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Myths about Karaism: Lies and Misconceptions

“Lies and Misconceptions” 
by Hakham Avraham Ben-Rahamiël Qanaï

It is easy to understand why some uneducated Rabbanites might have some misconceptions about Karaites since most of them never heard of Karaites nor ever met one. However, their “Gedolim” [“great ones”], people who should know better, have never ceased to malign Karaites and spread lies about us. 

Some of the lies they spread are: 

“Karaites pray to Muhammad”
I once was stopped on the street in Ofaqim, Israel, (a town that, at the time had a population of approximately 10,000, of which 1,200 were Karaites) by a Moroccan Rabbi who began to berate me (and Karaites in general) for “bowing and praying to Muhammad”. Nothing I could say would make him understand that the allegation was completely false, because his teachers in Morocco (a place where there hadn’t been any Karaites since the 13th century!) taught him that it was true. Makhon Me’ir, a Haredi Yeshivah that claims to be one of their most illustrious educational institutions spreads this lie on the Internet and adds to this that Karaites are also the enemies of the world: Machon Meir Weekly Torah Portion Parashat Beha’alotecha 5758 As of Now... Unity v. the Threat of the Muslim Bomb Rabbi Dov Bigon “We should not take lightly the bomb that it is being developed in Pakistan, nor the tremendous effort that other Muslim countries are putting into creating atom bombs and weapons for mass destruction, such as gases and bacteria. It is not only the terrible destruction that such weapons are likely to cause, chas ve'chalila, but mainly because of the Muslim-Karaite beliefs of those who hold these weapons, that Mohammed’s sword will be victorious over the world, chas ve'chalila.” 

Other Rabbanite “Gedolim” claim that Karaites are apostates that were responsible for the Spanish Inquisition (when the fact [as recorded by the Rabbanites Avraham Ibn Daud and Yosef Ben-Saddiq] is that all the Karaites were either killed [like the Karaite teacher Sidi Ibn at-Taras] or driven out of Spain at the end of the 11th century by the Rabbanite Yosef Ferrizuel, a favourite of the Christian king Alfonso VI, who obtained permission from his Christian patron to exterminate Karaism in the Kingdom of Castile 200 years before the Disputation at Barcelona). Rabbi Tovia Singer of Outreach Judaism posts on the Internet: “The Ramban’s disputation at Barcelona in 1263 is decisive not only historically but polemically as well. It is very important. One thing it is necessary to understand though, is that some of the arguments are antiquated, because he was dealing with Pablo Christian who was a Catholic. He was a Jew who became a Karaite and then converted to Catholicism.” It doesn’t seem to bother him that this is 1) an anachronism because there hadn’t been any Karaites in Spain for 200 years when the disputation took place and 2) the fact that Pablo Christian was a Rabbanite Jew from Montpellier in Provence (there never where any Karaites in Provence until the late 20th century) who became an apostate and joined the Dominican order while still in Provence. 

When it comes to observance of the Miswot [commandments] they spread lies about us, such as: “Karaites hang Sisit on the walls in their houses”. I was told by a Rabbanite Rabbi that he had personally seen Sisit on the four corners of the roof of the Karaite synagogue in Tiberias. It didn’t seem to bother him to bear false witness. There never was such a synagogue in Tiberias (there doesn’t seem to have been any Karaites there since the 10th century!). 

Another lie they say about Karaite Sisit has to do with how the Sisiyot are attached to the Tallit. The Rabbanite Poseq [decider of religious law] Rabbi Yisra’el Me’ir HaKohen, one of the founders of the Haredi [Ultra-Orthodox] Agudat Yisra’el party, wrote in his “Mishnah Berurah” (a commentary on the Shulhan ‘Arukh, Orah Hayim of Rabbi Yosef Caro): “at the time when the Sisit are attached or at some later point if they move to the bottom of the Tallit he should return them. All this is a priori, but post facto there is no strictness. However, one should be very careful that the Sisit should not hang directly on the corner at an angle because this was the Karaite (those that rejected the Oral Law) custom and if they are hanging like that it is a Miswah to move back to the rightful position.” The man obviously never saw a Karaite Tallit and was making all this up out of his own head in order to justify his Halakhic decision. 

They also spread lies about Karaites and Tefillin [phylacteries] (which Karaites don’t use at all!). The “Mishnah Berurah” says: “And all those who are putting the Tefillin onto their foreheads (as opposed to the hairline which Rabbanite Halakhah declares as is supposed to be done) are following a Karaite custom and not performing the commandment.” It obviously didn’t bother him that this was a complete fabrication. Karaites have never used Tefillin. Nor does it bother those that say that Karaites hang Tefillin on the wall and bow down to them (and obvious mixture of their lies about Karaites and Sisit and their lies about Karaites bowing to Muhammad). 

Another lie that they spread is the one that says that Karaites spend the whole of Shabbat sitting in one place on the ground and never move from there until the end of Shabbat saying that this is how Karaites interpret Shemot [Exodus]16:29. This is an out an out lie and misrepresentation of Karaite beliefs and practices. The truth being that 1) Karaites, unlike the Rabbanites, do not take phrases or sentences out of context as such a misinterpretation would demand, 2) in context it is referring to going out of the camp to gather Mannah and that there would be none on Shabbat and that the people were commanded not to go out of the camp on Shabbat to collect Mannah as they were to do the rest of the week, and 3) the expression “Shevu Ish Tahtayw Al-Yese’ Ish MiMqomo” means each person shall dwell in place and not go out of the settlement (whether camp, village, town, or city) - it does not mean that each person has to spend the entire Shabbat sitting in one spot in his house and not go out of it on Shabbat. This is clear from the writings of all Karaite Hakhamim for the past 1200 years. We can easily see that 1) the verb “Shevu”, the second person plural imperative of the root Yod-Shin-Beit which means not only to sit but to dwell as in “Wayyeshev Ya‘aqov BeEres Megurei Aviyw” [And Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojourns of his father] (Bere’shit [Genesis] 37:1), in context, means to dwell not sit, 2) that the word “Tahatyw” means “his place” as in “WeNeta‘tiyw WeShakhan Tahtayw” [and I will plant it (Israel) and shall dwell in its own place] (Melakhim Beit [II Samuel] 7:10) and not “on his buttocks” as they claim we interpret it, and 3) that “MiMqomo” means “from his place (i.e., settlement)” as in “Ken-Ish Noded Mimqomo” [so is a man who wanders from his place] (Mishlei [Proverbs] 27:8). 

From all this it would appear that the Rabbanites think the Torah’s prohibitions on slander, libel, and bearing false witness do not apply when speaking or writing about Karaites.