CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

Karaites and Karaism: Recent Developments

by Mikhail Kizilov, Graduate School for Social Research, Polish Academy of Sciences
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

1.1.Karaites and Karaism: a historical outline.[1]

The Karaites are members of an independent religious movement within Judaism that formally emerged in the eighth century in Babylon, and spread from there to the countries of The Middle East, Byzantium, North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and Europe. The Karaites derive their name from the Hebrew word for Scripture (qara’im, bne’ miqra, ba’alei miqra). The first of these terms, qara’im should be translated as «readers», in the sense «those who read the Scripture;» the terms «bne’ miqra,» and «ba’alei miqra» might be translated as «Sons of the Scripture» or «Masters of the Scripture.»[2] The name itself reflects the main characteristic of the sect, viz. the recognition of the TaNaKh (a.k.a Old Testament) as the sole and direct source of religious law, with the rejection of the Oral Law (a.k.a.. the Talmud, a later Rabbinic commentary and legal code based on the TaNaKh). To over simplify the issue, the Karaite objection to the Oral Law lay in its introduction into Judaism of many non-TaNaKh based regulations composed by the Rabbis. Due to the prominence of the Rabbanites in Jewish life, much Karaite literature was directed specifically against the doctrine the Rabbanites. [3]

‘Anan ben David, who carried out his religious and propagandistic activity in the second half of the eighth century C.E., is traditionally considered the founder of Karaism.[4] Followers of ‘Anan’s movement (initially called ‘‘Ananites’) absorbed many elements of older, non-talmudic Jewish traditions.[5] In the ninth-twelfth centuries (this period might be called the time of consolidation) Karaism developed as a separate religious movement within Judaism taking into itself other schisms. During this period, the Karaites engaged in an active prosetylization of the Rabbanite Jews. This age saw the rise of such famous Karaites scholars and exegetes as Benjamin b. Moses Nahawendi, Dani’el b. Moses al-Qumisi, Ya’aqob al-Qirqisani and others. Until the end of the eleventh century, the Karaites’ spiritual centre was in Jerusalem. After the First Crusade destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish community there (1099), however, it shifted to Europe (predominantly to Byzantium).[6] It is possible to distinguish the following main historical seats of Karaism and Karaite communities in the world: Byzantium and Turkey - Egypt, North Africa, the Near East, Jerusalem and Spain - and Eastern Europe

1.1.1. Byzantium and Turkey.

Constantinople became a main spiritual centre of Karaism at the beginning of the twelfth century. Zvi Ankori, who analyzed several «romantic» theories explaining the appearance of the Karaites in Byzantium (called by the author «Crimean,» «Khazarian,» and «Missionary»), came to the conclusion that the main factors for the ascention of the Karaites in Byzantium were practical, namely: the Byzantine annexation of new areas in which a native Karaite population was already established, and a further Karaite immigration inland.[7] After 1492, when the Jews who had been expelled from Spain were granted asylum in Turkey, there was a tendency for rapprochement between the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews. According to some scholars, this led to the gradual decline of the Byzantine-Turkish Karaites into a state of «spiritual lethargy.»[8] In spite of this, Byzantium produced such important Karaite scholars as Kalev Afendopulo, Elijah and Moses Bashyatchi, Ya’acob b. Reuven, the Beghi family of Karaite scholars, and many others. The devastating conflagrations, which often gutted the community from the eighteenth to the beginning of the twentieth centuries, forced it to leave its traditional settlement in the Haskoy quarter of Constantinople (Istanbul) between the 1960s-70s. The local community, with some of its members still speaking their peculiar Græco-Karaite dialect, amounted to 350 persons in the mid-50s. However, by the end of the 1980s - according to Polish Karaite Anna Sulimowicz, who visited the community at this time - it had dwindled to only 90 persons, with the synagogue sometimes closed even on Saturdays. From the old Karaite quarters of Hasköy, only a few old houses remained on a small avenue called Karaim Cikmazi (Karaite Avenue).[9]


1.1.2. Egypt, North Africa, Near East, Jerusalem, Spain.

The origins of the Karaite community in Egypt are quite ancient, however, their origin is not known. Some of the Karaites left Jerusalem in 1060s, a short while before the First Crusade, and settled down in Fustat (Cairo).[10] Until the end of the twelfth century, the local community outnumbered Rabbanites. According to S. Szyszman, in 1186/1187 - 1313, the community possessed the so-called Codex Alepensis, one of the most ancient and complete copies of the Bible.[11]

The Egyptian community - which was, after that of the Crimea, perhaps, the world’s second largest Karaite community in the twentieth century[12] - came to a rapid end, due to the political and social impact of the Arab-Israeli wars. Most of the Egyptian Karaites emigrated to Israel, France, and the USA (a few went to other countries), thus leaving only 24 Karaites in Egypt in 1984.[13] In addition to Egypt, the Karaites settled in other North African communities: some epigraphic and archival sources testify to the presence of the Karaites, in the twelfth century, in Algeria and the Maghreb.[14]

In the twelfth century, the Karaites spread their activities as far as Spain, where they established a thriving intellectual community, which existed there until 1178, when they were expelled by the edict of the king Alfonso VIII of Castille (1158-1214), as a result of a quarrel with the local Rabbanites.[15]

