An Introduction to the Oldest Surviving Alternative Judaism

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


December 14th, 2021

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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

'An amazing book. Bravo Professor Lasker. I'm giving this book the highest review possible. The book accomplishes right what it sets out to do. [...] It is rare for a book to be written from a purely academic perspective, to have academic rigour, but also to be extremely sensitive to the Karaite position. [...] I can't imagine there's a better [book] out there right now.'Shawn, A Blue Thread

'Lasker’s book offers an extremely well-researched introduction to the relatively unknown and un-researched branch of Jewish history that includes Karaite Jewry and its texts, commentaries and records, in the hope that it inspires readers to continue learning about the “oldest surviving alternative Judaism”.'
Hadassah Faur, Jerusalem Post

'The need for [Karaism], the first wide-ranging English-language introduction to the study of Karaite Judaism, is abundantly clear. In twelve concise and readable chapters, made admirably accessible to the nonspecialist, Daniel J. Lasker draws on a lifetime of research into what he calls an “alternative Judaism,”… Even though few can match the breadth of Lasker’s interest or productivity, one hopes that this volume stimulates a new generation of interest in Karaism.'
Marc Herman, H-Judaic

'A useful and informative handbook on a little-known but intriguing strain of Judaism.'
Sara Jo Ben Zvi, Segula

'Karaism is written for a general audience and does a wonderful job showing the Karaites’ development, history and attempts to stay vital in contemporary times. Anyone interested in the history of Judaism will find this work fascinating in its ability to show how contemporary assumptions about our religion do not always accurately reflect our history.'
Rabbi Rachel Esserman, The Reporter

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

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on Transliteration and Terminology13
1. Karaite Origins27
2. The Golden Age in the Land of Israel43
3. In Byzantium and Beyond61
4. Eastern European Karaites81
5. The Return to Israel100
6. Karaite Law and Religious Practices115
7. Principles of Karaism134
8. Theology151
9. Exegesis167
10. Polemics and Historiography186
11. Language and Literature204
12. The Future of Karaism219
Dramatis Personae228
Glossary of Hebrew and Arabic Terms239