A Jewish sect professing to follow the text of the Bible (Miqra') to the exclusion of Rabbinical traditions
Caraites, a Jewish sect professing to follow the text of the Bible (Miqra’) to the exclusion of Rabbinical traditions, and hence opposed to the Talmud. They are called in Jewish writings Bene Miqra’ Ba’ Miqra’, Qera’im—i. e. followers of the Bible. The tendency to reject or minimize the traditions and decisions of the Elders is rather old; the Sadducees were, in that respect, the forerunners of Caraism. Our Lord himself is said to have discarded such traditions altogether, but, when more closely examined, the passages quoted show simply that He, knowing such traditional lore to be human, insisted more on the true spirit of the Bible. He corrected individual traditions to safeguard the true import of the Biblical legislation, but He did not deny the principle. (Cf. Matt., xv, 1 sq.) Caraism in the strict sense owes its origin to Anan (died about A.D. 780), and for a time it bore the name of Ananism. It gained ground among the Jews up to the tenth century, but then met with a decided and able opponent in Saadia al-Fayyumi, 892-942. During the eleventh century there was a lively struggle between Rabbinites and Caraites, especially in Spain, but through the influence of two statesmen, Joseph Faussol and Judah ben Ezra, Caraism was almost entirely driven out of that country, and practically out of Western Europe. Since then it has succeeded in maintaining itself in the East, but has steadily lost ground to the parent orthodox Judaism. Today Caraism numbers about 10,000 adherents in Russia and 2000 in other countries. In keeping with their principle, that the text of the Bible alone is authoritative, the Caraites have made some valuable contributions to grammar and Biblical philology; it must be granted, however, that the desire of finding in the Bible a justification for certain beliefs held on other grounds has led many of the Caraites to vindicate rules of interpretation as arbitrary as many of those of ancient Judaism. Anan and his successors have been greatly influenced by Islamic models in deducing laws from their own Sacred Books. Among the best-known authors of Caraism we may mention Judah Hadassi (twelfth century) whose “Eskhol ha-Kofer” was in the Middle Ages, and still is, one of the main sources of Caraism; Aaron ben Joseph (thirteenth century); Aaron ben Elijah (fourteenth century); Elijah ben Moses Bashyasi (fifteenth century). In modern times the most celebrated Caraite scholar is Abraham Firkowich (1786-1874), whom his well-deserving labors and discoveries, and still more his literary forgeries in favor of Caraism; have made especially famous.
The beliefs of Caraism with regard to God and man are substantially those of orthodox Judaism. They differ especially in religious observances. The Caraites have retained, or reverted to, many of the mystical views of Essenism, particularly with regard to cleanliness. The Sabbath law is very rigorous. It must be added, also, that whatever may be their independence from Rabbinism in theory, the Caraites have adopted in practice many Rabbinical customs and observances.