One of the most ancient Karaite communities - that of Hit (Iraq), which existed since early medićval times - preserved a number of conservative Karaite prescriptions and customs, and - simultaneously, because of their separate and remote location - developed a number of specific, local rituals and traditions. Abraham Firkovich, who visited the community in the nineteenth century, recorded that the community contained 67 people. In 1960, 13 families of the Iraqi Karaites were air lifted to Israel, where they were settled in Be’er Sheva.[16] Another early, medićval Karaite community, that of Jerusalem, which had been very small and quite poor since the times of the First Crusade, has also survived until today. 27 Karaites lived there in 1641, when the community was visited by the Karaite pilgrim Samuel b. David, and only ten (9 females and one male) in the 1920s.[17] The two Sinanis, the last caretakers of ‘Anan’s synagogue, were taken prisoner by the Arab Legion in 1948. In 1967, after the recapture of this part of the city, the synagogue was restored and the Karaites settled in Jerusalem again. These Karaites, were mostly those who came from Egypt. They publish a small community newspaper «Bne’ Miqra (ha-Qaraim).»


1.1.3.Eastern Europe: Crimea, Poland and Lithuania.

Thirteenth century - the end of the eighteenth century: Crimean Khanate and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

It is in this period we first hear of the Karaites in Eastern Europe (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries). Unfortunately, there is not a single, reliable medićval source to provide details regarding the nature and exact date of the Karaite settlement in Poland-Lithuania and the Crimea. According to a Karaite tradition, the Lithuanian prince Alexander Vitold (Vytautas) (b.ca.1350, grand Duke from 1392, d.1430) moved several hundred Karaite families from the Crimea to the north and settled them in Troki, Lutsk, and Galich (Halicz). The only relevant source testifying to this historic event comes from very late Karaite traditions about Vitold, first documented and published by Polish scholar and statesman Tadeusz Czacki in 1807.[18] This tradition was repeated by the Karaite sage Mordekhay Sultanski. According to him, in 4978 (1218 C.E.) Witold Jagello invaded the Crimea and took many prisoners there, including 483 Karaite families from Sulkhat (i.e. Eski-Kyrym or Staryi Krym). He settled 330 of these families in Troki, and 150 in Ponevezh. There, he provided them with land and privileges. However, in 1242 he made a new raid to the Crimea and carried another 380 Karaite families from Solkhat to Halicz.[19] The Karaites of Halicz have a different tradition that speaks about their arrival in the mid-thirteenth century as a consequence of the peace treaty between the Ruthenian prince Daniel of Halicz and Batu-khan of the Golden Horde.[20]

The problem of establishing an exact time for the advent of the arrival of the Karaite community in the Crimea is as controversial and complicated as that of their Polish-Lithuanian brethren. In spite of the fact that the above-mentioned Karaite traditions report the Crimean community as already well-established in at least the first half of the thirteenth century, the first reliable evidence of Karaite presence in the Crimea is a brief remark of Aaron ben Joseph concerning a dispute between the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews in Solkhat in 1279.[21] Thus, until new testimonies and sources related to this problem are found, it is only possible to state that, in all probability, the Karaites migrated to the Crimean peninsula no earlier than the second half of the thirteenth century. While the exact circumstances and precise date of their arrival is difficult to establish, it is very tempting to suppose that the migration of the Karaites to the Crimea went by two main routes: one that brought the earliest, most likely Turkic (Qypchak) speaking, Karaites together with the Tatar conquerors of the Crimea in the mid-thirteenth century, and the other, which was realised through the migration from the Karaite communities of Byzantium.[22]

In the thirteenth-fiteenth centuries, the main Karaite seats in Eastern Europe were Eski-Kyrym, Caffa, Kyrk-Yer (later: Chufut-Kale) and Mangoup in the Crimea, and Troki, Halicz, Lwow and Lutsk in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries, with the increase of the local Karaite population and the expanding of their activity to new places advantageous to their commercial activity, Karaite communities appeared in Gözleve and Karasubazar (Crimea), Kukizow, Derazhne, Poniewiez, Poswol, Nowe Miasto, and many other Polish and Lithuanian towns and villages.[23] It was in this period that the Crimea and Lithuania became the new centres of Karaite thought and learning. The history of the Crimean and Polish-Lithuanian communities seem to have developed in parallel: both produced prominent thinkers and exegets of their times, both had been actively involved in commercial actvity,[24] both often suffered from the tyranny of their non-Jewish rulers - and such drastic events as Cossack invasions, civil wars, epidemics, conflagrations, and natural disasters.[25]

It was in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries that European Christian scholars began displaying an interest in studying the Karaites. Around this time, the first academic works dedicated to the history, manners, customs, and laws of East European Karaites and their seats in this region appeared.[26]

It seems that - until the second half of the eighteenth century, most likely because of the close contacts and, simultaneously, competition with their Rabbanite neighbours - the Polish-Lithuanian community - which produced such outstanding scholars as Isaak b.Abraham Troki, Mordecai b.Nisan Kukizow, Simha Isaak Lutski, Zerah b.Natan, Ezra b. Nisan et alia - was more learned and advanced than that of their Crimean brethren. In the eighteenth century, however, with a worsening of the śconomic situation within the community and the migration of its intellectual elite to the Crimea, the Lithuanian community started to look mush less important, lagging behind from the rapidly growing and flourshing Crimean community. Thus, in the eighteenth century, the Crimea began to evolve into the spiritual and financial centre of the Karaite movement across Europe and the world.

