KARAITE ANTHOLOGY Excerpts from the Early Literature TRANSLATED FROM ARABIC, ARAMAIC, AND HEBREW SOURCES WITH NOTES BY LEON. Karaite Anthology. Edited and translated by Le. Yale University Press. Pp. xxvi, (Yale Judaica Series. Volume vii). This book marks the first attempt in. Results 1 – 30 of 39 Karaite Anthology: Excerpts from the Early Literature by Nemoy, Leon (ed.0 and a great selection of related books, art and collectibles.

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Catalog Record: Karaite anthology, excerpts from the early | Hathi Trust Digital Library

Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Library of Karakte Catalog Card Number: For the benefit of those whom this book is primarily meant to serve, I have endeavored to make both the prefatory and the ex- planatory matter as concise and nontechnical as the subject would permit.

The only other substantial collection of Karaite extracts known to me is the one included in J. It is very small, the extracts translated from Hebrew sources only arc quite short, and the work was pub- lished prior to the discovery of several of the most karsite documents of the early period.

For general historical and theological information on Jewish subjects the reader is referred to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Unwersed Jewish Encyclopedia, and the Anthologg Judatca The latter, written in German, is the best and most detailed of the three, but has unfortunately been brought up only to the letter L. This atnhology matter is not marked in any way; restorations of textual lacunae, on the other hand, are enclosed within square brackets.

Omissions are indicated by ellipses or explained in the notes 4. This IS especially true of the legal texts; the Rabbamte references and paral- lels supplied for them are meant to be mere hmts for the benefit of karqite reader who may wish to pursue the antology further. They are certainly far from ex- haustive, for a full comparative examination of such matters is beyond the scope of this anthology and outside the field of my studies.

In the choice of texts comprising this anthology, I have endeav- ored to select specimens which would, on the one hand, make more or less interesting and profitable reading and, on the other, typify as many different branches of Karaite literature as possible.

Kara- ite literature is predominantly theological and for the most part anthplogy technical and dry, but so far as possible, I have chosen texts of historical and literary content, as well as theological and legal texts dealing with subjects not devoid of general interest. Such highly complicated subjects as calendar, ritual cleanness, He- brew grammar and lexicography have been excluded, even though they are of great importance for the specialist in this field.

Catalog Record: Karaite anthology, excerpts from the early literature | Hathi Trust Digital Library

The only exception is the large extract from the Karaite prayer book, in which the omission of the POSM material would have made it difficult to present a fair picture of the unity and charm of the Karaite marriage service. Since Karaite literature, particularly in the period covered by this anthology, devotes much attention to polemics with Rabban- ism, the reader will find in the following pages some passages which were composed in the heat of controversy and employ rather vehement language.

Religious conflict is notoriously characterized by disregard of verbal moderation and restraint, and neither the Karaites nor their Rabbanite opponents offer an exception to this 5 It has frequently been found advisable to translate biblical passages occurring m our texts in such a way as to make their wording accord with the interpretation intended by the given Karaite author and thus fit the context of the discussion in- volved.

In instances of this kind, the biblical passages will naturally be found at variance with tlieir wording in the standard translations of the Bible. This is specifi- cally the case in the extracts from Japheth ben Eh who gives his own Arabic rendering of the Book of Ruth, instead of quoting the Hebrew text and from Moses of Damascus where violence has to be done to the biblical quotations to make them fit the context. Yet fairness de- mands that one bear in mind the fact that this conflict, sharp as it was, remained throughout a war of words and never degenerated into physical violence or armed warfare.

Obermann of Yale University, who first sug- gested the plan of this anthology and who has followed my work upon it with kindly interest, constructive assistance, and warm encouragement; and to Professor James T. Babb, Yale Librarian, whose devotion to the development of the Hebrew and Arabic collections in the Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University has made it possible for me to extend the scope of my studies be- yond what might have been feasible otherwise.

Professors Louis Ginzberg and Harry A. Wolfson have read, respectively, the first four chapters and the Introduction, and have contributed, with their customary generosity, a number of important corrections and suggestions. Michael Bernstein read the extracts translated from Aramaic and Hebrew originals and supplied many talmudic references and some valuable suggestions for improvement.

