Whenever heated Karaite-Rabbanite polemics pop up these days, my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and sigh,”It’s not the Middle Ages anymore.”
Although such diatribes were once commonplace – and A Blue Thread has discussed some of them – I really try not to get lost in the rhetoric of yesteryear.
In that regard, I love finding information that turns these historical notions of strife upside-down.
In the early part of the 11th Century, Karaites openly and willingly contributed funds to a Rabbanite yeshiva in Jerusalem. (See Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, pp. 196-200.)
Recall that Karaites had their own Jerusalem yeshiva to support; so it’s peculiar that they would also support a Rabbanite yeshiva.
But with respect to one fundraising campaign for the Rabbanite yeshiva, the donors from the Karaite collection outnumbered the donors from the Rabbanite collection about two to one. (Id. at 197.) And according to Dr. Rustow, by the late 1020s, in certain cities, Rabbanite “survival as a community had become dependent on Qaraite largesse[.]” (Id. at 199.)
Dr. Rustow adds, “What made them [i.e., these Karaites] support the Rabbanites? Did it occur to them or disturb them that the yeshiva they were supporting was the very incarnation of what Qaraism disavowed?” (Id. at 198.)
In Dr. Rustow’s view, the Karaites of the early 1020s did not believe that supporting rabbinic institutions was tantamount to “fraternizing with the enemy.” Rather, “[t]he Qaraite leadership shared bonds of loyalty to other Jews that operated separately from questions of theological or legal differences.” (Id. at 199.)
I’ll admit that this isn’t “breaking” in the sense of “recent” news. But it is breaking news in that it upends the traditional view of Karaite-Rabbanite conflict. Much of Dr. Rustow’s excellent book is dedicated to Karaite-Rabbanite harmonious interaction.
Sadly, as even Dr. Rustow notes, this cooperation was tested in 1029 when “a throng of Rabbanites” tried to excommunicate the Karaites during Sukkot of that year. In fact, it was the Rabbanites of the yeshiva that helped block this attempted excommunication. (Id. at 200.)
So, here’s to hoping that neither Karaites nor Rabbanites view modern dialog and support as sleeping with the enemy.
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Today is the 2nd day of the 4th week of seven weeks. Today is the 23rd day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.