Karaite FAQ
List of Frequently Asked Questions

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Early spring almond blossom, Jerusalem, Israel | © Melech ben Ya'aqov, Karaite Insights
Early spring almond blossom, Jerusalem, Israel


Who manages this website?

This website, KaraiteInsights.com, is managed by Hakham Melech ben Ya'aqov of Jerusalem, Israel. Melech was named a Hakham by the World Alliance of Qara'im in 2011, and sits on the Mo'etzeth Hakhamim (Council of Sages) of the Alliance. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science (1990) from Yale University and made aliyah to Israel in June, 1993. In the late 1990's he published the newspaper Your Jerusalem. While studying for close to a decade in Rabbinical yeshivas, Hakham Melech became increasingly cognizant of the doctrinal and practical flaws in Pharisaic (Rabbinical) Judaism, and drew closer to the ideas expressed by Karaism. In 2001, he was put in contact with the Karaite community in Jerusalem, and soon after, made the decision to officially identify himself as a Karaite. Since then, Hakham Melech has been active in studying, writing about and teaching the Tanach in Israel and abroad.


What is Karaism?

There are many ways to define Karaism, and, ironically, many of the ways Karaism is usually defined by others are incorrect. For instance, Karaism does not teach that one should interpret the Torah literally.

Karaism is a fundamentalist approach towards Torah. The word "fundamentalist", unlike its popular connotation, does not imply a right-wing political bent. Rather, it implies a close and precise reading of a text, in this case the Torah, without wide-ranging and creative interpretations. Fundamentalists stick close to the original meaning of a text.

A second effective definition is that Karaism does not consider any text aside from the 24 books of the Tanach to have divine or canonical status. This is as opposed to the Rabbinical movement, which considers later writings such as the Mishnah, Talmud and Midrash to be canonical and even to have divine or semi-divine status ("ruach ha-kodesh"). The idea can be summed up as follows, "As a Karaite, I do not reject everything written in the Rabbinical (or any other) writings, but I do not accept everything. Instead, I filter each idea based on its own merit."


Why do Karaites reject Rabbinical Judaism?

Karaites are universally united in their rejection of the hegemony of the Rabbinical movement over the people of Israel. Karaites consider the Rabbis to be neither the rightful nor the appropriate rulers over the religious and political life of the nation, and consider their form of Judaism to be a gross distortion of true Torah.

Belief of Usurpation by the Pharisees
Most Karaites believe that the Pharisees (the progenitors of the Rabbis) usurped power over the nation from the Levites and Cohanim (who were represented primarily by the Sadducee movement) during the Second Temple period, in the absence of prophets and a strong king from the Davidic line who might have prevented such a maneuver.

It is well known that the latter half of the Second Temple period was marred by an ongoing — and often vicious — battle between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which the Pharisees won in the end. Most Karaites claim, therefore, that it was the "wrong" side that won, and that the reason that Pharasaical (later, Rabbinical) Judaism has become normative is because "history is written by the victors".

Karaites generally attribute the victory of the Pharisees over the Sadducees to three main factors: (a) the Pharisees developed a populist form of Torah (the "Oral Law") which won over the hearts of the people, even though many of its innovations were a departure from the Torah; (b) the Pharisees gave the "Oral Law" further credence among the people by falsely claiming that it hearkened back to Moshe, and; (c) the Pharisees enlisted the political and, ultimately, military help of the Romans, finally inviting the Romans in to take control of the land of Israel, with the understanding that they would support the Pharisees in return. The Romans did so in 63 BCE, when Pompey captured Jerusalem, ushering in the period of Roman control over Israel.

Rejection of the Idea that the Authority of the Rabbis is Sanctioned in the Torah
Karaites reject the idea that the Rabbis have any unique scriptural authority to rule over the people of Israel, as the Rabbis claim they do based on Deuteronomy 17:8-13, "If there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke ..."

Karaites do not see these verses as referring to the Rabbis (or any other group) at all, but understand them as a commandment to set up a hierarchical court system in Israel, whereby if the local courts ("in your gates") are unable to adjudicate upon a case, then the case is to be brought to the "Supreme Court" of the land located at the Holy Temple ("the place where Yehowah your Elohim has chosen"), and the decision of this court is final, not to be deviated from "to the right or to the left".

Rejection of the Rabbinical "Oral Law"
Karaites reject the Rabbinical "Oral Law" and especially the idea that it hails back to the times of Moshe, or even to First Temple times. Karaites believe, rather, that the vast majority of the Rabbinical "Oral Law" was in fact developed during the Second Temple period, first in Babylon, where it was heavily influenced by the pagan Babylonian and Persian cultures, and then in the land of Israel, where it was heavily influenced by Greek culture, despite the many statements of the Rabbis against Greek culture.

