An Introduction to the Oldest Surviving Alternative Judaism

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


January 12th, 2022



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Karaite Judaism emerged in the ninth century in the Islamic Middle East as an alternative to the rabbinic Judaism of the Jewish majority. Karaites reject the underlying assumption of rabbinic Judaism, namely, that Jewish practice is to be based on two divinely revealed Torahs, a written one, embodied in the Five Books of Moses, and an oral one, eventually written down in rabbinic literature. Karaites accept as authoritative only the Written Torah, as they understand it, and their form of Judaism therefore differs greatly from that of most Jews. Despite its permanent minority status, Karaism has been an integral part of the Jewish people continuously for twelve centuries. It has contributed greatly to Jewish cultural achievements, while providing a powerful intellectual challenge to the majority form of Judaism. This book is the first to present a comprehensive overview of the entire story of Karaite Judaism: its unclear origins; a Golden Age of Karaism in the Land of Israel; migrations through the centuries; Karaites in the Holocaust; unique Jewish religious practices, beliefs, and philosophy; biblical exegesis and literary accomplishments; polemics and historiography; and the present-day revival of the Karaite community in the State of Israel.

‘Daniel Lasker is an exemplary scholar with thorough command of the literature and an ability to convey the most foundational and fascinating elements of Karaism to a general readership.’ Jessica Andruss, University of Virginia

‘A true eminence in the field, Professor Lasker commands wide respect and recognition. His very fine, reliable introduction to Karaite Judaism will also engage an audience interested in larger questions, such as pluralism and self-definition.’ Daniel Frank, Ohio State University

Author Information

Daniel J. Lasker is Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values (Emeritus) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In addition he has taught at many institutions of higher learning, including Yale, Princeton, the University of Toronto, Ohio State University, the University of Texas, and the University of Washington. His publications include Jewish Philosophical Polemics against Christianity in the Middle Ages (2nd edn., Littman Library, 2007) and From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy (2008).

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
1. Karaite Origins2. The Golden Age in the Land of Israel3. In Byzantium and Beyond4. Eastern European Karaites5. The Return to Israel6. Karaite Law and Religious Practices7. Principles of Karaism8.Theology9. Exegesis10. Polemics and Historiography11. Language and Literature12. The Future of KaraismBibliographyIndex