The Oral Tradition is the explanation that elucidates and directs how to fulfill the 613 commandments written in the Torah.
The strongest proof to the Oral Tradition’s existence is the fact that many of the Written Torah’s commandments are not comprehensible without the oral explanations that were passed down from generation to generation together with the Written Torah. Here are several examples among hundreds:
(1) Nowhere in the Torah does it state which actions are forbidden to be done on the Shabbat, even though the Torah says that violating the Shabbos incurs the death penalty!
(2) Nowhere in the Torah does it state what “no man shall leave his place on the seventh day” means.
(3) Nowhere in the Torah does it state how one marries or divorces or what a “divorce document” is.
(4) Nowhere in the Torah does it state how to slaughter an animal (shechita). The Torah only commands to slaughter an animal “as I instructed you.”
(5) Nowhere in the Torah does it explain what is a mezuza and what is written in it. The verse only says cryptically “you shall write on the lintels of your house.”
(6) Nowhere in the Torah does it state what is “tzitzit” and how it looks.
Actually, none of the Torah’s commandments are sufficiently described in the Torah to enable their practical fulfillment. The Torah’s commandments are similar to an allegory and a table of contents. The Torah brings numerous commandments, but doesn’t provide practical details or explanations of how to fulfill them in practice.
I think it’s obvious that when Moses our Teacher came down from Mt. Sinai with a list of the 613 commandments, the people probably asked him a few simple questions: “What are tzitzit? How does one make a mezuza? How does one write a ”divorce document”? How does one get married? What’s the meaning of “no man shall leave his place on the seventh day?” “Can one prepare a fire before Shabbat to stay lit on Shabbat?” “What actions are forbidden on Shabbat?” etc. etc. Can anyone imagine Moses our Teacher telling the people, “Take a guess! Figure it out yourselves!”
A good example occurs in the section about the man who gathered wood on Shabbat (Numbers, Chapter 15). The Israelites were commanded to give the death penalty to the Shabbat violator, but they weren’t yet told how to implement it. Moses and the Israelites didn’t for a second think to interpret the law according to their own understanding. Moses waited and asked G-d how to kill the wood gatherer. Or to say it in other words, the Israelites were not Samaritans/Karaites who arrogate to themselves the ability to interpret the Torah, but they asked God to tell them how to fulfill His commandments.
[By the way, the fact that the Jewish people knew that the wood gatherer had transgressed Shabbat by doing work on it, is itself an additional proof to the Oral Tradition. The Torah doesn’t explain which acts are forbidden on Shabbat; so how did they know that the wood gatherer had transgressed Shabbat? Who would have conceived that gathering wood is one of the acts forbidden to be done on Shabbat?]
The need to detail the Torah’s 613 commandments proves that in addition to giving the Written Torah, Moses also had to provide the Israelites a more elaborate explanation of how to fulfill them. This explanation was transmitted by the sages and rabbinical leaders from generation to generation and was first put into writing about 2000 years ago by Rabbi Judah the Prince in the Six Orders of the Mishna. It was later elucidated in greater detail in the 40 tractates of the Talmud upon which all Jewish law has been based in every generation.
For more information on this important topic see the following:
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From where did the sects come who opposed the Oral Tradition?
Over history, four sects arose that claimed to fulfill the commandments straight from Scripture without need for additional explanations, with each one of them understanding the same commandments in a different way.
(1) Samaritans, (2) Sadducees, (3) Boethusians, (4) Karaites.
There were other smaller sects, but they left almost no record behind (Essenes for example).
Most of these sects arose during turbulent periods in Jewish history, when governments switched hands, and groups in the Jewish people arose who opposed the authority of the sages. During the period of the Second Temple (150 years B.C.E.) two sects broke off from rabbinical Judaism (the sages and their followers were called Porushim in those times). During that period, there were decrees forcing the Jews to apostatize and hellenize until the Hasmoneans rebelled against the government in power.
The following are the beliefs and customs of the most well known of these groups, according to their appearance in history:
1) The Samaritans: they number today approximately 800 people, located in Nablus and primarily in Holon.