The most im- portant of these centers of medieval Jewry, the mainspring of Jew- ish learning, culture, and authority, had long since been anchored in Iraq, the ancient Babylonia. Now this metropolitan Jewish com- munity was to embark upon a new and eventful era of its long history, an era of remarkable accomplishment as well as fateful strife. The Jewish settlement in Iraq traced its origin as far back as the Babylonian exile b. Under the Persian rule of the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties it developed an autonomous sys- tem of self-government, headed by the exilarch Aramaic rei galuia, later arabicized as ra’s al-gdlutwho served as the chief representative of Jewry before the king and was responsible for the collection of taxes, the administration of justice, and the main- tenance of public order and safety within the Jewish community.

To assist him in these administrative functions he had under his control an extensive bureaucracy of officials, whose salaries and expenses, like his own, were paid out of special taxes imposed upon the Jewish population, over and above the regular levies payable to the Persian state.

Although some of the exilarchs were com- petent scholars in theology and law, the exilarchate in itself was essentially a political office and carried no duties and powers in the field of religion and legal theory. This was the province of the rabbinical academies, especially of the two major seats of learn- ing m the cities of Sura and Pumbeditha.

The result of the reseaich and teaching done at these academies was a vast body of new oral tradition built up in exposition and elaboration of the Mishnah and to provide for new conditions and new situations that had not been covered m the biblical and mish- naic legislation. With the progressive decline of the Persian state, it became imperative to re-examine this mass of oral law and custom and eventually reduce it to writing, in order to insure its preserva- tion for the future.


Begun in the second half of the fourth century, this sifting was continued, slowly and carefully, for over a hundred years until about a. This highly developed system of self-government and scholarly activity was based upon a social and economic structure no less complex. The social stratification produced an upper class, repre- sented by the governmental bureaucracy, the upper layer of the intelligentsia, and the wealthy landowncis, bankers, and mer- chants; a middle class, including the lower layer of intellectuals; and the great mass of rural tenant faimers and ban artisans and laborers.

The lot of the latter class was fai from easy under the heavy burden of double taxation, high land rentals and interest charges, and frequent ravages of foicign and civil wars.

The po- litical and economic decay of the Persian Empire during the sixth and seventh centuries intensified the rnisciy of this major com- ponent of the Jewish community and produced in many minds a conviction that their situation was despciatc and could not be en- dured very much longer. The prestige of the office, however, gradually declined; at the same time the influence of the two major academies increased correspondingly.

Although few of the Geonim were truly outstanding personalities in the way of creative thought, their im- print upon Jewish life was most profound and lasting, for they applied the finishing touches to the recognition of talmudic law as the guiding rule of Jewish religious and social life.

The transition from Persian to Arab rule again left social and economic conditions practically undisturbed. The social stratifica- tion, taxes, and high living costs remained. The remoteness of these frontier settlements from the metropolitan center of Iraq made them practically independent, in both reli- gious and secular matters, from exilarchic and Geonic authority.

To the memory of past injustices there was joined in the minds of these Jewish settlers the bitter realization of the futility of the hope that the spectacular collapse of Persian and Byzantine power and the meteoric rise of the Arab Empire might be the herald of the miraculous redemption of Zion and the restoration of Israel to the Holy Land. For their own religious platform the Jewish frontiersmen had a ready-made example — the ancient and never entiiely suppressed opposition lepresented in earlier times by the Sadducee faction to the validity of postbiblical law based on oral tradition and codified m the Talmud, and to the authority of its official administrators and interpreters in Iraq.

All these influences, by their combined action, produced at a very early date the principles common to a large number of schismatic movements which eventually, through a long process of elimina- tion and consolidation, formed the Karaite sect: The passage of time and the harsh necessities of reality eventu- ally forced upon Karaism a modification of these principles.

While the Talmud remained theoretically outlawed, much talmudic ma- terial was quietly incorporated into Karaite practice of law and custom, but a purely Karaite tradition was developed and recog- nized as well.

The anarchy of individual interpretation of the Bible was softened to some extent by paitial lecognition of the authority of outstanding Karaite scholars. The ascetic tendency was gradually reduced, and the passionate longing for Zion was di- verted into the channel of prayer and pious hope.

