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General notes about Karaites - Eliyahu ben Eliyahu Kazas I

General notes about Karaites *)

Ilya Ilyitch Kazas (Eliyahu ben Eliyahu, 1832 - 1912)

I.

The followers of Moshe’s law are today divided into two sects, the Karaites 1) are one of these sects (the Rabbanites, the followers of the Talmud, are the other).

As founder of sect is regarded Anan, who lived in Bagdad at the time of Caliph al-Mansur in the mid-eighth century according to Christian dating.
But we can assume that this sect existed even before Anan, and never splitted from the rest of Jewry, as like around the time of beginning of Christian dating existed within the Jewish society various sects, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes.
And only thanks to Anan, Karaites began to exist as a separate and independent religious entity.
The word Karaim 
קראים is derived from the verb Kara קרא - read, the word Karai קראי means reader, a person who in matters of faith supports own opinion on what he/she reads in the Scriptures, which he/she recognizes written Law as only one authority, it differs Karaites from Talmudists, who in addition to the written Law consider as authoritative their oral law, oral traditions and oral interpretations, based on their understanding of divine revelation and who identify this oral law as equal to the Five books of Moses.
These oral traditions and interpretations are regarded by Talmudists as the absolute necessity, because without them, according to Talmudists, laws of the Torah would be for standard human reason unclear and incomprehensible.
Karaites with this argument fundamentally disagree.
If Karaites agreed with this claiming of Talmudists, they would really agree with the fact that Holy Scripture is not perfect, that Holy Scripture is not complete, and that God was not able to express His ideas in writing, not to need any comment.

*) This article was written by one recognized and popular Karaite writer who (originally) wanted to remain anonymous.
The article is compiled from the notes, which the author wrote at the request of the French Academy of Sciences.

1) http://www.karaitelife.estranky.cz/clanky/the-origin-of-the--european--karaites-in-the-books-and-texts-of-karaite-hakhams.html The origin of the (European) Karaites in the books and texts of Karaite Hakhams

Language of Five Books of Moses is very clear, from this reason is possible to understand to the meaning of each instruction of the Law.
Only is necessary to study this language, because it is the most reliable key for understanding of the meaning of laws.
Therefore Karaite scholars studied Hebrew language, and we can confidently say that Karaites were the first authors of Hebrew grammars and dictionaries of Hebrew language.
It is understandable, that Karaites acquired in philology a very effective weapon in battles with their religious rivals.
Nevertheless is Karaite teaching based on the free interpretation of Scripture and does not give an importance to external authorities.
But Karaite scholars as the best representatives of their people who lost own political independence, and who live in foreign countries and have ceased to speak the language of their fathers, they had to pay special attention to the strict observance of religion which they identify as the rest of all what was the base of their identity.
Due to respect for the Law was sometimes interpreted the Law in very strict way, and often literally, this way sometimes led to decisions which did not always reflect the true and original meaning of the Law.
However, these deviations from the true meaning of the Law are extremely rare, and are explained so that it is human nature to err.
But the principles of Karaism serve as a patch that allows freedom of interpretation of the Law and that do not put decisions of scholars in the level of divine revelation, as the decisions contained in the Talmud.
History of Karaism shows spiritual development, during which were erroneous interpretations replaced with correct interpretations.
The basic principles of Karaism prevent religious stagnation and rigidity, and enables the continuous development, of course, always within the limits of Scripture.

If I want to point out the differences between teaching of Karaites and Talmudists, I must emphasize that there are no differences in main principles of faith, they are the same for Karaites and Talmudists, except the dogma of the divine origin of the so-called oral law.

These principles are: belief in One God, Creator of the Universe, faith in the revelation to Moses and other biblical prophets, belief in the providence of God, and belief in the righteousness of God's judgment, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead and belief in the future coming of the messiah.

We can find differences only in regulations related with real life, religious ceremonies, keeping of holidays, etc.

Observance of the Sabbath is binding for both Karaites and Talmudists.

This day is the day of the rest not only for humans but also for animals, prohibited is each work, not only a hard work, such as field work, but even each easy work, which need not a physical strength.

In this case, the strict regulations by both Karaite causuists and casuists of Talmudists, goes to the incredible, if not absurd pettiness.

From works are permitted only those that are absolutely necessary, such adjustments of bed before sleeping, preparing of table before the meal.

Food must be prepared before the Sabbath, i.e. Friday.

Who knows, maybe would be perfectionistic interpreters able to forbid even eating in the time of the Sabbath, but fortunately, Moses told to Israelites (who asked him on Shabbat, what to do with mana, which will remain after Friday) that they can eat mana.
From verse 16:25 of the Second book of Moses can be derived permission to eat on Saturday.