The Samaritans claim to be the descendants of ancient Jewish tribes [in the 16th century, the community claimed to number only 200 Samaritans!]. Historically, the Samaritans are mentioned only in Talmudic sources. The sages identified the Samaritans as an alien people who had partly converted and had been exiled to the Land of Israel by King Sennacherib of Assyria. The Talmud calls the Samaritans “Kuthites” after their city of origin in Iraq from where they were exiled to Samaria in about 720 B.C.E. The Samaritans identify themselves as the descendants of ancient Jewish tribes and claim that they are not converts but “pure Jews” who had been exiled to Assyria.
The Samaritans denied the Oral Tradition and chose to keep commandments according to their simple Scriptural meaning. As opposed to other sects, the Samaritans only accept Scriptures (the Five Books of Moses = Torah) and repudiate the books of the Prophets and Writings (Nach). The Samaritans believe in the immortality of the soul and claim that the Temple should be built on Mt. Gerizim (next to Nablus) instead of Jerusalem.
The Jews had a major conflict with the Samaritans during the days of Ezra and Nechemiah, when the Jews were building the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Jews did not view the Samaritans as genuine converts, they did not allow them to participate in its construction. When the Kuthites tried to fight the Jewish people and kill Nechemiah, Zerubabel and Ezra excommunicated them: it was even prohibited to eat a Kuthite’s bread, and they were denied conversion to Judaism. The Samaritans did not participate in the Great Revolt and Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans.
Jewish law deals extensively with how to relate to the Samaritans. The Talmud mentions that the Samaritans were very particular concerning the few commandments which they accepted upon themselves, and even “kept them more stringently than Jews.” (Kiddushin 5a). However, the Kuthites deny the majority of the commandments as well as the Oral Tradition, and claim that Scriptures should be understood according to its simple meaning. Today, the Samaritans are on the verge of extinction.
2) The Sadducees. They are no longer extant.
Our sages identified the sect of the Sadducees with its founder who was called Tzadok (Sadoq). He was one of the students of Antigonus Ish Socho. The Sadducees seceded from rabbinic Judaism when they denied the Oral Tradition and decided to interpret the Bible literally. They left behind no writings.
There are historians who identify the Sadducees with the banished family of priests descended from Tzadok the Priest who had defected from the Jewish people. The historian from antiquity, Josephus Flavius, described the Sadducees in his books as being similar to the Essenes sect in their laws and customs. They had unique customs in their marriage laws. The Sadducees segregated themselves from their Jewish brothers and kept separate from them. Historically, it appears that the Sadducees were rich and close to the Greek rulers, while the rabbinical leaders (the Porushim) opposed Greek tyranny and were known for their personal modesty and non-materialistic way of life. The body of the Jewish people chose to obey the Porushim and keep a distance from the Sadducees.
The Talmudic sources describe the Sadducees as not believing in the immortality of the soul (life after death). Christian sources bring that the Sadducees negated the existence of angels. The Sadducees accepted the Bible and rejected the majority of the Oral Tradition, but not all of it. The Sadducees interpreted the verse “eye for an eye” according to its literal meaning. Since the Sadducees didn’t believe in the immortality of the soul or reward or punishment, this pushed them to hedonism and the constant pursuit of earthly pleasures. We know that they opposed the ceremony of the “Pouring out of Water” on Sukkot, the laws of the eruv, and the expression “according to the law of Moses and Israel” in their divorce documents.
The Sadducees disappeared after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Mishna, the outline of the Oral Tradition, was codified by Rabbi Judah the Prince about 130 years later, at the beginning of the third century C.E.
3) The Boethusians. They are no longer extant.
Historically, it appears that the Boethusians appeared (or became more powerful) 150 years after the Sadducees came into existence during the Second Temple period. Some believe that the Boethusians became more powerful only due to the disappearance of the Sadducees after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Boethusians also split off of rabbinical Judaism, and also opposed the Oral Tradition.
The sages identified the Boethusians with the founder of the sect who was called “Boethus.” Historians identify the Boethusians with the descendants of an ancient priestly family which separated from the Jewish people and lived in Alexandria. The Tosefta also mentions a priestly family called “Beit Baithus” which was described as money-hungry and vilified for extorting the people’s money.
In contrast to the Sadducees, the Boethusians were more interested in Scriptures and less involved in politics. They did not segregate themselves from the rest of the Jewish people. The Boethusians denied reward and punishment in the Hereafter, as well as the revival of the dead. In contrast to the Sadducees, the Boethusians did not sweepingly oppose the Oral Tradition, but only the authority of the rabbis. They chose to observe commandments based on a literal reading of Scriptures as they understood it. The Boethusians became extinct as quickly as they had come into being and left behind no writings.