All these derivations, however, are more or less conjectural and have no documentary evidence to support them. The Shiite environment in Iraq and Persia in which Karaism was nurtured naturally suggests the inquiry as to whether the early Karaites were influenced not only by the political and social aspirations of their Persian fellow citizens but by their religious views as well.

The answer, unfortunately, is beset with consider- able difficulties and doubts. Moreover, the opposition to oral tradition, the tendency to asceticism, and the impatience with the prolonged exile were xviii KARAITE ANTHOLOGY not totally new elements introduced by the Karaites; they were evident among some groups of Jews several centuries eat her and were merely taken over and developed by the new sectarians. Still, the example of their Shiite neighbors may have had some influence m directing early Karaite thought along these particular lines.

This unusual attempt to redeem Israel by force of arms found no imitators, and Obadiah’s successor and pupil, Yudgan pre- sumably a persianized form of the name Judahwho must have lived in the first quarter of the eighth century, turned his attention mainly to rigid asceticism. Neither of these two early schismatics composed any systematic exposition of their teaching in book form, probably because they simply did not have the literary erudi- tion and training for such a task.

The honor of supplying a pioneer manual of non-Rabbanite theology fell to a learned and cultured Iraqi of aristocratic Rabbanite descent named Anan ben David who flourished in the seventh decade of the eighth century. How he came to break with the faith of his fathers we do not know, but it seems certain that it was not the result of angry disappoint- ment over the failure of his candidacy for the office of exilaich, as the traditional Rabbanite account would have it.

In any case, his secession from Rabbanism marks the first known evidence of Karaite penetration into the metropolitan Jewish center of Iraq, and his code of law is the earliest extant Karaite literal y document. It earned for him a hazy sort of prestige among the other sectarians, while later Karaism elevated him to the dignity of the father of its synagogue and honored his lineal descendants with the title of prince.

But in actual fact his teaching, permeated by a strong spirit of monastic asceticism, attracted few adherents and was often sharply criticized by other schismatics.

Another Iraqi sectarian, Musa Mosessurnamed al-Za’farani after his native district in the capital city of Bagdad, migrated to Tiflis in Armenia, where he presided over his own group of followers and became karaiye as Abu Imran al-TifllsI. The surnames quoted above indicate the territorial expansion of Kataite during the ninth and early in the tenth century into Iraq and Syro-Palestine.

In addition to the one in al-Ramla, Karaite col- onies were established in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and in Jerusalem, while other Karaite settlers made homes for themselves in Egypt, especially in Caiio.

Like other young faiths, Karaism in its early period developed an intense missionary eiEEort, and travel- ing Karaite preachers went from town to town karqite from province to province exhorting Rabbanite audiences — Karaism did not seek converts among non-Jews, at least as far as we know— but apparently with little actual success. The Karaite communities remained small and poor compared with their Rabbanite counter- parts, and It IS significant that with the exception of Anan not a single early Karaite scholar is stated to have been a Rabbanite convert.


The reason is not far to seek: The stimulus to put an end karaitte this chaos and introduce some semblance of organized unity was supplied to the Karaites not by one of their own number but by a Rabbanite scholar, the famous Sa’adiah ben Joseph al-Fayyumi a. Up to this time the Karaites had succeeded in maintaining an amicable relationship with their Rabbanite neighbors, and the failure of the schismatics to gain any appreciable number of converts encouraged the Rabbanite authorities in their belief that the wisest, as well as the easiest, course was to leave them alone.

This Fabian policy of his predeces- sors found no favor at all in the eyes of Sa’adiah. A man of im- mense learning and pioneering intellect, as well as of piofound piety and moral rectitude, he was at the same time human enough to be impatient and strong-willed toward those who disagreed with him. The peaceful intercourse between orthodox Rabbanites and Karaite schismatics appeared to him to be an intolerable and dangerous thing. In a series of polemical tracts Sa’adiah proceeded to attack and refute the doctrine and practice of Karaism, and to demonstrate to his own satisfaction that the Kaiaites weie not just harmless deviators to be mildly chided for their error but complete apostates who should be ostracized from the community of Israel.

