Qaraites (Karaites) are members of an Jewish "back-to-the-Bible"
reform movement. And this is most likely the basis of BÇnË MiqrÁÙ,
or "sons of the "Bible" used as a self-determination. Qara'im could mean
either "Readers" or "Assemblers" stemming from "to read"
(qara') or some say to "gather." While it is possible an emphasis is
placed on "preaching" and gathering adherents, the Qaraite emphasis on
individual responsiblity of reading the Scriptures and allowing latitude of interpretation
suggests the source qara' "to read." Arabic qarra' means
"scripture expert" and the Arabic for Qaraites is Qara'iyyun. Qaraites of
earlier periods were often found in Arab lands.
Historical Qaraism traces back to Anan ben Dawid (fl. 770) who was the first to pen sentiments possibly found earlier at Qumran, and first century non-rabbinic movements, and also those of Ovadyah (Abu `Isa `Abd Allah) and Yudgan.
Ovadyah started a rebellion against the Muslim authorities during the reign of the Khalif `Abd al-Malik (CE 685-705), coming from Itsfahan, al-Jibal, Persia. This was a "nationalistic" rebellion to establish Jewish sovereignity in the area. He was quickly defeated and killed. His successor and pupil was Yudgan ("Yehudah"), who turned his efforts to more spiritual things. Neither wrote anything that has survived, and possibly wrote nothing. But Ovadyah and Yudgan both, it is said, recognized the prophetic positions of Yahshua ben Yosef and also MuÝammad.
Anan was from a rabbinic family in Iraq. It was he who clearly set aside rabbinic traditions and their Oral Law, in favor of the Torah as written. The story of how this transpired is offered by rabbinites, author unknown:
"Anan had a younger brother named Üannanyah. Although Anan exceeded his brother in both learning and age, the contemporary Rabbanite scholars refused to appoint him exiliarch, because of his great lawlessness (peritsut) and lack of piety. They therefore turned to his brother Üannanyah, for the sake of the latter's great modesty, retiring disposition, and fear of Heaven, and they set him up as exiliarch. Thereupon Anan was seized by wicked zeal---he and with him all manner of evil and worthless men from among the remnants of the sect of Tsadoq and Boethus; they set up a dissident sect---in secret, for fear of the Muslim government which was in power then---and they appointed Anan as their own exiliarch." (Nemoy, Leon. A Karaite Anthology. p. 4.)
This is the rabbinic side of the story (similar in spirit to the church fathers' view of the 'Evyonim). But some important facts come through. Anan attracts "remnants" of the ÞaddûqÏm ("Sadduccees"). This tells us that there were still ÞaddûqÏm to be found in the eighth century, and that their rejection of "Pharisee" (becoming the later rabbinic Judaism) Oral Law tradition was still an issue. There was a continuity between the first Qaraites and the earlier ÞaddûqÏm. Today it is realized that there were more than one group of ÞaddûqÏm, one Herodian collaborators with Rome who were represented by the Temple hierarchy in the earlier first century and during Roman occupation of Palestine, and another branch represented by "true sons of Tsadoq" described in the documents from Qumran. Even the mention of two founders of the ÞaddûqÏm reflects this state of affairs. (The 'Evyonim also at least partially find their origin in ideas prevalent in the Qumran documents, including the term "'Evyonim.")
According to the story, Anan is arrested because of the Jews and his rebellious words and is to be hanged. But he gets advice from a Muslim scholar to claim the Jews have no authority because he is starting a new religion. He bribes the Muslim authority, and deceives his followers claiming inspiration from 'Eliyahu the prophet in a night vision.
As the same report above continues, two more items of belief surface: an admiration for 'Eliyah and also the fact that Qaraites determine the calendar based on a visible new moon and intercalations according to the ripening of green (barley) ears (as do we) by the biblical method.
Because of the rigidity of Qaraite observance, and their poor circumstances, they attracted not many especially among those who were poor already. But here is a tie to holy poverty /humility ('evyon), taken as a title by the 'Evyonim, and employed in Qumran documents to describe members of the Community. Avraham ibn Da`ud, a rabbinic writer (in 1162) claims that Anan was of the House of Dawid.
Some more similarities between the ÞaddûqÏm and Qaraites are the literal interpretation of the lex talionis ("eye for eye, etc."); Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) always falls on the first day of the week (Sunday); and Qaraite writers of the tenth century claimed they had ÞaddûqÏm writings in their possession---and indeed the Genizah at the Ezra Synagogue, where the Damascus Document (CD) describing a sect of the "sons of Tsadoq" was found half a century before discoveries at Qumran, is believed to have been a Qaraite synagogue at one time.
The Qaraites have always been greatly outnumbered by the adherents of rabbinic Judaism, and today there are small communities spread over Eastern Europe, and a fairly large community at Ramla near Tel Aviv, Yisrael.
Some Aspects of Qaraism
Annotated Excerpts from Qaraite Writings.
Copyright © 1997/5757 Shemayah ben-Avraham