4) The Karaite sect: About 50,000 people around the world, mostly in Ramla and Jerusalem.
Hundreds of years after the Sadducees and Boethusians became extinct, another schism broke off from rabbinical Judaism which was called Karaism. The founder of the sect was Anan ben David, a member of the Davidic dynasty who was born in Babylonia (about 800 C.E.), who decided to oppose rabbinical Judaism. He wrote a book which he called “Book of Commandments” in which he interpreted the commandments according to the literal Scriptural text as he understood it. His interpretations of Scripture often seem today irrational and remote from the literal text. The sages mention in Talmudic sources that Anan was originally part of the mainstream Babylonian Jewish society and was even a Torah scholar, but the rabbis viewed him as haughty and lacking in fear of G-d so they appointed his brother, Chaninai, as the Exilarch to lead the Jewish community instead of him.
Out of anger at not being appointed the leader of the community, Anan approached 14 Sadducee sects that were at the verge of extinction, and gathered them together into one “Anan” sect which openly repudiated the Oral Tradition and the rabbinical leadership. Anan was imprisoned as a traitor to the government and was only released when he declared he was not a member of the rabbinic community. Historical sources mention that Anan traveled to Egypt and disseminated his religion among the Egyptian communities until he had formed an “Ananite” sect.
Some historians claim that the Ananites became or developed over the years into the Karaite sect. Anan became famous for his axiom “Search in the Torah and don’t rely on my opinion” which implies that one can individually understand the commandments from the literal meaning of Scriptures without any oral tradition. However, historians and Karaites are divided concerning whether Anan founded Karaism or only strengthened it during a certain period. Historically, Karaites do not appear in any historical source, not even in the Talmudic sources, but only much after the Sadducees and Boethusians and even the Ananites became extinct.
As opposed to the early sects, Karaites believe in the immortality of the soul, the coming of the Messiah and the revival of the dead. The Karaites adopted various customs which they call “the Yoke of Inheritance” which are frequently identical to rabbinical laws, based on their claim that there is nothing wrong with adopting a custom as long as it doesn’t contradict Scripture. For instance, the Karaites in Israel celebrate bar mitzvahs and calling a boy to read the Torah at the age of 13 (as opposed to the early Karaite view that every person reaches maturity at a different age). The Karaites based their practice of animal slaughter and performing circumcision (which the Scriptural text does not explain how to do) on such “customs”. Likewise, praying in the synagogue (which is almost the same as in Jewish synagogues), and practices such as going barefoot in a synagogue (due to the place’s holiness), wearing a head-covering in a synagogue, and other rabbinic laws which they keep even though they don’t follow the Oral Tradition.
Today, about 40,000 Karaites live in Israel, and about another 10,000 in the rest of the world. There are 11 Karaite houses of worship in Israel. The Karaite sect, as a minority in Israel, was always reluctant about accepting rabbinical Jews into their society. As one of the Karaite leaders explained, “We are a lake and they are the ocean. What will happen if the dam breaks?”
The Karaites, as opposed to the Samaritans, are considered halachic Jews by rabbinical Judaism. However, since they are deniers of the Oral Tradition and didn’t follow rabbinical divorce laws, there is a question of whether their community has mamzerut status (a bastard born from an adulterous union which is proscribed from marrying a Jew). Jewish law discusses Karaites who want to return to rabbinical Judaism.
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While all these sects denied the Oral Tradition, each sect invented its own creative interpretation of Scriptures.
Historically, all sects who denied the Oral Tradition in the end splintered from rabbinic Judaism.
Even though they all claim to believe in the literal meaning of Scripture, each of these sects understood Scripture, Jewish law, and the Jewish calendar in a way completely different from the others. Likewise for fundamentals of faith. If that is not enough, the various sects dispute Scripture’s meaning even among themselves, and every generation changed the Scriptural meaning concerning certain laws, frequently contradicting those of their predecessors.
Laws of immorality, Niddah, and marriage:
Genesis relates: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they will be one flesh.” The ancient Karaites understood this to mean that as soon as a man marries his wife, all the relatives of the husband and the wife become blood relatives who are forbidden to marry each other. (This chain consaguinity was termed by the Karaites “richuv b’arayot.”) This law almost caused the extinction of the Karaites until modern Karaites came to the conclusion that this interpretation of the verse was a mistake that “added to the Torah’s words” and annulled it.