The end of eighteenth - beginning of the twentieth century: Russian Empire

After the annexation of the Crimea (1783) and the incorporation of some parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth into Russia (in 1772, 1793, and 1795), almost all European Karaites became subjects of Russian Empire.[27] In the nineteenth century, the Karaites started to settle throughout the Russian Empire and Europe. By the end of the century, scattered Karaite communities were present in many large cities of Russia and Europe: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov, Poltava, Nikolaev, Elisavetgrad, Ecaterinoslav, Berdiansk, Kishinev, Kharbin, Vienna, Warsaw, et alia. According to the estimations of M.S.Kupovetski, in 1783 the Karaite population of the Russian Empire consisted of 3,800 Karaites with 2,600 Karaites living in the Crimea.[28]

After the forced removal of the local Crimean Christian population (1777) and the mass migration of the Tatars, the Crimean Karaites found themselves in a very advantageous situation. As a result of the migrations, they turned out to be the most influential commercial power of the depopulated, but still highly important, new southern region of Russia.[29] Moreover, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Karaites started to receive perferential legal treatment: in 1795 they were relieved of the double tax imposed upon the Jews, and in 1827 they were exempted (unlike the Rabbanites) from the obligatory military service in the Russian army.[30] Until these meaures were taken, despite all the polemics and quarrels, the history of the Karaite and Rabbanite Jews was similar; thus, clearly, this moment is a turning point in the history of the East European Karaites. As time passed, the distance between the privileged Karaites and their Rabbanire brethren grew, reaching its climax in 1863, when the Karaites were accorded full rights of citizenship in the Russian Empire, and were integrated into society, serving in the tsar’s army, and in the government.[31]

It seems that, largely due to the aforementioned securing of its financial and śconomic prosperity and stable position in the society, the Karaite population of the Empire obtained an incredible demographic growth. From 3,800 Karaites in 1783, the Karaite population grew to 12,894 (6,372 - males; 6,522 - females) in 1897.[32]

The nineteenth century also marked the appearance of a number of theories related to the origins and history of the Karaites, popularized both by the Karaite leaders and non-Karaite scholars. According to some, the Karaites had come to the Crimea before the time of Christ. Consequently, they were the only true, ancient Biblical Jews.[33] Later, at the end of the nineteenth - first half of the twentieth century, East European Karaite authors created a completely different version of their ethnic history, which denied all links to the Jewish people, and stressed their origins from Turkic Khazar proselites, converted to Karaism in the eighth century.[34]

Twentieth century: Soviet Union, Poland and Lithuania.

After World War I, when Poland again became an independent state, and the Russian Empire was transformed into the atheistic Soviet Union, the fate of the Rabbanite and Karaite communities differed further still. In interwar Poland, with its less than one thousand Karaite inhabitants, the Karaites started to be called in Polish «najmniejsza mniejszość narodowa» (i.e. «the most minor ethnic minority») and were treated by the goverment with great caution and care.[35] The ascension of S.M.Szapszal, whose Khazar and Turkic sentiments had been public as early as in 1896,[36] to the office of the Karaite hakham in Poland (1927), symbolized the final stage of the process of «endogenous dejudaization»,[37] which resulted in the forming of the completely separate self-identification of the East European Karaites, wherein they deny all links to Judaism or the Jews whatsoever.

The Karaites of the Soviet Union, where all religious cults had been «not-welcomed», were forced to abandone their religious practices and assimilate into the monolithic, atheistic surroundings. As a consequence, the loss of the religious and national traditions of the Crimean Karaites is much stronger than that of their Polish-Lithuanian brethren.[38] Between the two world wars, 9,000 Karaites lived in the Soviet Union, mostly in the Crimea (6,500). A few families lived in Ponieviezh (at that moment Lithuania), in Berlin (18), in France (250), and in Italy (a few score).[39]

Their «dejudaizatory» tendency spared many Karaites lives during the Holocaust; they were surveyed by the Reich Agency for the Investigation of Families and, after some examination, were recognized as a non-Jewish population.[40] In spite of a number of publications related to this issue, the role which was played by the Karaite population during World War II is at best murky. On the one hand, some of the Karaites participated in the war as the soldiers of the Red Army and in resistance movements,[41] on the other, some of them were known to collaborate with the German administration in the occupied territories and even serve in the Waffen SS.[42]

After the war, the number of Karaites in Eastern Europe considerably decreased.[43] In 1959 there were 5,727 Karaites, mostly in the Crimea, Lithuania and in the western Ukraine. A few hundred still lived in Germany, France, and several hundred in the United States.[44] The Karaite population of the former Polish lands was then divided between Poland itself, and the Lithuanian (Troki, Vilna, Ponieviez) and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics (Lutsk, Galich). The Soviet authorities allowed the Karaites of the former Eastern Polish lands (Volynia and Galicia) to emigrate to Poland on the basis of their former Polish citizenship;[45] these emigrants, joined by some scattered groups of the Karaites who lived in central Poland before, and Karaite refugees from Lithuania, organized several new communities in Wroclaw, Warsaw, and Silesia (Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot). On the other hand, the Soviet administration did not grant a permission to emigrate to Poland for inhabitants of Lithuania.[46]

