Monday, February 2, 2015

Karaites & Kabbalah

Several years ago a friend once remarked that he considered himself to be a Karaite Kabbalist. At the time my reaction was to scoff at this claim because the two terms seemed an oxymoron. Karaite and Kabbalah don't go together I said. Today, many assert the same view point including modern Karaites. Over the years I have come across many interesting examples from history which demonstrates that this perceived contradiction of terms is in actuality not a reality. Karaites have historically studied the Rabbinic texts and asserted that it was necessary to do so as Rabbinic Judaism was the eldest brother. In other words, Karaites didn't throw thousands of years of Jewish wisdom in the trash in order to develop their own uniquely deficient Judaism. Throughout the manuscripts and seforim of medieval Karaite literature there is a consistent turning to Talmudic and other Rabbinical texts for insight. Karaites also turned to the Kabbalah for spiritual answers and inspiration. Here are a few of the more noteworthy examples:
1.)    One of the greatest Karaite sages was Isaac ben Abraham of Troki (1533-1594) who was the disciple of Zefania ben Mordechai. At the age of 20 Isaac became a dayan (judge) of the Troki community and is refered to as the greatest spiritual leader of the Karaites in the 16th century. This great Karaite sage, leader and judge wrote a letter to Isaac ben Israel of Luck wherein he expounded upon the concept of the Kabbalah.
2.)    Another great Karaite sage was Yehuda Gibbor who was a great halachist composing a 6 volume treatise on Karaite halacha. He also expounded upon the Kabbalah at length and composed a Kabbalistic poem of great length that was incorporated into the Egyptian Karaite Siddur.
3.)    Hakham Simcha Lutski was a Karaite scholar (1716-1760) who wrote 24 books covering Karaite halacha. He was such a great scholar that he was known as the Karaite Rashi and he went by the title Olam Tsa'ir, meaning microcosm from an acronym derived from Gematria. Simcha wrote an entire treatise on the Lurianic Kabbalah and attempted to make Kabbalah acceptable to the greater Karaite community.
In truth, Kabbalah has affected every single branch of Judaism because it is the soul of Judaism itself. It is possible to derive spiritual sustenance from Kabbalah no matter what Jewish movement one affiliates with- including the Karaite branch.