Karaites see no need for use of a mikvah and believe it is sufficient to take a shower in water (or any other source of flowing water).
Laws of divorce:
The Karaites’ laws of divorce treats a husband and a wife equally, besides the husband’s obligation to give the divorce document (get) to his wife. By the 19th century, and particularly in cases where the husband refused to give his wife a get, the Karaites decided to change this explicit law in the Torah, and their religious court now has the jurisdiction to give the get to the wife instead of the husband.
Danger to life on Shabbat:
The Karaites in the past ruled that even danger to life does not waive Shabbat observance. They reasoned that if the law requires the death penalty by stoning for non-observance of Shabbat, this proves that keeping Shabbat is more important than life itself. With the passage of time, the Karaites changed their view and decided that danger to life requires waiving observance of Shabbat, because of the Scriptural verse (as cited in rabbinical Judaism) “you shall live in them.” (Lev. 18:5)
Fire on Shabbat:
The ancient Karaites forbad leaving a lit fire on before Shabbat and they remained in the dark throughout the Shabbat, without light, without heating in the winter and without even hot food. Beginning in the 11th century, the Karaites permitted leaving a fire on to provide light.
The Samaritans leave one source of light lit on Shabbat, don’t leave any fire open on Shabbat, and don’t use electricity or a Shabbat clock to put the electricity on.
Not leaving on Shabbat
Most of the ancient Karaites forbad leaving the house on Shabbat, because of the verse, “No man may leave his place on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29) They also believe that this verse forbids taking items outside of the house on Shabbat. Over the generations, the Karaites permitted leaving the house on Shabbat for the purpose of praying in their synagogue. Today, the Karaites allow leaving the house for any purpose and many of them understand the prohibition as referring to not going beyond a distance of 2000 cubits [which is the rabbinical interpretation].
Cohabitation on Shabbat
Karaites forbid until today cohabiting on Shabbat based on a bizarre interpretation of the verse (Ex. 34:21), “Six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing and in harvest you shall rest.” Some Karaites define intimate relations on Shabbat as something unholy and therefore forbidden on Shabbat.
The Karaites do not perform priah, peeling back the foreskin, which is an essential part of circumcision according to Jewish law. The ancient Karaites also forbad performing circumcision on Shabbat. The Samaritans do the same.
The Karaites claim that every person matures at his own pace. Despite that, the Karaites in Israel have adopted the rabbinically-mandated bar-mitzvah as a custom, and they make a bar-mitzvah ceremony for every 13 year old boy, in contradiction of the original Karaite view.
The Samaritans perform a “signing the Torah” ceremony at the age of seven.
Meat and milk
The Karaites permit eating meat and milk together. They understand the prohibition of “don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19, 34:26) as a law referring to cooking an animal and its offspring together rather than a Scriptural law forbidding Jews to eat a mixture of meat and milk. I found that the Samaritans rely on all meat that has rabbinical certification. Most Karaites do the same but a few of them have set up their own meat certification.
In conversations I held with Samaritans, I heard that they were particular not to eat meat and milk together and even wait four hours between eating meat and milk. When I asked them from where their community received these detailed laws which are not mentioned in Scripture (and which suspiciously sound like rabbinical law) they had no answer for me, and only reiterated that that’s how they understand the literal meaning of Scripture.
Law of retaliation (lex talionis)
The Karaites and the Samaritans understand this law literally, that one must gouge out the eye of a person who intentionally blinded the eye of his fellow man. They don’t accept that the verse is referring to monetary compensation. However, the Karaites say today that this law is not relevant in light of the State laws.
Months of the years
According to the Samaritans, the month when spring arrives (Nissan) is the first month of the year. They offer a Passover sacrifice before the Seder night and make a pilgrimage to Mt. Gerizim! According to the Karaites, the calendar year begins in the month of Nissan and is a lunar calendar. Beginning in the 13th century, it appears that the Karaites adopted the rabbinical calendar.
Women’s legal status
Women do not participate in the Samaritans’ prayers and religious activities. A Samaritan woman who has her monthly cycle will sleep in a separate room from her husband and doesn’t perform work.
In contrast, the situation is the opposite with the Karaites: a woman can participate in all male activities, enter the synagogue and also sing, besides during her monthly cycle, during which she must keep her distance and not attend the synagogue. The Karaite women sign their own kesuba (marriage certificate).
