Ask the Karaite: Karaite FAQ
(Frequently Asked Questions)
What do Karaites believe?
What does the name Karaites (Karaim) mean?
Karaite is an Anglicized form of the Hebrew word Karaim or Bnei Mikra, which means "Followers of Scripture".
Do Karaites accept the entire Hebrew Bible?
Do Karaites believe in the New Testament?
Do Karaites accept the Oral Law/ Talmud?
If you interpret the Bible then don't you have your own Oral Law?
No. An Oral Law would imply that we claim that a given set of interpretations were bestowed upon us through a prophecy which was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Not only do we not make such a claim, but we believe that every interpretation must stand up to the same objective scrutiny, regardless of its source.
How can you have a community if everybody interprets the Bible themselves?
This is only a problem if we start off with intolerance. Karaites have learned to have tolerance of greatly varying interpretations as long as they are derived from sound principles of Biblical exegesis and only based on the Tanach. The reason for this tolerance is that we know that it is more important to do the right and moral thing than to do the same thing as everyone else.
Why don't Karaites accept the Oral Law/ Talmud?
Do Karaites believe in Jesus?
Didn't Anan ben David found Karaism in the 8th century?
No. Anan ben David was a political leader who convinced the Muslim authorities not to allow the Rabbanites to continue persecuting those Jews who believed in the exclusive authority of the Tanach.
Are Karaites and Sadducees the same thing?
We know very little about the beliefs of the Sadducees. We do know however that like the Karaites they believed only in the authority of the Tanach and rejected the Oral Law.
Does this mean Karaite don't believe in Reward and Punishment or the Final Resurrection of the Dead?
These doctrines are attributed to the Sadducees by their enemies and it is difficult to reconstruct the precise Sadducee view on these subjects. All Karaites believe in Reward and Punishment and most Karaites believe in the Final Resurrection as described in Daniel 12,2: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
Do Karaites follow the Jewish Calendar?
Yes. It is the Rabbis who do not follow the calendar given to the People of Israel in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible). For more information see:
Do Karaites observe the Biblical holidays according to the New Moon?
How do Karaites determine New Years?
Based on the ripening of the barley crops in the Land of Israel, as commanded in the Torah, see: http://www.karaite-korner.org/abib.shtml
Do Karaites observe the Biblical holidays according to the Abib (Barley)?
Where in the Bible does it say the holidays should be observed according to the Abib (Barley)?
Are the names Bul, Ethanim, and Ziv (Zif) original Israelite month names?
No. First of all, the months Bul, Ziv, and Ethanim are not mentioned anywhere in the Torah, so we know from the start that these are not the Torah month names. In contrast, the Torah itself assigns a number to each month, starting with the first New Moon after the barley becomes Abib. For example, First Month, Second Month, Third Month, etc. (see Ex 12,2; Lev 23; Nu 28-29).
The names Bul, Ziv, and Ethanim only appear 4 times and only in the the Book of Kings. All 4 references to these month names are in the account of Solomon's relation with the Phoenicians and their assistance with the construction of the Temple (1Ki 6,1.37.38; 8,2). In all likelihood these names are foreign month names, possibly of Phoenician origin (see below). In fact, in 3 of the 4 instances in which they appear, the Biblical text goes out of its way to translate them into Torah month names with the formula:
"in the month [Foreign name], which is the [Torah name] month."
Thus we read, "in the month Ziv, which is the second month", "in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month", "in the month Bul, which is the eighth month". The one instance in which the Phoenician month name is not translated is that of the 2nd appearance of Ziv (Zif), which had already been translated earlier in the same chapter.
That these are Phoenician month names is confirmed by the fact that the name Yerah Bul (Month of Bul) has been found in Phoenician inscriptions and Bul has been found in Palmyran (also a Canaanite people) inscriptions as the name of one of their gods. Although the names Ziv and Ethanim have not been preserved in Phoenician inscriptions, from the Biblical text it is clear that all three names are part of the same calendary system and if we know that Bul is a Phoenician name it is likely that Ziv and Ethanim also are. Either way, they are clearly not Torah month names.
Do Karaites wear Tzitzit (Fringes)?
But don't Karaites hang their Tzitzit on the wall of the Synagogue?
No. This is a Rabbanite lie. See: http://www.karaite-korner.org/tzitzit.shtml
Do Karaites have blue (Techelet) in their Tzitzit (Fringes)?
Did the Karaites rediscover the special dye for making blue in Tzitzit?
The Torah does not specify what dye the blue strand in the Tzitzit must be made from. Most blue dyes are suitable.
How do Karaites know how to make the special knots in Tzitzit if the Bible doesn't tell us how?
The Bible describes Tzitzit as having chain-/ braid-like (plait-like) designs. See: http://www.karaite-korner.org/tzitzit.shtml
Do Karaites put a Mezuzah on their door-posts?
Do Karaites wear Tefillin (phylacteries)?
But I thought Karaites wear Tefillin between their eyes?
This is not true. See: http://www.karaite-korner.org/tefillin.shtml.
How can Karaites know how to make Tefillin if the written Torah doesn't tell us how?
We can not know how to make Tefillin from the Torah because Tefillin were only invented by the Rabbis 1500 years after the Torah was given. The Torah commands us to treasure the commandments as jewels, not to strap leather amulets onto our heads and arms.
What Bible translations are used by Karaites?
