Karaites at the GA

Our homepage this week features an article about the Karaites, a sect of Judaism that rejected the authority of the Talmud and served as a significant foil for the rabbis of the early Middle Ages.

It makes sense, therefore, that this article is in our Medieval History section. That is, it made sense until last week, when I met a representative of the Karaite Jewish University at the UJC General Assembly. The man (an affable gentleman whose name I’m forgetting) had a booth at the “Marketplace of Jewish Ideas,” where he handed out flyers for the “University” and a 48-page informational book called “As It Is Written: A Brief Case for Karaism.”

The material is fascinating, as is the KJU website and the website for their umbrella organization, Karaite Jews of America, which includes a FAQ with ritual tidbits like this literalist reading of kashrut:

The Issue with Milk and meat is very Simple, In the torah Abraham Cooked meat and Milk and offered them to the angel; From here we know that milk and meat are not prohibited.

But perhaps most fascinating is the fact that representatives of American Karaism were at the GA at all. It wouldn’t have been at all obvious to me that the GA would allow the Karaites to have a booth. Nothing is more “mainstream” or “establishment” than the GA, and back in the day, the Karaites were the ultimate “other.”

Sure, they’re not terribly threatening now, but in the 10th century the Karaites were exponentially more of a threat to Rabbinic Judaism than Jews for Jesus could ever be. In many ways, the Karaites were the prototypical Jewish heresy.

But this may be the point: this isn’t the 10th century and heresy isn’t something Jews speak about much today. The Karaites can be granted a presence at the GA because they’re not considered threatening, and aside from their small numbers, this may be attributable to the fact that they’re, fundamentally, a religious organization. As their literature says: “Karaites deny the supreme authority of the Talmud and other Rabbinic sources, as we view them as man-made additions to the word of Hashem.”

A lot of topics are discussed at the GA, but I can tell you, “the word of Hashem” is not one of them. Theology is largely a non-issue for the UJC bunch. And apparently, so are the Karaites.

Posted on November 21, 2006

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