Jdi na obsah Jdi na menu

General notes about Karaites - Eliyahu ben Eliyahu Kazas II


Marriage is the foundation of the family and its natural purpose is giving birth to children.

The birth of a child was accompanied in the past and present with various ceremonies, the most important is the rite of circumcision.

This procedure has to be performed in the eighth day after the birth of male children, as the sign of the covenant between God and the forefather Abraham.

In the implementation of circumcision is the difference between Karaites and Talmudists.

Talmudists do not cut only the foreskin, but they also use to remove by metal claws the part that remained after the procedure, it causes unnecessary suffering of child.

The ceremony of naming of boy is realized in the day of his circumcision, ceremony of naming of girls is realized at the first Saturday after her birth.

Naming ceremony was and is still realized in the presence of community led by Hazzan, and it ends with rich lunch or a modest breakfast, according to abilities of parents.

Usually are given the names of the deceased grandparents or other close relatives of the father or mother.

Sometimes are given to grandsons and granddaughters the names of their grandfathers and grandmothers in the time of their lives.

Almost always its are the names of the Hebrew Bible.

Exceptions are the Tatarian names Takhtamish, Babai, Babakai and Babadjan.

Female Tatarian names are much more frequent: Altin (Gold), Gulyush (Smile), Gulef (Rose), Nazli (Tender), Arzu (Desire), Bijan (Lady-mother), Sultan, Saadet (Happiness), etc.

Less frequent are the Greek names: Firsim (Joyful), Kera (Lady), Apika, Keracha (diminutive of Kera), Afedra etc.

Last time ceased the giving of the Tatarian names, both male and female, instead it are given to children the biblical names common among the russian population, instead of some biblical names are used in civilian life Russian names.

For example instead name Beracha is used name Boris, instead name Mordocai is used name Mark, instead of the name Simkha is used name Semyon, instead name Rachel is used name Raya and instead name Berukha is used name Vera etc.

In ancient times (and partly still in poor and underdeveloped families in the peripheral parts of Crimea) was the child's birth surrounded by various superstitions, which can not be identified as Karaite.

Its are superstitions rampant among all ethnic groups, particularly in eastern communities.

The most famous myth is the belief in the evil eye.

According to this superstition, there are people with evil eyes, which look as if its shot arrows that hit all the good, beautiful, valuable and cause irreparable damage, illness or even death.

This mysterious destructive power have according this superstition mainly black eyes.

Evil eyes have not effect only on children but also on adults, not only on humans but also on animals.

According to this superstition is possible to turn away the effect of evil eyes by: whispers and cries of old women, backed by repeated spits to the side, blowing into the faces of children, smearing of the forehead with saliva or some other impurity.

To protect the child from the influence of evil spirits and other evil forces, they putted under his/her head a sacred object, usually they gave under head the book of Psalms of King David.

Another superstition is that the origin of mental disorders caused to children by a bewitch can be determined by casting of lead or wax into the vessel with cold water, from shape of lead or wax is possible according to superstition identify the cause of mental disorder and originator of bewitch.

It is quite clear that a determination of the origin of mental disorders on the base of these randomly generated shapes requires to have a vivid imagination.

In the past there were other superstitions such as belief in a vision in a dream, a belief in ghosts, werewolves, and in clairvoyance.

As the bad omen was considered crowing of rooster or a howling of dog in front of the window, or hooting of owl on the roof.

As an unlucky day was considered the first day of the week.

According to superstition was not appropriate to initiate an important business in the first day of the week, or start a long journey.

This superstition was based on the fact that in the first chapter in the First book of Moses is not written beside the first day, by contrast of other days that: And God saw that it is good.

Karaite family life in the past, as like today, was characterized by purity of morals.

Adultery was a very rare phenomenon.

A very small number of women of poor manners aroused general indignation and contempt.

Education of young children was the responsibility of women.

About education, based on rational methods of teaching, could be no question.

Karaite mothers breastfeed their children alone, only in extreme cases were hired wet nurses.

In the past Karaite families did not hire tutors, nannies or governesses, they began to appear in rich Karaite families a short time ago.

The boys were sent at their early age, often in their 4 years, into the community schools, often not for their education, but rather because they were naughty at home.

Education of girls, including the basic literacy, was not considered as important, if the girls learned something, it was the handiwork and cooking, or everything that concerned with the household.

