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The references about the Karaites in the ancient Jewish books of travels

There are no Jews in the Land of Qedar (which the present-day area of south-east Ukraine and Crimea - translators note) but there are minim (apostates, renegades).

Rabbi Petahyah said to them: Why do you not believe in the words of sages?

They said: Because our fathers did not teach us these words.

They also have the custom of eating the Shabbat bread in the dark on the eve of Shabbat and they remain in one place for the whole day of Shabbat and they pray only from the Psalms.

After Rabbi Petahyah read them our prayers and the Birkat ha-Mazon (the blessing after the meal) they liked it and they said: We have never heard of the Talmud.

He (Rabbi Petahyah) travelled from Prague, that is in the Land of Bohem (Bohemia - the present-day area of Czech republic - translators note), into Poland and from Poland into Russian Kiev and a long way into Russia. He travelled for six days until he reached the river Dnieper, then he sailed across the river and arrived in the Land of Qedar (He crossed the river Dnieper in the present-day city Dnepropetrovsk and he sailed to the present day city Rostov on the Don - translators note).

It took Rabbi Petahyah 16 days to travel through the Land of Qedar.

Sibuv shel rabbi Petahyah / The travels of Rabbi Petahyah (12th century)


Constantinople is the capital of Land of Javan, which is Greece and the throne of the Emperor Manuel is located there....... About two thousand Rabbanites live there and about five hundred Karaites live there, all on the same side of the city, but an insurmountable wall stands between Karaites and Rabbanites, who are great scholars.

Two parasang (historical Iranian unit of itinerant distance comparable to the European league - (translators note)) from there is Ashkelon, more accurately the new Ashkelon, ...... Two hundred Rabbanite Jews live there, their heads are Rabbi Tzemakh, Rabbi Aharon and Rabbi Shelom. There are also about forty Karaites and three hundred Kutim - Samaritans.

From there it is about two days journey to big city of Damascus, which is the beginning of the empire of Nuraddin, the King of Togarms, they are called Turks. ....... There are about three thousand Rabbanite Jews, about two hundred Karaite and four hundred Kutim; all of them live together in peace, but they do not marry one another.

Masaot shel rabbi Binyamin / The journey of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela (12th century)


There is approximately eight hundred Jewish family heads in Cairo, about a hundred family heads from the Karaites and fifty family heads from the Samaritans. Surely you know that the Karaites accept the written Torah and the Samaritans also accept part of the written Torah, but otherwise they are idolaters (medieval rabbanites believed that the Samaritans adore the golden dove, this assumption was based on the erroneous rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 35: 4).

Also Karaites have their own synagogues.

The King appointed for the Jews, Karaites and Samaritans the respectable, good and well-known Jewish nagid whose name is Rabbi Shlomo ben Rabbi Josef.

The journey of Rabbi Meshulam ben Menahem of Voltera (1481)

There are seven hundred Jewish family heads in Cairo. Fifty of them are Samaritans who are also known as Kutim; a hundred and fifty are Karaites and the rest are Rabbanites.

Karaites, as you know, do not believe in the words of scholars (rabbis), ......., but they are very skilled in all twenty-four books (of Holy Scripture) and at the beginning of month they celebrate according to the direct observation. Sometimes the Karaites of Cairo celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on a different day than Karaites in Jerusalem - at the moment two Karaite family heads reside here in Jerusalem - and they (Karaites) say that there's nothing wrong with it. Each year they (Karaites) depute someone into Jerusalem to observe the (ripeness) of Aviv, and if they (Karaites) think that it is necessary to add a leap month to the year, they do so. If it happens, for example, that the Karaites in Cairo determine a leap year and Karaites in Constantinople do not determine it, no fault is attributed to them because each does what he feels is appropriate.

They have a fast on the seventh and tenth day of Av

The Feast of Weeks, as it is well known, is always determined by the first day (Sunday). They hang the lulav and the (four) Species in the middle of their synagogues which everyone looks at and that is enough for them.
They do not light a fire in their homes on the Sabbath, it doesn't matter whether it is day or night, in their homes there is no fire.
They also have the five regulations of slaughter like we have, although this is not mentioned in the Torah. They also do not slaughter animals with an inappropriate knife.

Their vigilance against the wine of pagans is greater than the vigilance of the Rabbanites.

Karaites rigorously observe ritual purity and are wary of all kinds of impurity.

