21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Karaimism is a Jewish religious teaching based on the provisions of the Tanakh (Old Testament). Other names include “Karaism”, “Karaite” and “Karaite Judaism”.

The teaching is based upon the idea that every Karaite believer decides for him/herself what is rational in the application of the Law of Moses. Followers of Karaimism approve the authority of the true meaning of the Bible. According to Karaism, the Talmud and Oral Tradition distort biblical Judaism.


Etymology and the origin of the doctrine

The word “Karaite” originated in the ninth century as an antonym to the name of a follower of another Jewish doctrine called “Rabbinic”. The etymology of the term “Karaite” comes from the word “kará” (“read”), which is associated with the Hebrew name of the Holy Scripture “Mikra”. From it, the noun “karai” (or “reader”) or “karaim” (“readers”) was formed.

Karaimism presumably originated in the eighth century and flourished from then until the twelfth. The Karaites believed that there are three versions of the origin of Karaimism:

  • It occurred during the reign of the slave and son of King Solomon (the author of this version is Rabbi Jacob Qirqisani in the book Constellations and Towers)
  • It was created due to disagreements between Jewish Rabbis during the return from captivity of the House of Yehuda and the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the result of which the people were divided into Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes
  • During the life of the Karaite leader Anan ben David ha-Nasi (715-811 A.D.), the Karaites, called the Sons of Scripture, completely separated from the adherents of the Talmud teachings and returned from Babylon to Jerusalem

The Rabbinic versions are also associated with the names of prominent Karaimists. Many authors call the Karaites Sadducees, and some of them (for example, Yehuda ha-Levi) agree with the version that Karaism began with the works of the scientist Yudah ben Tabbai. According to another group of sources, the founder is Anan Ben David, the eighth century theologian from Baghdad. He created a sect out of resentment against his younger brother Hananiah for the fact that the latter was elected an Exilarch, the secular leader of the Babylonian Jews.

There are also more historical versions of the emergence of Karaimism. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea manuscripts provoked the hypothesis that the Karaites arose due to a merger with the Essenes and the influence of their texts. The main evidence of this is the fragments of the Damascus document from the scrolls, which are literary monuments of the Sadducees.

The essence of the teaching of Karaimism

For the Karaites, only the books of the Tanakh are sacred. The Tanakh (Old Testament in Christian tradition) includes the Torah (Pentateuch of Moses), the texts of the first and last Prophets, and the Scriptures. The texts of the Koran, Talmud and the Gospels are considered by the Karaites to be the results of the creation of the human mind. They believe that the original purpose of the teachings of both Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad was to transmit the Torah from God to the Gentiles.

As a result, however, the meaning of the sacred text was simplified to such an extent that it adapted to paganism. The Divine laws were abolished, for example, observing the Sabbath, refusal of blood, as well as pork, horse and camel meat.

The Holy Scripture includes the following commandments:

  • To love God
  • To respect parents
  • To observe the Feast of Weeks
  • To observe the month of Aviv
  • To keep the Sabbath

Also, some commandments prohibit:

  • To believe in other gods
  • To judge poor people unfairly
  • To take bribes
  • To steal
  • To work on the Sabbath (this includes the entire family)

There are many rules, the meanings of which are reflected in the Bible. For example, do not plough “with a bull and a donkey together” or two other animals unequal in strength. Or the rule that one cannot “reveal the nakedness of one’s aunt”, which speaks of the prohibition of a woman’s marriage to her uncle. On the other hand, the Rabbinists allow such connections. The taboo of any work on Saturday also applies to picking fruit and vegetables on that day.

Karaites observe fasts associated with the destruction of the First Temple. For example, fasts dedicated to the siege of Jerusalem, or the sins committed, or the breaking of the walls of Jerusalem by its enemies.

Principles of karaimism

The Karaites formed ten ideas about God. The first three are dedicated to His qualities:

  • He created the entire physical and spiritual world in a short time and out of nothing
  • He is a Creator who came out of nowhere
  • He is absolutely One, incomparable and without any form or body

Other principles Indicate God’s Spiritual Deeds and His Instructions to Believers:

  • The message of Moses is to convey the essence of the teaching to the people (this partly proves faith in the Prophets)
  • The Torah as given through Moses is the only source of unchanging truth
  • Every believer must study the Torah in its original language and comprehend its pure meaning
  • Reveal oneself to other prophets (even though they have a lesser gift than Moses)
  • The resurrection of the dead on the Judgment Day
  • Retribution in the afterlife for one’s actions
  • Lack of contempt for those living in exile and a desire to cleanse them through suffering. They have the right to count on the invisible support of God and deliverance through the Messiah who is a descendant of David

The Karaites have a peculiar attitude towards those Karaites who switched to other religions. They call such people Meshummads (“crossed out”), those who have killed their souls. Such a person dooms himself to eternal torment, does not have the right to heritage, and is considered a living corpse. After his/her death, the family does not mourn.

The attitude of karaimism to rabbinism, christianity and islam

The principles of the teachings of the Karaites and the rabbis are similar in everything, except for the attitude towards the Oral Torah. Rabbinists consider Karaimism to be a Jewish sect, while supporters of the latter argue that both belong to the same religion. Just that Karaimism, in their opinion, is the purest form of Judaism.

Adherents of both trends consider themselves to be the descendants of the Israelis. At times they criticize each other, and sometimes they cooperate. Karaites often studied the Jewish literary works of various Rabbis and published their works in their editions. Rabbinists, on the other hand, often quoted the works of Karaite theologians.

According to the version of some Karaite authors, Jesus and Muhammad were prophets sent for other nations, but not for the Israelites, who possess the perfect and final Teaching. Another part of Karaite theology does not consider Jesus and Muhammad to be prophets, believing that true divine messengers can only be from the Israeli people; therefore they categorically deny both Christianity and Islam.


Karaimism is a religion that gave birth to a whole nation, professing its own religion, which is not part of Judaism. But most of the Karaites identify themselves as Jewish. The total number of followers around the world is about 30 thousand, and most of them live in Israel. Also some Karaites live in Ukraine, the USA, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. They have their own national dress and food, as well as their own dialect.