Moreover, their foiccd estrangement from the Rabbanite community meant the closing of the only missionary field open to them and the collapse of the hope that their teaching would ultimately be accepted by all of Jewry. It contributed decisively to the con- solidation of the quarreling schismatic groups into a more or less organized sect, and it forced Karaism, for the sake of sheer sur- vival, to purge itself in some measure of the excessive rigorism and pedantry inspired by Anan and others of the same uncom- promising attitude.

Nevertheless, the final cleavage between the two camps sealed the fate of Karaism as far as its future expansion was concerned. About the middle of the tenth century Persia and Iraq, the cradle of the schism, gradually lost their dominant position as centers of Karaite population and culture karait were aanthology in importance by the settlements in Jerusalem and Egypt.

At the same time new colonies were established in the Balkans, then still under Byzantine Christian rule, and in Moorish Spain, al- though the latter colony, which flourished for a short antohlogy of time under the leadership of Ibn al-Taras, a graduate of the Karaite Academy at Jerusalem, soon ceased to exist.

In the former, the rapacious and bigoted rule of the Mameluke dynasty, which held sway over Egypt down to the Turkish conquest in a. Karite the Balkan Peninsula, on the other hand, particularly at Constantinople, Karaite learning flourished, and scholars trained at the Academy in Jerusalem produced not only works of their own but also Hebrew translations of Karaite classics originally written in Arabic, thus making accessible to later generations, unfamiliar with the Arabic language, the prin- cipal products of the golden age of Karaite literature.

The end of the twelfth century saw Karaite immigrants settling on the Cri- mean Peninsula, and about a century or so later a Karaite colony was established in Lithuania in the town of Troki near Wilno. The gradual conquest of the Balkans by the Ottoman Turks, culminating in their capture of Constantinople in a.

T, brought a measure of stability into the lives of both the Karaite and Rabbanile populations and stimulated scholarly activity which, however, was now mainly devoted to the reformulation of princi- ples and ideas developed by the classical writers whose originality and skill the later scholars could never recapture. The Russian conquest of the Crimea in AJo. The modern history of Karaism is thus chiefly the history of the Russian branch of the sect and beyond the scope of this volume.

In the eleventh century the so-called catenary theory of forbidden marriages, which made it increas- ingly difficult for Karaites to intermarry without laying them- selves open to the charge of incest, was modified and made more bearable. Near the end of the thirteenth century the codification of the official Karaite prayer book marked the revocation of the ancient rule that prayer must consist solely of biblical quotations. These three mild reforms constitute the total changes introduced and generally accepted during the entire course of Karaite history.

On the other hand, the extreme individualism inherited from the early schismatics, while considerably reduced by the consolidation anthklogy Karaism into a more or less cohesive organism, did not cease to laraite the Karaites, and a number of religious observances re- main to this day subject to individual opinion and custom. In matters of dogmatic belief there is, aside from the rejection of the authority of the Talmud, no essential difference between Karaite and Rabbanite theology.

Moreover, as has been noted above, the Karaites borrowed much from the Talmud and devel- oped a similar oral tradition of their own. The formalism and literalism of Karaite teaching, however, have antholoogy the devel- opment of anything like the prolific Rabbanite literature devoted to ethics and mysticism, and the Karaite scholars were much too busy with practical religious law kkaraite spend much time on pure metaphysics.

As a rule, Karaite regulations are stricter than the Rabbanite, Thus, the law of incest, even after the modification of the catenary theory, remains more restrictive than its Rabbanite counterpart and includes the prohi- bition of levirate marriage — i.

The same greater stnetness appears in the Karaite regulations alTect- ing the obscivancc of the Sabbath and the preservation of ritual cleanness. Moreover, the Karaite and Rabbanite rules dealing with the slaughter of animals for food diflfer enough so that devout Karaites consider meat processed by Rabbanites unclean and unfit to be eaten.

The Karaite calendar is based mainly on the actual observa- tion of the moon and is thus not identical with the Rabbanite calendar which employs fixed mathematical calculations. Since the visibility of the moon varies in dillcrent localities, there could be no unifoimity in the dates of the several annual holidays ob- served by Karaite communities in various countries. Further con- xnthology was brought about by disagi cement among Karaite scholars about particular problems involved in time icckomng.