If someone is dying, they (Karaites) come out of the house after his/her death and they hire one of the poor Rabbanites to carry the deceased person out of the house and bury him/her, because they do not touch the dead. Those who pollute themselves by contact with the dead, with an impure person or with a menstruating or delivering woman, he/she must only wash himself/herself with water, they are not obliged to bathe in the mikveh.

I have seen several interpretations by different authors, such as the interpretation by Yafet ben Ali ha-Levi (10th century - he translated the Holy Scripture into Arabic and added these comments to his translation), which is mentioned in the works of Abraham ibn Ezra and interpretations by Rabbi Aaron ben Eliyahu Kara (14 century).  Each day they renew the interpretations of the Torah and they even say that if any current scholar reveals that a law appointed by our ancestors deviates from the plain meaning of the Holy Scripture (p’shat), the change of this regulation is allowed on the base of his conclusion; guilt is not given to old or to new (scholars).

They have a synagogue in Cairo and the majority of their prayers consist of Psalms and verses of the Holy Scripture. Quite recently they started to read the Torah on the second day (Monday) and on the fifth day (Thursday) which they did not do in the past, they also have Priests and Levites. One Karaite of Cairo, whose name is Tzedaka and who is wealthy and respected, told me that he is verifiably related to King David, peace be upon him, and they promised to show me the book with his genealogy, that is sealed by witnesses from the generation of David; but in the end I did not see it because I didn't have enough time.

Samaritans are the richest of all the Jews of Cairo, they work there as supreme officers, treasurers and commercial travelers. Among them are also individuals who have two hundred thousand or one hundred thousand golden coins; Karaites are richer than Rabbanites. Also among the Rabbanites are a very rich people, but the characteristic of Jews in Muslim countries is that they pretend they are the poor: in front of the Muslims they wear poor and shabby clothes and they are hunched, they do not give alms, they do not show mercy to each other and they do not show mutual love for each other - each devotes himself only to his own profit. In this point of view the Karaite community is better than the Rabbanite community because Karaites show mercy each other, they (Karaites) are not in touch with the Rabbanites ¹).

1) Relations between Rabbanites and Karaites  in Cairo were very tensed (unlike in other places), although the religious rules forced Karaites to utilize the services of Rabbanites.

Today there are seventy Rabbanite family heads in Gaza and two Samaritan family heads but I did not see any Karaites there.

It has been four years since the sons of Israel provoked war with their neighbors (in the country of Prester John - in Ethiopia), who are located around them and who pillaged their territories and who hate them, and so they (the sons of Israel) robbed those who hate them. These dogged enemies captured several  (Israelite) men and women and sold them as slaves to a distant nation and from this nation they were brought into Cairo where they were bought by local Jews. I saw two of them in Cairo and they were dark, but not as dark as Kushites (Ethiopians). We were not able to tell if they observe the Karaite law or the Rabbanite law, because according to some of their customs it seemed as if they observe the Karaite law because during the Shabbat there is no fire in their houses, but according to other customs it seemed that they observe the Rabbanite law. They claim they are related to the tribe of Dan.

The five different Christian denominations are today located in Jerusalem: Romans (Roman Catholics), Greeks (Orthodox), Jacobites, Amalekites (Armenians) and Abyssinians (Ethiopians), who come from the territory of Prester John. Each of these churches declare the faith of the others as false, just as is it customary between the Samaritans, Karaites and Rabbanites.

The first letter by Rabbi Ovadya of Bertinoro (the end of the 15th century)

On Tuesday the 21st of Marcheshvan in the year 5282 (22nd September 1521) I entered the building that is built on the grave of Hoshea ben Be’eri (Prophet Hosea - 8th century before civil era), which is located on the edge of the Jewish cemetery in Safed. The scholarly (muͨallim - in Arabic = teacher) Karaite Tzedaka from Damascus built the beautifully decorated building on this grave in on which the burning lamp was lit incessantly by visitors who used to show their respect there. 

In Damascus they even lend money to Venetians, who pay monthly interest at two percent and in times of poverty even more. Some of them require a guarantee, but there are also some from whom is possible to borrow without a guarantee. This matter also concerns also the Samaritans. Some people used to entrust the amount of at least eighteen or fifteen talents into the hands of Karaite Mu'allim Tzedaka or another trustworthy person; The wise man, his eyes are in his head. (Kohelet 2:14)

Book of travels by Rabbi Moshe Basola (1521-1523)