At this time, under the influence of modern trends, was radically changed the view of raising of children.

Children, regardless of their gender, use to visit public education institutions and they use to receive education appropriate to their social status.

This progress also has its downside, Karaite children remain without a religious education, because Karaite faith is not part of the curriculum in primary schools, secondary schools or vocational schools.

From this reason parents, who are not indifferent to their religion, use to send their children (of course only boys) to the midrashes - community religious schools, in which are children taught exclusively in Hebrew.

Without knowledge of Hebrew can not be religious education regarded as complete, because Karaite worship is in Hebrew and Karaite theological works are written in Hebrew.

Unfortunately, these religious schools does not bring the desired benefits, thanks to the medieval routine system of teaching.

If in the past came out of these religious schools graduates with an excellent education, it was only for their above-average abilities and length time of study.

But today's conditions of life do not allow to poor children spent so long time to learning, in their 13 to 14 years they have to leave school, they are forced to work and acquire the means of subsistence.

Children from more wealthy families use to complement their education by study of a science, knowledge of which is nowadays necessary for each intelligent person.

I consider as necessary to describe in detail these Karaite religious schools, the conditions in these schools, their structure and system of teaching which endured for centuries, because it is a very interesting topic.


Who sometime saw mekteb or medres of Crimean Tatars, this person can get an idea how looked Karaite school 60-70 years ago.

The school was mostly made as one very spacious room, in which were clustered 50-60, and even more students.

Furniture in Karaite schools were long (impractical) tables and benches.

In many schools, were not even the tables and benches.

In schools without tables and benches, as in the mekteb of Tatars, teacher and pupils use to sit cross-legged on the ground that was covered with carpet, the low benches served as tables on which were stored books.

Only the teacher had a in the corner of room the small mattress and pillow for resting.

Students were not divided into classes or groups, the teacher paid attention to each student individually, but it is understandable that it was only a few minutes a day.

The shortcomings of the inefficient medieval system of the individual teaching was partly mitigated by a more or less unorganized system of mutual learning.

Pupils were divided into older and younger.

Each younger pupil had his supervisor who was the older pupil, and who was known as Kalfa.

Kalfa prepared the younger pupil, taught him and explained to him the subject, then the teacher only in a few minutes checked what and how Kalfa taught younger pupil.

New students, the so-called beginners (Dardaks) were in sole custody of supervisor (Kalfas) until they were able to read automatically.

Due to lack of experiences of supervisors on the one hand, and the imperfections of teaching methods on the other hand, to students take two or three years and sometimes longer to learn to read (Hebrew) text automatically.

After students overcome the difficulties of automatic reading, they began to study Holy Scripture with the help of a translation into the Tatar language, which significantly differed, grammatically and lexically, from the language that pupils understand.

Didactic rule - from simple to difficult - was not observed.

Students translated the Holy Scriptures chapter by chapter, without any explanation and analysis, and regardless of the age of pupils, their level of knowledge and regardless of ability of pupils to understand to the text, in this way they translated completely clear the passages just as complicated poetic phrases, or prophecies requiring a lot of historical and ethnological knowledges.

They translated without exceptions and omits the story of Lot's daughters, the story of Dinah, daughter of Yakov, the story of Yudah and Tamar and other stories, including detailed descriptions of events that would be better to remain hidden from the eyes of the children, and which may adversely affect their vivid imagination.

They translated the text of Holy Scripture automatically with extreme precision, without following the rules of syntax and structure of language into which they translated, without any information about the rules of grammar of biblical Hebrew and without an explanation of the sense of the text.

It is obvious that this type of teaching did not expand the skills of students, these methods rather limited these skills, this system did not inspire pupils to be interested in learning and it precluded to pupils to understand what they study.

This way of teaching was strictly contrary to children nature, it caused in children aversion to the learning.

Only especially gifted individuals were able to learn something in spite of these anti-pedagogical methods.

All books of the Hebrew Bible were translated in few years, then pupils began to read a thin book of Biblical Hebrew Grammar written in Hebrew, it was in the time when the most of students had knowledges of these basic rules of Hebrew grammar, it means that this delayed learning of grammar was often useless.

After reading of the grammar pupils began to read Karaite works written in medieval Hebrew.