In general, post war period might be characterized as a period of stagnation in the religious and cultural life of the East European Karaites: practically all synagogues (keneseler) were closed; «Myśl Karaimska,» perhaps the most ambitious Karaite periodical, was transformed into «Przegląd Orientalistyczny.» The rite of circumcision stopped; the knowledge of Hebrew, Karaim, and Tatar languages started rapidly to deteriorate, as there was nobody to take care of religious education of youth.[47] These circumstances continued until the end of the 1980s-beginning of the 1990s. With the split of the totalitarian communist system, which oppressed all manifestations of national feelings and sentiments, a revival of Karaite religious and cultural traditions sprouted in the lands of the former Soviet Union. A number of periodicals and books were published,[48] two functioning synagogues (keneseler) were opened (one in Troki and the other in Eupatoria), there was also a renewed interest in the study and use of the Karaim language.[49]

According to Mourad El-Qodsi, who visited the Karaite communities of Eastern Europe in 1991, there were 154 Karaites in Poland (50 in Warsaw, 50 in Gdansk, 54 in Wroclaw and its vicinity), 280 in Lithuania (150 in Wilno, 50 in Poniewiez, 80 in Troki), 15 in Halicz, more than a hundred in Moscow and 800 in the Crimea (250 in Simferopol’, 90 in Eupatoria, 70 in Theodosia, 50 in Sevastopol’, 50 in Bakhchesaray, 30 in Yalta and some other minor towns).[50] At the writing of this text, ten years after El-Qodsi’s visit, due to a considerable emigration of Crimean Karaites to Israel, the situation has changed and the local Karaite population has become even smaller.[51] According to the census of 1998, there were 265 Karaites in Lithuania (132 in Vilnius, 65 in Troki, and in some other towns). Mr Szymon Pilecki, a head of the Karaite Religious Union in Poland, informed me that the approximate number of Karaites living in Poland is 150. At the same time, he complained that this sort of estimation is quite imprecise because of a number of mixed marriages (private communication of 17.10.1999).

Some of the East European Karaites (especially Lithuanian ones) preserve a tradition which forbids mixed marriages. When taking into consideration their small number, keeping up this traditional prescription does not promote their demographic growth.

There are considerable differences in the cultural and religious traditions of the East European Karaites.[52] The Crimean Karaites have an association called the «Qrim-Qaraylar», which has branches in most of the large Ukrainian and Crimean cities.[53] The Polish Karaites established the «Karaite Religious Union in Poland» (their last statute was officially acknoweldged by the government in 1974). It seems, however, that there are only three Karaite communities in Eastern Europe strictly speaking (i.e. comparatively large groups of people with common ethnic origin, living in the same place, unified by adhering to the same cultural and religious tradition, and having from time to time common cultural events and festivities): in Eupatoria, Troki, and Wilno.[54]

A logical question arises with regard to the future of Karaite culture, and Karaites as an ethnic entity in Eastern Europe. When I spoke with them, the representatives of the elder generation usually gave me pessimistic answers predicting the vanishing of the Karaites as a separate cultural and ethnic group during the first decades of the twenty-first century. The younger generation, however, often sounded more optimistic. They usually turned my attention to the revival of Karaite religious practice and the Karaim language in Lithuania. Their general opinion was that «they [i.e. scholars, journalists and public] say that we are dead since the beginning of a century; however, we are still alive up till now and we do not have any wish to disappear.»[55]


1.1.4. Karaites in the world today.

Due to the lack of exact statistical data, it is very hard to estimate the precise number of the Karaite community in the world today. However, it appears not to exceed more than 24,000 - 30,000 people. The largest communities are in Israel (where they have a legal status which separates them from other Jews, synagogues, and religious court)[56] and the USA (the largest centers being in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago). In addition to considerable communities in the Crimea, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, there are also small commuities in Turkey, France, and some other countries. Of great interest for anthropologists is the varied nature of the national self-identification of the present-day Karaites: those of Israeli and Egyptian origin consider themselves Jewish, East European (Crimean, Lithuanian and Polish) and French Karaites (of non-Egyptian extraction) believe that they are of Turkic origin, whereas among the Karaites living in Turkey there are followers of both views.[57]


[1]      Readers are reminded that this is just a brief overview of the history of Karaism, with special emphasis put on the history of East European Karaites, the main focus of this work. For more details concerning the history of Polish, Lithuanian, and Crimean Karaites readers are advised to consult such chrestomatical works as Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature. Vol.2: Karaitica (Philadelphia, 1935); Miller, Karaite Separatism; Meir Bałaban, «Karaici w Polsce,» in his Studia Historyczne (Warszawa, 1927), 1-92; concerning Byzantine and Turkish Karaites see Zvi Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium: the Formative Years, 970-1100 (New York-Jerusalem, 1959); Abraham Danon, «The Karaites in European Turkey,» JQR 3 (1925): 285-360; on the Egyptian Karaites see Mourad el-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt (Rochester, 1990); on the Polish-Lithuanian Karaites see Golda Akhiezer and Dan Shapira, «Qaraim be-lita u-ve-vohlin-galitsia ad ha-meah ha-18» [The Karaites in Lithuania and Wohlynia-Galicia until the eighteenth century], Peamim 89 (2002), 19-60; Mikhail Kizilov, «The Arrival of the Karaites (Karaims) to Poland and Lithuania: A Survey of Sources and Critical Analysis of Existing Theories,» Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 12 (2003) (forthcoming).

[2]      Some scholars also connect this name with Hebrew qore, i.e. a «caller» or «propagandist» in the sense of the Arabic word du'at by which the Shiites designated propagandists on behalf of Ali. See Leon Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (New Haven, 1952), xvii; Natan Schur, The Karaite Encyclopedia (Wien,1995), 214.

