In the the
town of Ramle, Israel,
lives a sect whose traditions and observances take us back
to the days when the Torah was given to the Israelites.

We met with Yosef Dvir, a spokesperson
for the community at the Karaite center and synagogue in Ramle.
Dvir briefed us on the history of the Karaites, a community with about
40,000 members living in Israel and about 25,000 outside of Israel. (San
Francisco is home to 300 members of the Karaite sect.) He explained that
according to the doctrine of the sect, Karaites are Jews and that this
fact is often overlooked and misunderstood.

Their deviation from rabbinic Jewish
practice stems from their decision not to accept the teachings of the Oral
Law which the sages compiled in the Mishna and the Talmud in the period following
the destruction of the Second Temple.

After the destruction of the Second
Temple, Jews were dispersed from Israel to Babylon and other lands. The
spiritual leader of the Diaspora Jews, Rabbenu Annan HaNasi (Anan ben David),
a descendent of King David, saw great differences in the way people were
observing the laws. He decided that it was time to return to the source
— the Torah. His descendents came to be known as the Karaites or
Annanim. For rabbinic Jews, these texts are the basis of Jewish

Dvir explains
the Karaite position: “The Mishna and Talmud were written by people and not
by G-d, therefore they contain human differences of opinion. Whereas the
Torah contains G-d’s word, and is based on what is written in the Torah we
can learn how to conduct our lives today and into the future, just as we
have in the past.”

The Karaites were the first organized group to return to the land of Israel
after living in the Diaspora. They settled in Jerusalem and Ramle in the 5th
and 6th centuries. During this period they are credited with writing the
Kinot. Later, Ben Asher of Tiberias is known to have developed
Hebrew grammar.

Traditions and rules of
observance are passed from one generation to the next including rules for
slaughtering animals, brit milah, and blessings over the new moon. All holidays
are observed on the actual date that is written in the Torah and are not postponed
to another day so as not to interfere with Shabbat, as is done in rabbinical
Judaism. In a seemingly modern spirit of equality, both women and men sign
the marriage contract and men do not say the prayer thanking G-d for not
making them a woman.

The synagogue in Karaite tradition
is a place of prayer reserved for men and women who are in a state of “purity”
– a condition defined by the Torah. The floor is covered with rugs and men
and women enter the sanctuary without shoes. The tallit or tzizit
are displayed so that according to the words of the Torah, orietem otam
[and you shall see them]
. In the synagogue the men sit on the main floor
and conduct the services while the women go upstairs to the balcony.

Text by J. Isaacson.

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Visits to the Karaite Center in Ramle
must be pre-arranged.

7 Klausner St., Ramle

Tel: 08-9248435

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