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Also known as Qaraite Judaism, Qaraism, or Karaism, Karaite Judaism is distinct from Rabbinic Judaism in that Karaites recognize only the Tanakh as the ultimate authority in religious law (Hanakh) and theology, while Rabbinic Jews consider the Oral Torah and subsequent works as authoritative.

Karaite Judaism holds that all of the commandments that were handed down to Moses by God were recorded in the written Torah, and that the oral traditions recorded in the written Midrash or Talmud are non-binding.

Adherents of Karaite Judaism interpret the Tanakh according to the meaning that would have likely been understood by those who were alive when the Tanakh was first written. Rather than relying on the legal rulings of the Sanhedrin, as recorded in the Midrash, Talmud, and other sources, Karaites are expected to study the Torah, and determine the correct meanings for themselves. While Karaites may read and consider arguments from other sources, they are not considered authoritative.

Karaites once made up a large percentage of the Jewish population, but their populations are believed to be much smaller today. Because Karaites hold that Genesis 32 forbids the counting of Jews, estimates of their population are difficult to determine.

Although they were not known by that name, arguments regarding the validity of the Oral Law were made in the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE. As a religious group, they are believed to have been formed through a remnant of the Sadducees, who rejected the Pharisee concept of an Oral Torah even before it was written. Today, however, a minority of Karaites do not believe in a final resurrection or afterlife, which were key positions held by the Saducees.

Some Jewish scholars suggest that Karaism, as a religious movement, originated as a reaction to the rise of Islam.

An early leader, and possibly a founder, of the Karaite movement was Anan ben David, whose followers were first known as Ananites. They did not believe that Rabbinical oral law was inspired by God.

According to Rabbinic accounts from the 12th century, Shelomoh ben Hisdai, leader of the Jewish diasporic community in Babylon, died, leaving his two brothers in the order of succession. One brother was Anan ben David (Shafat), while the other was Hananyah. When Hananyah was elected to succeed his father, a schism developed, with the group following Anan ben David separating themselves to become the Ananites and, later, the Karaites. Not all Jewish scholars are in agreement with this account, however.

Karaites believe that Karaite Judaism adheres to the original religion of the ancient Israelites, as dictated by God in the Tanakh, and as commonly understood by the Israeli people prior to the period of the Pharisees. Later additions are not accepted as being inspired by God.

Several reasons are given for their disregard of Oral Law, including conflicting opinions given in the Mishnah, and that Oral Law is not mentioned in the Tanakh. Rather, the Tanakh warns against adding to the commandments of God. Karaites also note that the Tanakh reports that the written Torah was lost and completely forgotten for more than fifty years before being rediscovered by Temple priests, and that it is inconceivable that an Oral Law could have been remembered when the Written Law was forgotten.

They do not object to a body of interpretation of the Torah, but that such supplemental material should not be raised above the Torah.

Karaites believe in one eternal God, who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and incorporeal. God created the universe, and gave the Tanakh to the Israeli people through Moses and the Prophets. Most Karaites anticipate the coming of the Messiah.

Many contemporary Karaites are the product of the Karaite revival of the late 1900s.

Karaites use the observational form of the Hebrew calendar, as was used by Jews in the Land of Israel until the end of the Second Temple period. Under this method, the start of a new year in the first biblical month is calculated on the basis of the observation of the agricultural stage of ripeness of the barley.

Karaites attend synagogues for worship and prayer, often prostrating themselves fully during prayer, a method no longer used by other Jewish sects.

Today, Karaite Judaism is most commonly practiced in Israel, particularly in Ramla, Ashdod, and Beersheba. Smaller communities can be found in the United States, Ukraine, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey, and Poland. In Israel, the Karaite leadership is under the direction of a group known as Universal Karaite Judaism, its board consisting mostly of Karaites of Egyptian-Jewish descent. Other Karaite organizations include the Religious Council of Karaite Jews and the Supreme Council of Karaite Judaism.

Karaite Judaism is the focus of topics in this category or its subcategories.

 

 

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