[3]      These two features, namely, the rejection of the Talmud and a bitter rivalry with more numerous Rabbanite Jews were the two features which attracted close attention of Christian missionaries and theologists, nineteenth century antisemitic Russian administration, scholars, travelers, and men of letters to otherwise rather scanty and insignificant communities of East European Karaites.

[4]      According to some of the Karaite sources, however, the origins of their movements go to much more ancient times, to the period of the king Jeroboam; according to these sources, the real knowledge was discovered by the Tsaddikim («the righteous») and their leader Tsadok, whereas 'Anan was to complete the true understanding of the doctrine. Rabbanite sources, nevertheless, ascribe the beginning of the Karaite schizm to the personal ambitions of 'Anan, whose younger brother 'Anania was appointed exilarch in his stead (Leon Nemoy, «Karaites,» EJ 10, 764-765.

[5]      In the opinion of Zvi Ankori, Karaism in general should be understood and analysed as a «product of Jewish experience under mediæval Islam» (Ankori, Karaites, 3). Consolidation of the 'Ananites and early Karaites, who in fact represented a different movement, initially not a part of 'Ananites, took place in the first half of the eleventh century (Haggai Ben-Shammai, «Between 'Ananites and Karaites,» in Studies in Muslim-Jewish Relations 1 (Oxford, 1993), 24-25.

[6]      The troops of Gotfrid of Bullion, who entered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, forced large part of the Jewish population of the city to the main synagogue and burned it (Danon, «Karaites,» 291).

[7]      See Ankori, Karaites, 86. Ankori’s concept received a severe critique from the Karaite author, Simon Szyszman: «Les Karaites des Byzance,» BEK 3 (1993): 58-62.

[8] Nemoy, «Karaites,» 771.

[9] Anna Sulimowicz, «Karaimi znad Złotego Rogu.» Awazymyz 1 (1989): 9-10.

[10]Ankori, Karaites, 453. The local Karaites claim pre-'Anan origins for their community, referring to the document given to the community by the first Islamic governor of Egypt, ‘Amru ibn al-’Ash in 641 A.D (Mourad El-Kodsi, The Karaite Communities in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Crimea (Lyons, 1993), 4).

[11] Simon Szyszman, «La communaute karaite egyptienne: une fin tragique,» BEK 3 (1993): 81. In fact, Hakham Yosef el-Gamil smuggled this Codex out of Egypt when he left, and it is currently in the posession of the Karaite community in Israel [ed].

[12]    According to Karaite sources, in the 1920s the local community numbered 700 families (around 3.500-5.000 souls): MK 1:3 (1926): 30.

[13]    This according to Szyszman, «Communaute,» 83-84. The author also accused the community’s last president, Elias-Khadr Massouda, of an irresponsible and casual attitude concerning the destiny and cultural heritage of the community (ibid., 83-86).

[14]    Adrian Schenker, «Karaer im Maghreb,» BEK 3 (1993): 9-13; Mann, Texts, 139.

[15]    Schur, Encyclopedia, 267-268; see also Daniel J.Lasker, «Karaism in Twelfth-Century Spain,» in Jewish Thought and Philosophy, vol.1, (1992): 179-195.

[16]    Schur, Encyclopedia, 135-136; El-Kodsi, Communities, 7.

[17]    See MK 1:3 (1926): 30.

[18]    Czacki himself was very sceptical about the veracity of the source of his information: «The notes written by them [the Karaites] or by certain «pólmedrek» [something like «pseudo-scholar»] contain strange historical controverses: e.g. Vitold lived in the XIIIth century; Ladislaus Yagello was the son of the queen Bona, which means that the grandfather was the son of his own grandson» (Tadeusz Czacki, «Rozprawa o Karaitach,» in his Rozprawa o Żydach (Wilno, 1807), 263). On Czacki see more in 1.3.2. of this book.

[19]    Mordekhay Sultanski, Zekher Tsaddikim, ed.S.Poznanski (Warsaw, 1920), 107-109. The work was completed in 1838. Practically the same information with small variations correcting the most obvious historical mistakes was included by Abraham Firkovich in his famous Avne Zikkaron (Wilno, 1872), 251-253.

[20]    See more about it in Jaroslav Stepaniv [Daszkiewicz J], «L’epoque de Danylo Romanovyc d’apres une source Karaite,» HUS 3:2 (1978), 334-373; Mikhail Kizilov, «The Arrival of the Karaites (Karaims) to Poland and Lithuania: A Survey of Sources and Critical Analysis of Existing Theories» (in print); Golda Akhiezer, Dan Shapira, «Karaim be-Lita u-ve-Vohlyn-Galicia ad ha-me’ah ha-18,» Peamim 89 (2002), 19-60.

[21]    See Schur, Encyclopedia, 13-14; Ankori, Karaites, 340-341; Danon, «Karaites,» 294-296; On Aaron ben Joseph ha-Rofe the Elder, one of the most famous Karaite exegets, who was, according to some suggestions, of Crimean origin, see also Daniel Frank, «Ibn Ezra and the Karaite Exegets Aaron ben Joseph and Aaron ben Elijah,» in Abraham Ibn Ezra and his Age: Proceedings of the International Symposium (Madrid, 1990); Daniel J.Lasker, «Aaron ben Joseph and the Transformation of Karaite Thought,» in Torah and Wisdom, R.Link-Salinger (ed.) (NY: Shengold, 1972), 121- 128.