It is a religious imperative to read the Bible in the original Hebrew and Aramaic. Those who can not do so, are encouraged tolearn as much Hebrew as they can. Until this is done we recommend the New JPS Translation of the Tanach. As with any translation, this translation must be used with the utmost caution and should be accompanied by a good Bible Lexicon such as BDB and a good Bible concordance such as Mandelkorn (Hebrew) or Even Shoshan (Hebrew), or for those who cannot read Hebrew Strong's Concordance.
Who is a Jew? Matrilineal or Patrilneal?
Most Karaites believe in patrilineal descent, meaning that if your father is Jewish than you are Jewish. This is based primarily on the fact that all descent in the Bible goes according to the male line. Some Karaites believe that both parents must be Jewish. However, anyone who 1) is circumcised [males only], 2) accepts the God of Israel [YHWH] as their own God, and 3) accepts the People of Israel as their own people is a full-fledged Jew [Israelite], see Exodus 12,43-49 and Ruth 1,16.
Do Karaites eat milk and meat together?
Yes. While there is a Biblical prohibition not to boil a young goat or sheep in its mother's milk, there is no such prohibition against eating milk and meat together.
If Karaites can accept any interpretation of the Bible than why not just accept the Rabbinic interpretation?
Choosing a correct interpretation is not a matter of arbitrarily picking between several equal options but requires intense study to discover the strengths and weeknesses of each argument. In the end the individual must make a decision based on their conscience and understanding. The problem with Rabbinic "interpretation" is that the Rabbis employ so-called "Midrashic" methods of interpretation, which deviate from the plain meaning of the text. A valid interpretation must fit the plain meaning of the text and be consistent with the rules of grammar and the context of the passage.
Rabbinical exegesis routinely takes passages out of context and ignores the nature of the Hebrew language. For example, the Talmud teaches that when someone makes a vow to be a Nazir without specifying the time span, they must remain a Nazir for 30 days. The time span of 30 days is derived from the Gematria (numerological) value of the word "YiHYeH" ('he will be [a Nazir]') which appears in the command of Nazir. This is an interpretation divorced from all linguistic reality and logic and which ignores the context of the words.
Another example is the prohibition not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. The Rabbis somehow read into this very straightforward commandment the fictitious prohibition of eating milk and meat together. They start with the observation that the prohibition itself appears three times. They then argue that each time it appears it comes to teach a different rule (even though the wording is identical!!!). The real reason that the prohibition appears three times is because the Torah was given over a period of forty years and records prophetic revelations, which came to Moses at different times. Furthermore, the Torah was intended to be read aloud to the People of Israel on Sukkot every seventh year and the repetition was intended to help the people remember the laws. The Rabbinic interpretation ignores the actual words of the commandments and takes the Torah itself out of context.
What was the Karaite date for Yom Kippur in 1844?
How can I convert to Karaism?
See Conversion Faq
What is the role of women in Karaism?
Women have equal status to men in Karaism. When the Torah commanded that the entire nation come to hear the Torah read in a public reading on Sukkot every seventh year, it explicitly mentioned that both men and women were required to come and learn the Torah. Women have an equal obligation to keep the commandments and study the Tanach. There are some laws that apply specifically to men (such as circumcision) just as there are some laws that apply specifically to women (such as laws regarding menstruation). Women have equal standing and participation in prayer services and as spiritual leaders. In the 10th century, the leader of the prominent and powerful Karaite community of Spain was a woman whom the Karaites referred to as "The Teacher" [al-Mualema].
Do Karaites bring sacrifices today?
Karaites do not bring sacrifices today in the absence of the Temple. Even those sacrifices which can be offered outside the Temple, such as the Passover sacrifice, can not be brought today because most people are Tame Met (ritually impure from coming into contact with a dead body or grave). In order, to bring the Passover sacrifice we will need to perform the ceremony of purification through the ashes of the Red Heifer which entails certain technical difficulties which we are working to overcome (see Nu 19,1-22). Specifically, we need two Kohanim who have never come into contact with a dead body or a grave and who can prove their lineage (see Ezra 2,61-63). Any Kohanim who can prove their genealogy as described in the aforementioned Biblical passage are asked to contact us (even if they have come into contact with dead bodies or graves).
Do Karaites sacrifice the Paschal lamb on Mount Gerizim every year?
No. That is the Samaritans, not the Karaites. The Samaritans believe in the holiness of Mt. Gerizim while Karaites believe in the holiness of Jerusalem. The Samaritans believe only in the Torah while the Karaites believe in the entire Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh). The Samaritan Torah has minor differences from the Jewish Torah. Karaites accept the same Torah as all other Jews and in fact it was Karaites scribes who preserved the Torah used today by all Jews. The Samaritans bring the Passover sacrifice on Mt. Gerizim every year while Karaites do not currently bring sacrifices, because we do not have the ashes of the Red Heifer to purify ourselves (it is a great sin to bring a sacrifice while ritually impure).
Comparison of Karaites, Samaritans, and Rabbanites
Jerusalem is the Chosen Place
Mt. Gerizim is the chosen place
Jerusalem is the Chosen Place
Tanach + "Oral Torah"
No sacrifices today
Passover sacrifice today
No sacrifices today
Biblical New Moon/ Abib calendar
Inaccurate pre-calculated calendar
Inaccurate pre-calculated calendar
Founded c.1500 BCE
Founded c.721 BCE
Founded c.200 BCE