Rejection of the idea that Rabbinical Judaism has kept us during the exile
Finally, most Karaites reject the idea that Rabbinical Judaism has kept and protected the people of Israel during the exile. On the contrary, claim the Karaites, Rabbinical Judaism has been one of the primary causes of Israel's long and bitter exile, since it drew the people of Israel away from true Torah and towards the distorted interpretations of the Babylonian and Greek influenced "Oral Law". Most Karaites believe that Rabbinical Judaism will end together with the exile, and that rejection of the Rabbis and a return to true Torah is a prerequisite for the redemption of Israel.


Do Karaites interpret the Torah literally?

No. Karaites believe in the straightforward (p'shath) interpretation of the Torah. Sometimes, the straightforward interpretation can be literal and sometimes it can be figurative. For instance, the straightforward interpretation of the phrase "he has two left feet" is equivalent to its figurative interpretation "he cannot dance well" and not to its literal interpretation.

Thus, Karaites do not wear tefillin (phylacteries) because they understand the straightforward interpretation of the verse "it shall be for you as a sign upon your hand and as a remembrance between your eyes" [Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18] as figurative, meaning that the Torah should always be as if bound to our bodies, i.e. a constant close companion. By contrast, the Rabbis interpret this verse literally by taking the verses, enclosing them in black leather boxes and binding them to their bodies.

Understanding that ancient Hebrew is an exceedingly rich language, full of idiom, poetry and metaphor is a key to unlocking the meaning of the Tanach and determining whether a phrase is meant to be taken literally or figuratively.


Are Karaites the same as Sadducees?

No. However the two movements share similar understandings of the Torah, both having preferred straightforward interpretation of the text.

While the Sadducees were one of the main religious and political movements in Judea (the Land of Israel) during the Second Temple Period, the origins of the Karaite movement, by contrast, are from the Muslim lands of the eighth and ninth century CE.

While the power of the Sadducees waned over the course of the Second Temple Period, disappearing completely soon after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Karaite movement reached its height during the 10th and 11th centuries CE (known as the "Golden Age of Karaism"). Thus, the Sadducee movement ceased to exist almost 700 years before the Karaite movement was born.

Although the two movements never directly overlapped, Karaites tend to view themselves as a philosophical continuation of the Sadducees.


Are Karaites the same as Samaritans (Shomronim)?

No. The origins of the Samaritans are described in Second Kings 17 as being the result of a transfer of populations by Shalmaneser V, the King of Assyria who, along with his father Tiglath-Pileser III, conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled the 10 "lost" tribes. After the defeat of Israel, Shalmaneser transferred the original Israelite inhabitants of Samaria to the eastern provinces of his empire and in their place, populated Samaria with inhabitants of Babylon and other cities.

Today the Samaritans, who number a little under one thousand, are situated primarily on Mount Gerizim near Shechem, Israel. They believe that Mount Gerizim, rather than Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, is the place where "Yehowah chose to place his name" [Deuteronomy 12:5] and it is therefore the center of their sacrificial worship. Once a year they sacrifice the Paschal (Passover) lamb on Mount Gerizim.

While the Samaritans, like the Karaites, employ a mostly straightforward interpretation of the Torah, they differ from the Karaites in that they do not accept most of the books of the Tanach and also have a slightly different version of the written Torah.

In general, Karaites do not claim any connection, whether actual or as kindred spirits, to the Samaritans, and consider them to be of non-Israelite origin.


Do Karaites bow down when they pray?

Yes. When you walk into a Karaite synagogue, you might notice that it looks more like a mosque than like a Rabbinical synagogue. Instead of rows of chairs, there are tapestried carpets on the floor. Of course, unlike a mosque, Karaite synagogues are dedicated to the worship of Yehowah, the god of Israel.

The primary reason for the carpets is so that the Karaite worshippers may bow down before Elohim (God). Bowing down to Elohim is mentioned myriad times throughout the Tanach as a symbol of submission and loyalty. For instance, Psalms 95:6 says "Come let us prostrate ourselves, bow down and bend our knees before Yehowah our maker."

At prescribed times during the prayer service, worshipers will leave their default seated position and assume a kneeling position with their heads touching the ground in the direction of the site of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. When that portion of the service is over, they return to the seated position.


Do Karaites wear tefillin (phylacteries)?

No. Despite the rumor spread for centuries by the Rabbis that Karaites wear tefillin directly between their eyes, in fact, Karaites do not wear tefillin at all, and never have.

The source of the rumor is the same as that of another age-old false rumor, that Karaites hang tzitzith (fringed garments) on the wall.