Its were the works - comments on the Five Books of Moses (מבחר ישרים) by ribbi Aaron Harofe, the interpretation of the laws of Moses, whose keeping is mandatory for each Karaite and comments to the rites (אדרת אליהו) by ribbi Eliyahu Bashyachi, as well as theological and philosophical treatises (עץ חיים) by ribbi Aaron of Nicodemia.

All these works are interwoven with the spirit of scholasticism and strict literalness, scholasticism in the philosophical sense and strict literalness in the interpretation of laws, these parts ended the education of Karaites, but this degree touched only a few students.

In the religious school was no place for other disciplines, such as for history, geography or mathematics, even four basic arithmetic operations so necessary in everyday life were not taught (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

No wonder that with these methods, which in Karaite schools persisted for centuries, Karaites did not develop in intellectual point of view, as like in Karaite literature was apparent the long-term stagnation.

Only last time the new intellectual life woke up, and at this time is is booming.

Somewhere in the Talmud is written that the absence of noise, which was caused by the move of heavenly spheres, could make hearable noises, which exuded the Roman legions.

And I use to say: if we did not hear the noises coming from Karaite schools, would be possible to hear the heavenly spheres.

But let leave the exaggeration: in fact, near the Karaite schools was possible to hear the incredible noise.

Imagine the 60 to 70 boys, some of them read loudly in melodious recitation to teacher, the rest of them do the same in front of their supervisors, each of them try to shout down their classmates.

Me, who was one of the biggest loudmouth, I was often wondered how we could midst of this infernal noise, to understand each other.

Conditions of teaching in Karaite schools were unenviable, but worse was the quality of educational methods.
The school taught in the wrong way, and practical objects did not teach at all.
If educational methods existed, they were only negative and repressive methods.

Educational methods consisted only of punishment for bad behavior and various schoolboy pranks that are common in the environment of boys of all ages who are naturally naughty and undisciplined.
Punishments were often unfair, because they were used even when the boys had not their guilt beyond their control, such as in cases where they were not endowed with a good memory and ability to study well.

Punishments consisted of slaps and beating with cane, that angry teachers gave away freely.

For serious offenses were each hit with cane accompanied by reading of the famous verse, which was for this purpose very badly chosen, it was the verse 38 of Psalm 78 - But He, being full of compassion, forgiveth iniquity, and destroyeth not; yea, many a time doth He turn His anger away, and doth not stir up all His wrath.
The teacher after each word hit the pupil with cane on the hands, and the last word (
חֲמָתוֹ - His wrath), he repeated (accompanied by beating) so long as the teacher's arm was tired.

There was another kind of punishment more cruel than all the others punishments.
Seriously guilty student, after command of the teacher was pupil knocked down on his back by two of teacher‘s helpers, his legs were put on the so-called falaka, eastern torture instrument (looks like a beam with stems - translator's note), the poor boy lying on the ground, legs stretched out up and tied to the falaka, the teacher hit with cane on bare feet, and teacher in the time beating recited above mentioned verse of Psalm.
I can not adequately describe the anguish and mental state of helpless being, who undergo this barbaric torture, even I undergo it too.

Those who complete Karaite school, they obtained the title ribbi, which roughly corresponded to the European title of doctor.
The graduated person awarded one very important right together with the title.
What do you think, what was this right?
It was right of ritual slaughter.
This right was given to graduated person publicly after the examination, which took place in the presence of local scholars and local Hazzan.
The test consisted in the fact that the graduated person presented to the scholars answers to the questins in the matter of ritual slaughter learned by heart.
Laws concerning the ritual slaughter was a very popular topic for Karaite casuist, this topic was solved in such a quantity of texts, that would be possible to form a decent library from its.
These writings contain logical arguments which justify the right of human to slaughter an animal, then its solved persons who perform the ritual slaughter, slaughtered animal, slaughter method and tool for the slaughter, writings solved ritual slaughters made in wrong way, and also informed about the meat which is necessary to declare as impure and which is unfit for consumption.
Detailed instructions for the ritual slaughter do not match with Karaite principles of religion, because we should not be mandatory to follow nothing other than the Holy Scriptures, detailed instructions for the slaughter have no basis in the law of Moses, nor in the prophetic books, its are only opinions of the Karaite scholars.
Karaite scholars through these writings enter into disputes with the Talmudists.