Mezuzot, tefillin and prayers
The Samaritans put mezuzot on the doors to their homes, but do not have the same uniform verses in them. Every Samaritan chooses the verses he likes. In conversations I held with Samaritans, I was told that they acknowledge there is a commandment of tefillin going back to antiquity, but they believe that the details of the commandment were lost and therefore they no long wear tefillin.
In contrast, Karaites believe that the verse (Deut. 6:9) “You shall write them on the mezuzot of your home and gates” is not a legal obligation but an exhortation that God’s commandments should be always be heard in our mouths and our homes. For the same reason, they do not put on tefillin.
The Karaites wear a tallis and tzitzit only during prayers. The Samaritans wear a special tunic on Shabbat. The two sects’ synagogues have the same internal appearance. The Karaites, like the Samaritans, take their shoes off before entering a synagogue due to a synagogue being a minor sanctuary and a holy place.
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Differences of opinions in understanding the literal meaning of Scriptures:
How does Scripture command us to keep Shabbat?
Wikipedia’s page about Shabbat relates that the Karaites were more stringent at keeping Shabbat prohibitions. For instance, some of them didn’t accept the principle that a situation of doubtful danger to life waives Shabbat observance. In early years, they also prohibited leaving a lit fire from before Shabbat and therefore didn’t have lighting or heating in their homes or heated food. Many prohibited taking objects outside the house on Shabbat. Some prohibited leaving the house (except to pray and such vital needs) and performing a circumcision on Shabbat. The Karaites forbid until today intimate relations on Shabbat. They also forbid having a non-Jew do work for them on Shabbat (and do not permit even hinting to the non-Jew to do the work).
Beginning from the 11th century, there was a gradual modification in these laws, and they permitted lighting fire before Shabbat to provide light for Shabbat, and some even accepted upon themselves the rabbinical ordinance of a 2000 cubit “Shabbat boundary” (tchum Shabbat).
It seems that the Karaites understood Scriptures in the past differently than they understand it today. However, Shabbat prohibitions are not a minor thing, and neither are the laws concerning danger to life.
How is it possible that in one generation they prohibit a certain work on Shabbat according to their understanding of Scriptures, and in another generation they permit the same work on Shabbat because of a different understanding of that same verse?
Shabbat observance is not a mere recommendation. Any slight deviation from the Shabbat laws can bring upon a person the excision of his soul and the death penalty, as the Torah openly states. The text must be comprehensible in a uniform manner which is not dependent on the arbitrary whims of any generation, otherwise we will stumble in extremely grave prohibitions.
The holy Torah was given 3300 years ago by God Who knew all generations in advance. Does anyone really believe that one can re-interpret commandments, and change prohibitions into permitted actions? That a Jewish soul can be sentenced to excision from the Jewish people and receive a death penalty based on one or another newfangled interpretation?
I asked the Karaites: How can it be that in one generation the Karaites understood the Torah in one way, and in another generation they understood it in a different way? Most of them gave me the identical answer, that I never would have conjectured myself: Karaites of our times believe that the ancient Karaites were not as smart as them and therefore they erred in how they understood Scriptures. In their view, the modern Karaites understand the literal meaning of Scriptures far better…
It goes without saying that this answer puts all of Karaism in the same category as human fantasy. In their view, the Torah is a piece of literature that can be interpreted however you want. Isn’t it a crime that based on their distorted version of God’s commandments, their ancient sages gouged out people’s eyes or killed them for leaving on a light before Shabbat?
It’s unnecessary to say: If the Torah could truly be understood literally, there would be no need to change its laws over the generations.
The truth must be said: No Karaite has the ability to decide whether it is permitted or forbidden to work on Shabbat since Scripture does not explain what is “work.” One Karaite may call a certain action “work” while another Karaite may not see it as “work.” If we would confront a modern Karaite with an ancient Karaite, they would argue endlessly about the meaning of Scripture and never reach an agreement concerning its plain meaning… This proves the need for the Oral Tradition, and is tantamount to proof of the Oral Tradition’s historical and practical necessity. Without it, the divine Torah would have no uniform meaning.
For example, the verse “no man shall leave his place” can apply to one’s house just as it might apply to the street or the city, so one cannot understand the verse based on its plain meaning. We need the detailed explanation of the Oral Tradition that was given on Mt. Sinai.