The source of most of these false rumors is the way Karaites traditionally interpret Exodus 35:3, as a complete prohibition against allowing any fires to be lit or even to remain burning during the Shabbat. While this literal interpretation has been questioned over the years by certain prominent Karaites, such as Sima Babovich, most Karaites have traditionally adhered to it and still do to this day. It is from here that the opponents of the Karaites began to claim that Karaites interpret the scriptures literally.


Do Karaites worship Jesus / Yehoshua?

No. Karaites consider traditional Christianity (any form of Christianity which holds that Jesus / Yehoshua has divine or semi-divine status) to be outright idol worship, in that it raises one of Elohim's creations to the level of creator, either in part or in full. Incidentally, this is precisely the view that Islam holds towards Christianity.

In addition, almost all Karaites completely reject Jesus / Yehoshua as a prophet and as a messiah that will return to reign over Israel. In this regard, Karaism differs from Islam, in that Islam holds Jesus / Yehoshua to be a prophet and, among certain Muslim sects, a future king over Israel.

There is a small minority of Karaites who consider Jesus / Yehoshua to be a teacher of rigtheousness, i.e. a man who fought for and preached truth, and who struggled against the corruption and injustices of his day. However, the Karaites who hold this belief reject any implication that Jesus / Yehoshua was anything more than a man. (This is the view that this website takes.)

Most traditional Karaites, however, are in line with the standard Jewish view that Jesus was a heretic.


Do Karaites believe in the separation of meat and milk?

No. Most Karaites take a straightforward approach towards the verses which are interpreted by the Rabbis as calling for a separation between meat and milk, i.e. Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21.

Karaites interpret these verses to mean that no mammal should be cooked in its own mother's milk, either because of the moral terpitude of the act in that it demonstrates great disrespect for the sacred institution of motherhood, or because cooking an animal in its mother's milk was a common ritual among idol worshiping sects of the ancient Near East.

Therefore, certain Karaites will eat meat and milk together (for instance, a cheeseburger using kosher meat and kosher cheese), although others will refrain due to the influence of the Rabbinical movement.


How do Karaites celebrate The Festival of Unleavened Bread?

Before we answer this question, it is important to point out that the name of the holiday is actually not "Passover" or "Pesah" at all. Rather, it is "Hag HaMazoth", the "Festival of Unleavened Bread". The name "Pesah" ("Passover") refers only to the lamb sacrifice that is brought on the preceding evening. Never once in the entire Tanach is the word "Pesah" used to refer to the holiday of Hag HaMazoth itself. Therefore, it is a mistake — ubiquitous among Rabbinical Jews — to call the holiday "Hag Pesah" or "Passover".

On the first night of Hag HaMazoth, which commences when the sun sinks below the horizon marking the beginning of the 15th day of the first (Biblical) month, Karaite families gather together to recount the story of the exodus from Egypt, as all Israel is commanded to do in Exodus 13:8.

The Hagaddah
Karaites do not use the standard Rabbinical hagaddah to recount the story. Rather, they use special Karaite hagaddoth, the focus of which is actual passages from the exodus story in the Torah. In addition to these passages, Karaite hagaddoth contain additional passages from the Tanach, such as Psalms, as well as some later Karaite songs and poetry.

In general, Karaites are very critical of the standard Rabbinical hagaddah, which they claim focuses far too little on the actual story of the exodus and far too much on Rabbinical anecdotes, traditions and midrashic (homiletical) interpretations.

Hametz and Se'or
During Hag HaMazoth, Karaites do not eat hametz (leaven), although they define hametz variously. Certain Karaites hold that hametz includes anything at all that has undergone a fermentation process. This includes — besides bread — wine, cheese and vinegar, for example.

Other Karaites interpret hametz to mean only "leavened bread". Karaites who hold by this interpretation will not eat bread, but will eat other fermented products. (This is the view held by this website.)

In either case, Karaites will not consume products that contain se'or (concentrated leavening agents) such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda, since this is prohibited in Exodus 13:7 and other places. Therefore, certain products that are permitted by the Rabbis are strictly forbidden by the Karaites, such as "Kosher for Passover" cakes containing potato starch and baking powder.

Karaites eat kitniyoth during Hag HaMazoth, including cooked rice and other grains, and legumes such as beans.


Coming Soon

This page will be updated in the near future with more questions and answers. If you would like to submit a question to be added to the FAQ, you may e-mail it to faq@KaraiteInsights.com.


