Monday, December 7, 2009

The Great Karaite Debate Part 2

Welcome back. The debate continues. From part one we have seen that no matter how much time has passed, we as Karaites will always be viewed as the 'Fringe', those that somehow just don't belong. It is nothing new, this label of heretic, outsider, mamzer (bastard). It has been shouted by the Rabbanites for a thousand years. What is sad is that in the 21st century none of this has actually changed. We have not grown as a people; we have not become wiser; Judaism is still fragmented by its own prejudices and vices. Now some might voice their opinion that by continuing this ages long debate I am only exacerbating the division further and stirring the discontent beyond reproach. Actually, I view it differently, almost historically in that regard. A thousand years ago when these debates were common place, Karaites and Rabbanites had never been closer. The discussions were healthy, cleansing, even healing. Rabbinical students would study under Karaite teachers and Karaites would attend classes in Sura and Pumbedita. Because at the time, the debates created an appreciation for the views of the other side, if not acceptance. And discussions bred tolerance as a consequence. It was only after the arrival of Saadiah Gaon, with his virulent hatred of all things Karaite that the schism became irreparable. One small man with a huge ego and a passion for violence. If one man can destroy what we once had, then the opposite is also true. One man can restore it as well.

Rejection of the Talmud
Dan Ross attributes all of the Karaite's 'fringe' beliefs to one fallacy on our part. That being the rejection of the Talmud. He goes on to say that although we believe in the same Bible as other Jews, we interpret it differently, further adding that Orthodox Jews rely on formal interpretations as set forth in the Talmud as well as other Rabbinical scriptures, whereas we Karaites accept no other post-biblical writings other than our own. He makes a mocking comment that we prefer the literal Torah, or at least convince ourselves in theory that is what we believe. This is a very myopic view of the schism and also one that could only be voiced by a Rabbanite. To say that we reject the Talmud would imply that at some point we actually accepted it. The premise of Karaism is and always has been that the Talmud was a misinterpretation of Torah and the result of man's desire to alter the unalterable word of God. But this slight of hand propaganda statement that implies that we rejected something that was essentially good is a clever device to implant the concept in people's minds that somehow we did something wrong long ago. Furthermore, the implication that we are the ones interpreting the Bible differently, even though as Karaites we take the words of the Torah and practice them far more literally would be a statement that we are not the ones doing the interpreting. More clever words when he states that the Orthodox Rabbanites rely on formal interpretations. What is a formal interpretation? An opinion that is somehow better or more sacred than someone else's opinion. No matter how you try to enshroud it with pretty words an opinion is still nothing more than a 'personal' interpretation until such time that it can be enforced upon other people. Once it is elevated to that status it becomes a statute, designed and created by men, with no other purpose than to impose the will of one person over many others, and that does not in any way imply that it was correct in the first place. Smuggly suggesting that we only practice the laws of the Torah in theory is another way of saying that we don't and in his opinion only following the Talmud allows a person to practice Torahitic law. If that was actually true, then it would mean for the fifteen hundred years of Judaism prior to the writing of the Talmud that all those Jewish predecessors were only practicing their faith in 'theory'. I would think our ancestors would object vehemently to that inference.

Historical Inaccuracies
Ross as I mentioned has a quaint way of disguising his condemnation of all things Karaite. In a comment regarding Reform Judaism which is still Rabbanite Judaism no matter how you slice it, he says that they are often referred to as 'modern Karaites.' Considering that more orthodox Rabbanites use that comment as an insult of their reform brothers, then it is Ross's way of passing on the insult as well. He qualifies it further by saying that Karaism suvives from more rigid times, the remnant of a heresy which today would be mere dissent. There's that heresy word again.

He attributes the first dissenter to actually put in place an organised religious base as being an ascetic Iraqi named Anan ben David. Further commenting that he only managed a handful of followers in his lifetime because his interpretations made his teachings even more burdensome than Rabbanite Judaism. But because he laid the groundwork he is still considered the father of Karaism. He taught his followers to distrust all authority, even his own teachings, saying, "Search thoroughly in the Torah and do not rely on my own opinion." And that he says was the downfall of Karaism since everyone had their own opinion and no two were in agreement. Only by adopting the doctrine that no single interpretation was correct could they reconcile on any matters. Okay Dan Ross, enough is enough with distortions of this nature. The history is established. Anan ben David was not just some Iraqi nobody. He was the rightful exilarch, a scion of David, the chosen of God because of his royal descent. How you can manage to dismiss his birthright and position in Jewish society amazes me. As an exilarch, even a deposed one, his followers were quite numerous. All those years in prison, placed there by the Rabbis that deposed him because he would not agree with their teachings does not make him an ascetic. He would have been denied worldly pleasures in prison because he wouldn't have enjoyed the freedoms others had on the outside. And if during that time of incarceration he felt that certain pleasures the Rabbi's ensured they enjoyed were a distraction from following the true path of God, who could deny him those sentiments. After all, the indulgement of those pleasures of power by those self proclaimed rabbinic paragons of virtue was what resulted in his illegal imprisonment in the first place. Yes, his immediate followers known as Ananites practiced what was a more burdensome form of Judaism. But then, his other followers, being the Zadokites and the Boethians had been long established prior to his spiritual awakening and they had less strenuous practices that were still by definition Karaite. And let's not misinterpret his teaching which was accompanied by his other comment, "Read the book and if what you read seems good to you, then it is right." Together they outline what he was trying to teach his followers, that only the word of God is righteous. You have your own mind and your own free will to practice the will of God. And no man should let another dictate how that word is to be interpreted because a righteous man with a good heart would understand exactly what was meant and intended. Acceptance of that principle is agreement in itself and is not a contentious issue but a uniting issue when a man comes to understand the will of God. And I guess you forgot the part where Anan migrated to Jerusalem with his followers and established his own synagogue which was a centralized drawing point to all that followed him. So nice try Dan in trying to erase one of the most major events and personalities of Karaite Judaism. You can fool some of the people some of the time but certainly not all the people all the time. And that is the truth.

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