Slaughtered can be only ritually pure animals.
Information about ritually pure quadrupeds, marine and freshwater animals is possible to find in the Third Book of Moses in verses 11:1-12.
Detailed information about the ritually unclean birds is possible to find in the same chapter.

Not all meat from correctly ritually slaughtered fourfooted animals can be eat.

Separated must be: the fat tail, the fat covering the entrails and all the fat on the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat covering them, the fat from the groin and liver lobe (3M 3:9-10).

These parts were burned on the sacrificial Altar.

According to the Law must be these parts burned even if the animal was not slaughter as a sacrifice, but for standard consumption, but only in the case when the ritual slaughter takes place in the area where the Tabernacle or Temple is, for example in Jerusalem.

As is evident from verses 12:20-23 in the Fifth Book of Moses, outside of this area could the Israelites slaughter and to eat the meat from ritually clean animals according to their will, the legislator adds: in the way as is eaten a gazelle or a deer.

What mean these last words?

I can easily explain its.

From the four-legged animals can be sacrificed only these three species: cattle, sheep and goat. Outside of Jerusalem could be slaughtered in the time of the existence of the Temple the gazelle and the deer.

This implies that from the meat of gazelle and the meat of the deer meat is not necessary to separate a part for burning in the sacrificial Altar, just as it is not necessary to separate at this time (when the Temple, Altar and sacrifices do not exist) a part of meat of animals slaughtered outside of Palestine.

But Karaite scholars disagreed with this conclusion, and they determined that the above mentioned types of fat is not possible to use for ever, it does not match with the spirit of the law (according to Kazas).
This regulation by Karaite scholars causes a lot of problems, both from strictly economic reasons, as well as in normal home life.

Questions such as, what is allowed and what is not allowed, occupy an important place in life of Karaites.

There are a lot of cases when ritually clean food becomes ritually unclean.
It would be tedious to describe all the cases here, so I will describe here only one typical example.

This is a case when a woman during her menstrual period touches the food.

This is not just about a direct touching of the food, but also the touching of objects that transmit the ritual impurity.

This object can be for example a tablecloth on the table or table.
From this reason Karaites could not eat at one table with a woman at the time of her bleeding.
When a woman at the time of her bleeding touches the table, on which is food, this food becomes ritually impure.
And that's not all.
If a table with the food is on the carpet, and the woman at the time of her bleeding touches this carpet, the food on the table becomes ritually unclean.
Only objects firmly anchored, such as the plank floor, walls, etc. does not transmit ritual impurity.

It must be noted that this rigidity which restrict the life at home is not derived from the Law of Moses, it is based on resultes of extreme rigor scholars.

For it, the Karaite women could not at the time of their bleeding properly manage their household, and in particular they could not prepare the food for their families.

Much more complicated situation occurs after birth, when some of Karaite women are ritually impure for forty days, and other can not care about their home even eighty days.

For understanding to this issue I will mention the part of the Five Books of Moses, which solve this issue and explains the meaning of the law exactly (3M 12:2-5):

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall continue in the blood of purification three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid-child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her impurity; and she shall continue in the blood of purification threescore and six days.

In reading of these verses, we have to take the notice, that the Law distinguishes between two levels of impurity of the mother: one level, which equates to the menstruation, to this level is more strict than to the second level which is identified as the bleeding and clearly defines what a woman has and has not to do and what she could not touch.

She could not touch sacred items and she could not visit the Sanctuary.

It is possible accept regulations established by Karaite scholars regarding the menstruation, and apply its in the time of seven days after the birth of a boy and in the time of 14 days after the birth of a girl, but these regulations could not be applied in the time of 33 days after the birth of a boy, and in the time of 66 days after the birth of a girl, it means in the time of the days that the Law separates and differentiates from bleeding, which is compared to menstruation.

Karaite scholars guided by excessive rigidity did not realize the impact of this interpretation of this law and they impose for their followers this regulation which disrupted life of Karaite families that have a significant impact, especially on poor families.

But I repeat again that mistakes caused by excessive rigidity of interpretation could not be identified as irreparable; karaism does not identify scholars as infallible and their regulations is possible to change if was proved their inaccuracy.

The above mentioned regulation is not currently enforced so rigidly, thanks to the correct understanding of the sense of that verse.