We saw that the ancient Karaites believed that one could not transgress Shabbat even in a case of danger to one’s life, and their descendants changed their view over the generations even though the verse hasn’t changed. The ancient Karaites were sure that one who leaves his house is violating a grave prohibition. Just this alone is sufficient to realize the need for an Oral Tradition to explain the Scriptural verses.
Actually, every commandment written down in the Torah can be explained in hundreds if not thousands of various ways. Just as one cannot determine the content of a book only based on its title, one cannot explain the commandments and how to perform them based on short, cryptic verses without a reliable oral explanation.
The fact that a text can bear contradictory interpretations proves that the text alone is insufficient to establish practical law. This fact alone proves the necessity of the Oral Tradition.
Bizarrely, when I spoke with the Samaritans, they expressed themselves in an identical manner to the Karaites. What was interesting was that they arrived at completely different laws based on the simple meaning of the text — while opposing the Karaite method of interpretation as well as the Oral Tradition!
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Genuine Judaism is based first and foremost on humility:
As every chareidi Jew knows, Jewish law doesn’t interpret Scripture based on the opinions of those studying it, but according to the Tradition which was passed down from one generation to another — the Oral Tradition.
Orthodox Jews are all students. We seek to understand God’s Torah based on the teachings that our sages in every generation transmitted to us. We do not rule on Torah law based on our own personal views; none of us is a Moses our Teacher!
This is why throughout the forty tractates of the Talmud, and the Mishnah and the Midrash, one doesn’t find a statement such as “And God spoke to Abaya or Rava.” Judaism only records what was passed down by tradition going back to Moses. No one decides what is God’s Will according to his personal opinion.
In contrast, the Karaites and Samaritans believe that they were blessed with a supernatural power to understand the commandments of God — who created our inscrutable universe and all earthly wisdom — according to their personal understanding, without any need for an external explanation of how to practically fulfill the commandments of Judaism.
From the beginning, the Karaites not only decided to add to the Written Torah’s commandments but they also determined what the verses mean based on their prior decisions. That’s how Karaites in the past thought it was forbidden to leave a light on for the Shabbat, and that it was forbidden to go out of the house on Shabbat, and danger to life doesn’t take precedence over Shabbat observance. Today the Karaites permit all these according to their new understandings of the Scriptural verses.
Here are a few examples:
(1) In the past the Karaites thought it was forbidden to leave the house on Shabbat except to go to the synagogue. Then the Karaites decided that actually it’s OK to leave the house up to a certain number of steps.
(2) In the past the Karaites thought that a possible danger to life doesn’t take precedence over Shabbat observance.Today they decide that it does.
(3) The early Karaites thought that the verse “and he shall cleave to his wife and become one flesh” teaches that a wife’s relatives can’t marry the husband’s relatives! Because of this bizarre presumption, they almost became extinct, until the later Karaites decided that this in fact is not a Torah commandment and they permitted their relatives to marry with extended relatives.
(4) The Karaites prohibited in the past leaving a lit fire before Shabbat which meant they spent Shabbat in the dark and ate cold food. However, the Karaites of our days permit leaving on a fire before Shabbat.
(5) Many Karaites in the past forbad circumcision on Shabbat and even taking objects out of their house on Shabbat. Today Karaites permit this.
(6) Until today, the Karaites are divided concerning many laws of Shabbat, and each one conducts himself differently. For instance, some Karaites think electricity is not akin to fire, and therefore they use electric appliances such as mobile phones on Shabbat.
(7) The Karaites believe that “eye for an eye” should be interpreted literally and they would physically mutilate people who caused harm to others. But in recent generations, the Karaites decided that actually one should listen to the state laws and not fulfill this interpretation.
(8) The Karaites in the past forbad marrying mainstream Jews because of how they interpreted the Torah laws of a mamzer, but the Karaites of our days permit a Karaite to marry any Jew — if he/she will accept their Karaite beliefs.
Most of the changes mentioned here began in the 11th century when the Karaites began to systematically ease the fulfillment of commandments and suggest a new interpretation of the Scriptures. In ever generation the Karaites understood the Torah differently, a fact that proves the Karaite system was a failure from its inception. Their changing interpretations prove that not even one generation was able to understand the Torah correctly according to its literal meaning, otherwise, all the Karaites would have understood the Torah without difficulty and without any differences between them. It goes without saying that the Torah laws are not recommendations but obligations.