[22]    Late nineteenth - early twentieth century Karaite scholarship, supported by the opinions of some non-Karaite scholars (mostly Turcologists), created a completely different vision of the problem, according to which the Crimean Karaites in fact represented the descendants of the Khazars, converted to the Karaite type of Judaism in the eighths century. This theory, which is still not refuted by the academic world (especially in Poland and Lithuania), however, seems to be much less well-based and argumented than that of those scholars who opposed it and considered the thirteenth century to be much more plausible time for the arrival of the Karaites (Akhiezer, Shapira, «Karaim be-Lita u-ve-Vohlyn-Galicia»).

[23]    The Karaite scholarship usually refers to the presence of the Karaite communities in 32 or 42 settlements of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Abraham Szyszman, «Osadnictwo karaimskie i tatarskie na ziemiach W.Księstwa Litewskiego,» MK 10 (1934), 29, ft.1). This data, undoubtedly, goes back to Firkovich's Avne Zikkaron where the latter counted 32 Karaite settlements in Poland-Lithuania (p.252). Firkovich’s estimation, in spite of its seemingly exaggerated nature, when taking into consideration existence of tiny Karaite communities (2-3 families) living small rural villages, seems to be rather feasible.

[24]    It seems, however, that the Polish-Lithuanian Karaites had been more involved into agricultural activity than their Crimean brethren; hence their less prosperous economic situation in comparison to the wealthy and influential status of the Karaite community of the Crimean Khanate.

[25]    Polish Karaites had especially been damaged by the Cossack pogromists: the Cossacks of Nalivaiko sacked the Karaite shops of Lutsk as early as 1595; in the mid-seventeenth century Cossacks massacred large part of Volynian communities; in the eighteenth century (1768) the communities of this region (Łuck, Kotow, and Derażne) suffered from invasions of Haidamaks (see D.I.Evarnitski, Istoriya zaporozhskikh kozakov [The history of Zaporozhian Cossacks], vol.2 (Kiev, 1990), 103; Sergjusz Rudkowski, Krwawe echo Humania na Wołyniu. Podanie (Łuck, 1932). On the devastative raids of the Cossacks to the Crimea in the seventeenth century see 4.2.1. of this book. One of the most tragic events in the history of the Lithuanian Karaites, was an epidemy of plague, which dwindled the population of Troki in 1710 (Abraham Szyszman, «Osadnictwo karaimskie w Trokach za Wielkich Książąt Litewskich,» MK 11 (1936), 68, ft.71; Szyszman, Karaites d'Europe, 52). Speaking about natural disasters, both Crimean, and Polish-Lithuanian communities often suffered from famine, bad harvests, and conflagrations, which often destroyed not only dwelling quarters, but also precious libraries and manuscripts (e.g. in 1765 the Karaites of Lutsk complained that the fire burned all privileges which had been given to them by the Polish kings (AGAD ASK XLVI, s.18, k.12; devastating conflagrations seriously damaged Karaite dwelling quarters of Halicz in 1913; in 1830 they burned down the local wooden synagogue together with all ancient manuscripts kept there (Bałaban, «Karaici,» 3, 23).

[26]    See Gustav Peringer, Epistola de Karaitarum Rebus in Lithuania (1691); Jacob Trigland, Diatribe de Secta Karaeorum (1703); Johann Christoph Wolf, Notitia Karaeorum (1721); Simon Szyszman, «Gustaf Peringers Mission bei den Karaern,» in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Geselschaft 102:2 (1952), 215-228. Most likely, English millenarians were the first to turn their attention to the Karaites as perspective object for conversion to Christianity; according to some of their thinkers, the Karaites were supposed to play a special and decisive role during the battle of Armageddon (R.H.Popkin, «The Lost Tribes, the Caraites and the English Millenarians,» JJS 37 (1986), 213-227).

[27]    The only exception represented the Karaite community of Halicz (Galich), which became subject to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (see Balaban, «Karaici,» 17-25; Schur, Encyclopedia, 36-37).

[28]    M.S.Kupovetskii, «Dinamika chislennosti i rasselenie karaimov i krymchakov za poslednie dvesti let» [Dynamics of the population and settlement of the Karaites and Qrimchaks during the last 200 years] in Geografiia i kul’tura etnograficheskikh grupp tatar v SSSR (Moscow, 1983), 77.

[29]    Azaria b.Eliah mentioned that «Besides Karaites and Jews living in Karasubazar, there were not any other ra’aya [=non-Muslim subjects] left in the Crimea» (Azaria ben Eliah, «Sobytiia sluchivshiiesia v Krymu v tsarstvovanie Shagin-Girey-khana,» transl. by A.Firkovich [Events happened in the Crimea during the rule of Shagin Girey Khan], KZh 5-6 (1911), 76). The complete Hebrew original of this highly interesting source is being prepared for the publication by Golda Akhiezer (Israel); see also her M.A.dissertation submitted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1999: Events happened in the Crimea during the rule of Shagin Girey Khan: Historical Chronicle from the 18th century by the Karaite Azaria ben Eliah (in Hebrew).

[30]    See detailed analysis of these events in Miller, Separatism. At the same time the Rabbanite Jews were severely oppressed and humiliated while being recruited to the army, paying a heavy double taxation, not allowed to enter institutions of higher education et alia.

