-Mic woth). Ultimately he led his followers to Jerusalem, whence they spread over Egypt, Syria and S. Russia. They have never been numerous and now number about 14,000.

The chief points of difference with the Rabbanites were the calendar, Sabbath and marriage laws. Karaism had a great effect on the body of Judaism : polemics stimulated learning. Satadya of Fayyum was one of the notable scholars who challenged Karaite exegesis. The Karaites possessed a number of scholars of considerable distinction, especially in the direction of Hebrew philology, biblical exegesis (e.g., Yepheth ibn 'Ali) and philoso phy of religion (e.g., Isaac b. Abraham Troki, 1533-1594, author of the Hizzfiq 'emzinah). Their liturgy is jejune, being composed almost entirely of scriptural excerpts and possessing practically no hymns. Nevertheless this constitutes no general reflection on Karaite intellectualism. No movement can be considered barren from the literary standpoint that has produced writers such as Benjamin Nahawandi (c. 85o), Abu Yusuf al-Qirqisani (tenth cent.) and his contemporaries Sahl ibn Macliah, Solomon ibn Yeroham, Yusuf ibn Nuh, Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia (b. 130o), Elijah ben Moses Bashyazi (142o-9o), Caleb Afendopoulo (end of 15 cent.) and, latterly, Abraham Firkovitch (1786-1874). The latter dimmed his splendid reputation for scholarship and lowered the value of his enormous archaeological activity by partisan conduct. He discovered in the Crimea very many mss. and tombstones of considerable antiquity but he tampered with the dates and colophons to prove the age of the Karaites and their claims to represent true Judaism. Largely owing to his

efforts, the Karaites were exempt from the religious persecution from which the Russian Jews (Rabbanites) suffered. A notable controversy arose in consequence of his discoveries, which were more or less categorically impugned by H. L. Strack and A. Harkavy (lit. s.v. Firkovitch in Jew. Enc.) but upheld (with reservations) by D. Chwolson (Corp. Inscrip. Hebr., St. Peters burg, 1882). The recent Masoretic researches of Paul Kahle (e.g., Masoreten d. Westens, Stuttgart, 1927: Hebr. Bibelhand schriften aus Babylonien, Giessen, 1928) incline to the latter view.


See the various articles in Jew. Enc. and Hastings' E.R.E. and articles in Jew. Quart. Rev.


(or CAR0), JOSEPH BEN EPHRAIM (1488 '575), codifier of Jewish law, whose code is still authoritative with the mass of Jews, was born in 1488. As a child he shared in the expulsion from Spain (1492), and like most prominent Jews of the period was forced to migrate from place to place. In 1535 he settled in Safed, Palestine, where he spent the rest of his life. Safed was then the headquarters of Jewish mysticism. Qaro's mysticism did not take the form of a revolt against au thority, but was rather the spiritual flower of pietism. It is, how ever, as a legalist that Qaro is best known. In learning and critical power he was second only to Maimonides in the realm of Jewish law. He was the author of two great works. In the earlier and greater book, in the form of a commentary (entitled Beth Yoseph) on the Turim (see 'ASHER BEN YEHIEL) designed exclusively for specialists, Qaro shows an astounding mastery over the Talmud and the legalistic literature of the middle ages. He felt called upon to systematize the laws and customs of Judaism in face of the disintegration caused by the Spanish expulsion. But the Beth Yoseph is by no means systematic. Qaro's real aim was effected by his second work, the Shulltan 'Arukh ("Table Pre pared"). Finished in 1555, this code was published in four parts in 1565. The work gradually became the almost unquestioned authority of the whole Jewish world. Its influence was to some extent evil. It "put Judaism into a strait-jacket." Independence of judgment was inhibited, and the code stood in the way of progressive adaptation of Jewish life to the life of Europe. But its good effects far outweighed the bad. It was a bond of union, a bar to latitudinarianism, an accessible guide to ritual, ethics and law. It sanctified the home, it dignified common pursuits. When, however, the era of reform dawned in the 19th century, the new Judaism assumed an attitude of hostility to Qaro's code.

See Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, vol. ix. (English trans. vol. iv.) ; Ginzberg, in Jewish Encyclopedia, arts. "Caro" and "Codification"; Schechter, Studies in Judaism, second series, pp. 202 seq.