This fact turns the Karaites into a sect very similar to the Reform and Conservative movements, all of which advocate an individualistic system based on each person’s personal whims.
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My acquaintance with the Samaritans and the Karaites
From my acquaintance with the Samaritans and the Karaites, I found that both sects were very similar to secular Jews in their personal lifestyle, dress and day-to-day actions (besides on Shabbat and holidays).
I noticed that the Samaritans take it personally when their beliefs or origins are examined. Samaritan parents thundered at me more than once that they are “kosher Jews” and “pure Jews.” Despite the fact that they separated long ago from the historic Jewish people in their dwellings, customs and beliefs, they don’t want to hear this. A Samaritan youth who openly and at length discussed with me their unusual customs, cut off all contact at the request of his father. They relate to the father of the family not only with veneration but with blind obedience.
They gave me the impression that they were like Arabs in their customs and simplistic-traditionalist way of thinking, while Jews in contrast like to ask questions and debate every subject. I noticed that to the Samaritans, the rigid paternal tradition was extremely important, without no room for questions and investigations that might cause a change in thinking.
The Samaritans believe in all kinds of legal minutiae that have no source in Scriptures and which were apparently taken from rabbinic Judaism. When I asked them about these surprising customs which are not mentioned in the Torah, they replied that “this was extrapolated from the simple meaning of Scriptures” — and the proof was — otherwise they wouldn’t be keeping these things! Their answer showed a strange circular reasoning, like one who harnesses a wagon to the front of the horse. As far as they are concerned, if a wagon (tradition) exists, then of course there must also be a horse (a source in the verse). As far as they are concerned, they don’t have to find the horse.
I also found that the Samaritans don’t even know why they don’t believe in the Prophets and the Writings. That’s what they received from their parents and that’s what they believe in. If other books would had been passed down to them, they would probably believe them with the same circular reasoning.
In contrast to the Samaritans, the Karaites seemed to me always ready to argue against and attack Judaism. As I got to know them, I had the impression that the Karaites do not show much respect for their ancient sages and ignore their interpretations of the commandments almost completely. A Karaite child may think he is sufficiently knowledgeable to decide which kind of work is forbidden on Shabbat and to find a source for it in Scripture. The Karaites rely only on their personal opinion in understanding Scripture. They see themselves as wiser than their predecessors in their ability to objectively research the words of Scripture. I found that they only respect the modern Karaite religious leaders.
The Karaites have adopted numerous rabbinical laws in every area of life which they view as “customs” and which they call “the yoke of inheritance.” Among the more noticeable rabbinical customs is wearing a yarmulkeh in a synagogue, the inside arrangement of the synagogue (including the Holy Ark), the prayers and fasts, and even Talmudic inferences and argumentation (for instance, they cite the phrase “and live in them”). Even though they may keep these things, they don’t view it as a tradition transmitted down to them or an Oral Tradition from Sinai but as a mere custom. It appears that rabbinical Judaism had a strong influence on their way of life, culture and customs.
The more I talked with Karaites, the more I discovered many detailed laws in their religion which have no source in Scripture — not even a hint. Some of them they attribute to various inferences from Scripture which sounded to me irrational and easily manipulated to any kind of interpretation.
In their external appearance, the Karaites appear very similar to the non-religious, besides on Shabbat. The Karaites are more zealous about finding a connection to Scripture, while the Samaritans are more respectful of their tradition and don’t ask questions of how it was derived.
In my talks with Karaites, I found them profoundly ignorant about the rabbinical beliefs which they oppose. I found youth Karaites who think that rabbinical Jews believe in two gods, pray to angels in the synagogue on Shabbat eve, or claim that the rabbis are in dispute concerning the size of the yarmulkeh and its color. I found Karaite “religious leaders” who believe we have several kinds of Oral Traditions, who believe that the Talmudic axiom that “there are 70 faces to the Torah” is a blatant license to pull any law out of a hat, or who think that rabbinical law systematically allows one to negate a Scriptural verse.
Even though Karaites live in Israel and speak Hebrew, I found that they are less familiar with rabbinical Judaism than Jews born non-religious. This surprised me, because they speak Hebrew and are familiar with life in Israel. Their general knowledge of rabbis and Jewish tradition was as paltry as their knowledge of Chinese culture.