[31] Sbornik starinnykh gramot i uzakonenii Rossiiskoi imperii kasatel’no prav i sostoianiia russko-poddannykh karaimov [Collection of the old charters and statutes of the Russian Empire regarding rights and status of the Russian subjects Karaites], Z.A. Firkovich (ed.) (St. Petersburg 1890), 89. Zaria Avra’amovich (Zerah ben Abraham) Firkovich, the son of Abraham Firkovich, the editor of this collection of the Karaite charters, was correctly rebuked by Yulii Gessen in not always objective and consequent treatment of these documents (Yulii Gessen, «Bor’ba karaimov g.Trok s evreyami» [The struggle between the Troki Karaites and Jews], Evreyskaia starina 4:3 (1910), 579, ft.1).

[32] I.e. it became more than three times larger! According to the census of 1897 there were 6166 Karaites in Tavricheskaya guberniya, 1383 in Poland-Lithuania, 5345 in other parts of Russia (including Siberia and Middle Asia). The largest were the communities of the following towns: Eupatoria – 1505, Theodosia – 1233, Odessa – 1049, Sevastopol’ – 813, Simferopol’ – 709, Nikolaev – 554, Troki – 377, Wilno – 155. According to the data of Tavricheskoe gubernskoe zemstvo (a kind of local government) in 1907 there were already 8683 Karaites in Tavricheskaya guberniya (Veniamin Sinani, «K statistike karaimov (po perepisi 1897 g.)» [On the statistics of the Karaites according to the census of 1897], KZh 1 (1911): 30-31, 36).

[33]    It followed from this statement that the Karaites could not be blamed for the crucifixion and participating in the composition of the Talmud: the defensive mechanism that had often been employed by small Jewish communities at the time of Christian persecutions (see more in Conclusion, 5.3.).

[34]    More about the Karaite theories concerning their Khazar origin see in 'Ananiasz Zajączkowski, Karaims in Poland (La Haye-Paris-Warsaw, 1961).

[35]    Official Karaite circles stated that there was about 1.500 Karaites in Poland (AAN MWRiOP 1464, k.22). However, archival documents would report us much smaller number of Karaites-citizens of Poland in the 1920s: Luck - about 65 souls, Halicz - 150, Troki - 203, Wilno - 127, i.e. 552 altogether (see AAN MWRiOP 1466, k.28-29, 118, 167). Even when taking into consideration that during 1920s some of the local Karaites had still been migrating to Poland from Russia, and adding a small Lithuanian community of Poniewiez (around a hundred persons), we would hardly get more than 700 - 900 Karaites.

[36]    See Seraja Szapszal, Karaimy i Chufut-Kale v Krymu [Karaites and Chufut-Kale in the Crimea] (Simferopol’ 1993, reprint of St.Petersburg edition of 1896), 11.

[37]    The term very successfully coined by Roman Freund in his Karaites and Dejudaization (Acta Universitas Stockholmiensis. 1991. - 30).

[38]    I heard Polish-Lithuanian Karaites often grudging about the pagan practices and the so-called «cult of sacred oaks» practiced by the Crimean Karaites in the Jehosaphath valley.

[39]    Schur, Encyclopedia, 77.

[40]    YIVO archives, Berlin Collection, Occ E, 3, Box 100, letter dated January 5, 1939.

[41]    Alexander Fuki, Karaimy – synovia i docheri Rosii [Karaites – sons and daughters of Russia] (Moscow, 1995), 57-146.

[42]    See Warren P. Green, «The Nazi Racial Policy toward the Karaites», Soviet Jewish Affairs 8 (1978): 36-44; Philip Friedman, «The Karaites Under Nazi Rule», in On the Track of Tyranny, ed. by Max Beloff (London, 1960), 97-123; Schur, Encyclopedia, 137-138; Emanuela Trevisan Semi, «L'oscillation ethnique: le cas des Caraites pendant la seconde guerre mondiale», Revue de l'Histoire des Religions 206 (1989): 377-398; the same, «The Image of the Karaites in Nazi and Vichy France Documents,» JJoS 32:2 (1990), 81-93; R.H. Weisberg Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France (New York, 1996), 68-75 et alia. Detailed analysis of this problem would be carried out by Mikhail Kizilov in his forthcoming doctoral dissertation on the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Karaites in the twentieth century (Graduate School for Social Research, Warsaw).

[43]    Some of the Karaites left Russia with retreating German armies in 1944 (Schur, Encyclopedia, 137-138). Some died during the drastic events of the war («Pamięci tych, co odeszli,» MK s.n.1 (1946): 139-141). Several tens of the Karaites are said to be deported from the Crimea in May, 1944, together with a number of other ethnic groups which inhabited the Crimean peninsula who were accused of collaboration with the Nazis: Lebedeva, Ocherki, the page of the book cover which follows the page 116; this page is absent in the recent re-edition of the book.

[44]    See Schur, Encyclopedia, 77, 89.

[45]    In 1945, according to the agreement between the Poland and USSR, Polish population of the former Polish lands was allowed to emigrate to Poland; see more about the emigration of the Lutsk community in Anna Dubińska, «Garść danych o Karaimach z Łucka,» Awazymyz 2 (3) (1999): 9-11.