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This Article Has 18 Comments

Torah Scroll
Baruch, Charlotte
Do Karaites have torah scrolls which they use in their synagogues? [Traditional Karaites do, yes. -ed]
Tzofia, Huntingdon
Can a person be a Karaite if he/she believes Yeshua is not God or saviour. But does believe he is the biblical messiah. [Very iffy in my opinion, Tzofia. For, what does it matter who is the future king over Israel, at the end of the day? Why the focus on this one particular man, when the focus should be on Yehowah. -ed]
Abele Derer, Brooklyn, NY
I had a couple of questions: 1) Based on what criteria do the Karaites include the 24 books into the tanach. I.e., why why is Esther but not Ben Sira part of tanach? 2) Do Karaites perform a milah on shabbos? 3) How do the karaites explain the verse in Hagai -- where he questions the Kohanim on the laws of tumah -- when those laws don't exist in the Oral tradition? [These are all standard polemics against the Karaites which have been addressed and answered in many venues. -ed]
Jesus/New Testament
Greta Petrich, Enumclaw
I am an ex Christian, and want to know more about why you say that following Jesus is idol worship, and why you don't accept the NT. I, too, am inclined to agree with you, since the little I have heard about your beliefs resonate with me. However, I would definitely like to learn more to settle my mind, and to have something to say to others who believe like I once did.
Bowing/Kneeling in the Synagogue
Alice (BatTzion) Geer, Troy, MO - USA
I would like to know if this was first practiced by the Karaites or the Muslims. Thank you. [Bowing and kneeling are mentioned explicitly in the Tanach, and were an integral part of ancient worship. -ed]
anonymous, Los Angeles
Shalom, Can a person be a Karaite and believe in Yeshua as being the Mashiach without believing that he is more than a man? [I personally do not believe that Yeshua is either past or future Messiah, but as long as you don't cross the line into saying he is more than a human, then we can just agree to disagree. Anyone who crosses that line is not a Karaite, but an idol worshiper. -ed]
Yidd Ish, NYC
Hashem gets up from His chair and sits on floor crying when He sees His Babies contending with each other .... :( We Want Moshiach NOW!!!!
hebrew bible
BARRY HOROWITZ, new york city
why do you use the rabbinic hebrew bible? (Ans: We do not. You use the Karaite Hebrew Bible. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masoretic_Text. -ed)
Karaite years since 1948
Larry Sterner, Denver CO.
I see from your Home Page that the Karaite years Have been calculated or been kept track of since 1948 and I was wondering where I could find this list of Abib reports and New Moons Born in 53 (Ans: I count from 1948 because it represents the founding of the State of Israel, not because new moon records are kept from then. -ed)
Kosher meats
Simcha H., Patterson
Do Karaites believe in only eating meats which have been slaughtered in the kosher manner? And also do they believe it necessary to "kosherize" their meats (i.e. by immersion and salting) in order to follow Torah?
John Stacey-Hibbert, Casares, Spain
This, perhaps, is not for FAQs, but I would very much like to know the answer. Should a believer in YHWH, who is not a Jew be circumcised? I am not talking about a proselyte but one who fears YHWH? I take the view from the Old Testament that he does not as YHWH's covenant with Abram was to him and his descendants and concerned the occupation of the land He promised him - and did not include the Mosaic covenant. Many thanks
Liybah Shahar bat Avraham v'Sarah, Milwaukee
Someone asked a question about non-Jews who wish to convert and I don't see whether or where it was answered. I too am looking for the answer to that question.
Karaites, Fast Days like Tisha B'Av, and Celebrations like Hanukkah
Nicole Czarnecki, Baltimore
I am wondering whether or not Karaites generally commemorate fast days like Tisha B'Av and Asarah B'Tevet, and also whether or not Karaites generally celebrate holidays like Hanukkah and Tu B'Av. I understand that some commemorate and celebrate the respective fast and feast days aforementioned.
halal meat
aliza yaffa, rochester n.y.
Is halal meat accetable for karaim to eat? If not, why?
JT, Oosterwolde
I think there is some confusion about Jesus/Isa in the Quran and Jesus/Yahshua of the(so called) new testament. They are not the same person and lived over 1000 years apart from each other. Maria/Miryam in the Quran is the sister of Moshe and Aaron, daughter of Amran, who became mother of Isa.(soera 19:27,28). Maria/Miyam, who gave birth to Jesus in the NT lived in the time of the second temple!!
Elchanan, Las Vegas NV USA
What is the difference between Karaite and Rabbinical Kashrut?
Elisha ben Avraham, Tel Aviv
On what basis do the Karaites define their lineage as Jewish, and what are their laws for a non-Jew who wishes to convert?
Do Karaites worship Yehoshua?
Ré, Santiago
So you consider "Yehoshua to be a teacher of righteousness", i.e. "a man who fought for and preached truth" but "reject any implication that Yehoshua is anything more than a man"? I do like the part that you say "...IS anything more than..." and not "WAS". I can go along with that AND the Muslim sects that see more in him than just a prophet. But still a man! [Thank you for pointing this out. "Is" has been changed to "was". -ed]