I think there are two main reasons why the Karaites oppose rabbinic Judaism.
1) The first is their reluctance to fulfill the many commandments which Judaism requires, including the obligation to study Torah (and attend a yeshiva). Karaism in essence demands the fulfillment of very few commandments and no need to change their ostensibly secular way of life. Accepting Judaism would require them to change their way of life, fulfill many more commandments and of course to study Torah.
2) The second reason, to my mind, is hubris. Karaites believe and feel that every one of them is an expert at interpreting Scripture according to his personal comprehension. They feel themselves interpreters of their Creator, without need to lower their head before legal experts or rabbis who are greater than them in wisdom and years. To accept authority one must first be humble and know his place. (A student will not debate his professor before he has mastered his area of expertise.) But in the Karaite community, each person feels he is a professor vis-à-vis the holy Torah. Accepting rabbinic Judaism would require them to swallow a huge dollop of humility.
The Karaites and Samaritans – have not been part of the Jewish people for generations
Another proof that proves the fundamental error behind these segregated groups — is their minuscule number of members.
1) The Sadducees no longer exist.
2) The Boethusians no longer exist.
3) The Samaritans number only 800 people today!
4) In the entire world, there are barely 50,000 Karaites.
Because of their scant numbers, it’s impossible to say that the Karaites or the Samaritans are a part of the “Jewish people.”
The Torah’s definition of a people is a group that numbers at least one or two million, otherwise it is just a tribe or a sect/group.
The simple truth is that none of these sects are or were considered part of the “Jewish people” over the generations, and none of these groups are known as such today.
When the world talks about the Jewish people, they identify and indicate Jews who follow rabbinic Judaism.
The fact is that even secular and marginally traditional Jews in Israel know rabbinic law and fulfill basic commandments according to it. Most secular Jews in Israel perform a circumcision, celebrate a bar mitzvah, fast on Yom Kippur, make a Seder on Passover night, and eat matzahs on Passover. Their marriage and divorce, funerals and recital of Kaddish are presided over by rabbis who follow the Jewish law transmitted to us over the generations.
Even many non-Jews know to identify an observant Jew as one who wears a yarmulkeh, wears a tallit, puts on tefillin, etc.
The rabbis represent the Jewish people — because the Jewish people always recognized the rabbinical traditions Actually, up to two hundred years ago, almost all Jews were observant and obeyed the Oral Tradition. Only in the short period since the Haskalah (“Enlightenment”), do secular Jews exist in large numbers.
When someone says the word “Jew”, does anyone think of a Karaite or a Samaritan? It is a historic fact that these sects were not considered part of the Jewish people throughout the generations. When these small sects separated from the body of the historic Jewish people, they lost their identity as part of the extensive history of Jewish communities worldwide.
Isn’t it astonishing that most Jews today haven’t even heard of the Karaites or Samaritans and don’t even know what they believe in?
A short search of the word “Jew” or “Judaism” in any encyclopedia or search engine in the Internet will immediately reveal basic information on tefillin, on Chanukah, on a yarmulkeh and a tallit — because these have always been the official religious symbols of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, Judaism was represented in the world by Jewish law and the Oral Tradition. What is Judaism? What are Jewish holidays? Everyone knows to point in the direction of authentic Judaism and not the schisms that broke off.
Every Jew in the world knows what is a “rabbi”, who to go to for a circumcision and to what synagogue to go for Yom Kippur prayers. This is what represented the Jewish people in all generations. Even with the massive spiritual deterioration of the past hundred years — the Jewish people still know the authentic history of their ancestors. When we say the “Jewish people” or “Judaism” we know that it refers to the people who venerated the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition, and to all the rabbis who transmitted and taught the Torah and commandments in all times and all ages.
[It is interesting to note that even anti-Semitic non-Jews and haters of religion like to depict Jews with a chareidi appearance, with a beard and a tallit and tefillin. Yes, even our enemies know very well how to point out who is a Jew…]
One who recognizes Divine Providence can not help but conclude that the Creator has shunted these castoff sects, who are decreasing and disappearing just like the assimilatory Reform and Conservative movements of our time. God wants His children — the authentic Jewish people.
A Jew who is faithful to the Jewish people, the eternal people, is inevitably connected to the Oral Tradition.
Shvuyot – Department Against Assimilation. For assistance, reports or donations:
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