[46]    According to Karaite sources, the Soviet officials were unwilling to do this because of the fact that the Karaites had been settled down there a long time ago, by Grand Duke Vitold. In fact, however, the Lithuanian Karaites were not allowed to emigrate because local administration knew them to be Karaites, not Poles. More about the Polish-Lithuanian Karaites in post war period see in Anna Sulimowicz, «Życie społecznosci karaimskiej w Polsce,» RM 3:2 (1994): 47-50; Bogusław Firkowicz, «Ogniska karaimskie po latach,» RM 4:3 (1995): 87-89.

[47]    The Wrocław Karaites gathered for the services in one of the private houses under the guidance of Rafał Abkowicz, called sometimes «Ostatni Hazzan» («the last Hazzan») (see about him «Wspomnienie,» Awazymyz 1 (2) (1999): 4-5; M. Boltryk, «Ostatni Hazzan,» Kontrasty 5 (May 1986): 6-9.). In Troki, similarly, for certain period the Karaites could secretly perform services in the local synagogue-kenese, but then it was forbidden more strictly.

[48]    From numerous publications I will restrict myself only to mentioning the most important periodicals: Coś (underground periodical of Polish Karaites. Published in 1979; only two issues. Editor Marek Firkowicz. Computer editing, restricted number of copies); Awazymyz (Computer edited periodical of Polish Karaites, restricted number of copies. Four issues (1 - 1989; 2, 3, 4 - 1999-2000). Ed. board A.Sulimowicz, M.Firkowicz, M.Abkowicz); Karaimskie Vesti (newspaper of the Russian Karaites), and Karaimskaia Entsiklopedia (published on the money of the converted to Christianity French Karaite maecenas M.S.Sarach series of books on the history of the Karaites, denying all Jewish links and «proving» ancient Altai and Mongol-Turkic roots of the East European Karaites).

[49]    In spite of such optimistic news, a careful observer can not help noticing the consequences of the endogenous dejudaizatory processes the East European Karaites had come through: all links to Judaism and Jewish civilazation are denied, there is hardly any tendency to revive the knowledge of Hebrew (in which their ancestors had been so excellent and prolific); moreover, some of the Crimean Karaites tend to substitute the religion of their forefathers by pagan practices and cult of Turkic deity Tengri. Of interest is that Alexei/Avraham Kefeli (a Karaite of the Crimean origin, present-day hazzan in the Ashdod community) whilst visiting Crimea in the Summer, 2002, together with two other Israeli Karaites, distributed a leaflet entitled «Karaimy. Razjasnitelnaya broshura» (Ashdod, 2002) which challenged all the East European Karaites not to believe in pseudo-theories concerning their Turkic origins and return to their roots, both religious, cultural and ethnic – a revolutionary statement which had not been said by any East European Karaite since Szapszal’s times (see more in 5.3.).

[50]    El-Kodsi, Communities, 13-19.

[51]    One of the recent publications, based on oral report of the Karaite informants, mentioned the number of 700 souls in the Crimea (A.Mashtchenko, «Edinstvennaia v SNG deistvuiushchaya kenasa» [The only functioning kenasa in the CIS], Krymskoe vremia. 8.02.2001). In our opinion, however, it is even smaller, around 5-6 hundred souls.

[52]    See above about the attempts to substitute traditional Karaite religious practices with shamanistic Turkic-Mongol cult in the Crimea. Polish-Lithuanian Karaites usually with deep regret referred to these half-pagan views of their Crimean brethren.

[53] According to Alexei/Avraham Kefeli, in 2001 there also appeared an association «Qrim-Qaraylar» in Netania (Israel) (Kefeli, Karaimy, 2).

[54]    Other communities seem to be too small and dispersed, devoid of places of worship. One of the Polish Karaites said to me that, in her opinion, the only thing which joined Polish Karaites, was Warsaw Karaite cemetery, the only place where they had been used to gather and perform some sort of religious rituals. One of the most the most interesting and traditional Karaite communities in Eastern Europe, that of Halicz/Galich (Western Ukraine), consists nowadays of only 5 elderly persons.

[55]    One can compare the impressions which I received in the course of my contacts with Crimean, Polish and Lithuanian Karaites with the data retrieved by Iwona Koszewska, and Waldemar Koszewski, Karaimi Polscy. Struktura ekologiczna-społeczna mniejszości etnicznej i religijnej (Warsaw, 1991), 59-61.

[56]    Nehemia Meyers, «Israel’s 30,000 Karaites follow Bible, not Talmud,» Jewish Bulletin. 10.12.1999, 1a, 49a; the number of 30.000 Israeli Karaites is said to be overestimated.

[57]    More about the present-day state of the Karaite cominities in various countries of the world see Dan Ross, Acts of Faith. A Journey to the Fringes of Jewish Identity (New York, 1982), 120-142; Schur, Encyclopedia, 77; Daniel J. Lasker., «Karaites: Developments (1970-1988),» in EJ Year Book (1988/1989), 366-367, Emanuela Trevisan Semi, «The Pasha Karaite Meal and the Process of Transformation of Contemporary Lithuanian Karaism,» in Nemzetiseg-Identitas (Debrecen, 1991): 398-402; the same, «A Brief Survey of Present-Day Karaite Communities in Europe,» JJoS 33:2 (1991): 97-106; El-Kodsi, Communities; Irena Jaroszyńska, «Skupiska karaimskie poza Polską,» in Karaimi. III Pieniężnieńskie spotkania z religiami (Materiały z sessii naukowej), ed.A.Dubiński (Pieniężno, 1987), 51-54.

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