It is also forbidden to travel in the time of Shabbat, not only on the animals which also must to rest, but also by walk, from town to town, from village to village, simply the behind the place of residence.

Walking around the town is permitted only in cases where it is absolutely necessary to visit a house of prayer, or house where someone teaches the word of God.

The base of this prohibition is again in the Law, on the words of Moses in verse 16:29 in the Second Book of Moses.

God commanded it at the time of wandering in the desert, the Israelites had prohibited to leave the tents on Saturday and collect mana, because mana that day did not fall.

It is also forbidden on the base of words of the prophet Jeremiah in verses 17:21 and 22, to carry burdens on the street.


In such cases, has the word of prophet the similar weight as the Law of God.

There is no doubt that prophet wrote about heavy burdens, which was transferred from villages and towns and was subsequently sold in the markets and shops of Jerusalem, and in markets and shops in other cities, as is clear from verse 13: 15 to 22 in the book of Nehemiah.

However interpretators who follow Scripture strictly and literally, extend this prohibition to the lightest items too.

From this reason is not possible on Saturday to carry outside of the home weapons, sticks, umbrellas, handbags and wallets, watches, nothing what is not part of the garment.

In this strict way follow Law the most conservative believers.

But along with the Enlightenment penetrated in the public more mild ideas in the matter of the character of religion, the strict observance of the Law has still less and less followers.

But Talmudists invented very crafty ways how to bypass rules which are in their point of view so much restrictive.

In towns with a purely Jewish population, as well as in cities with a Jewish ghetto, was the whole area surrounded with a rope, and this area becomes one large courtyard, in which the border is possible to transfer items from house to house, streets lost the character of a public place.

It should be mentioned that Karaites do not follow this type of Talmudist practices, i.e. practices that Talmudists often use to bypass what they identify (often erroneously) as prescribed by Law.

This is one of the fundamental differences between Karaites and Talmudists.

Between Karaites and Talmudists is yet another difference.

Based on the words of Moses, the Second book of Moses, verse 35:3 is prohibited on Saturday each burning of fire in dwellings.

The above mentioned verses Karaite interpreters of the Law, as contrast to the Talmud, identified as the need to spend Friday nights without fire in the dark. (Shabbat begins on Friday evening. For both Karaites and Talmudists, each day begins after sundown).

With this interpretation did not agree Karaite Hakham Aliyah Bashiyachi of Adrianopolis (1420-1490), who in the 15th century allowed the use of candles on Shabbat, he explained his views in his book  Aderet Eliyahu (Mantle of Eliyahu) אדרת אליהו.

Each person knows from Holy Scripture what the Feast of Unleavened Bread is.
This feast begins at the evening of 14th day of Nisan and lasts for seven days.
During these days cannot be in the houses of the Israelites, and generally in the houses owned by the Israelites, a leaven.
Karaites and Talmudists must to destroy all fermented before the beginning of this feast.
Because the Second book of Moses verse 13:7 informs us:

And there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy borders.

Both Karaites and Talmudists use to derive their era since the creation of the World.
It means that on the 17th September 1905 of Christian era begins year 5666.
Determination of era is based on the historical events described in the Bible.
It would be long-winded to describe how we calculated the year 5666, but for the needs of this article is not a description of the calculation important.

For us it is important to point to the fact that according to both sects (Karaites and Talmudists) the year consists of twelve lunar months, which have either 30 or 29 days.
The year has 354 days.
But here is difference of 11 days between lunar and solar year, from this reason is impossible to start each year after 354 days; a next problem is that the spring month aviv, during which the barley ripens in Palestine and in its 15th day we start to celebrate Feast of Unleavened Bread, begins according to the solar calendar each year about 11 days earlier, it means that this month (and new year) could fall in the autumn or winter.
From this reason is necessary to add to some of years the 13-th month.
It was adopted Meton cycle which insists on 19-years, according this system is necessary to add to the 3, 6, 8, 14, 17 and 19 year of this cycle a 13th month.
Added thirteenth month is known as veadar, or as a second adar.
The first day of each month begins in the evening, when the new moon is visible by the naked eye.

During the clouds has to be taken into account the new moon visibility.
This ancient method of determining of new moon was used in the past in Palestine by both Karaites and Talmudists.
But Talmudists replaced this ancient method of determining of new moon with the astronomical calculations, and they began to identify as the beginning of month the astronomical new moon, even if it was not visible by the naked eye.
By contrast Karaites remained be devoted to the ancient determining the new moon.
This is the reason why happens that Karaites and Talmudists often celebrate holidays in different days.
Talmudists often celebrate holidays one day before Karaites.
But even scholars of Talmudists, consider the visibility of new moon in Palestine as a very important indicator that helps to avoid errors, Talmudists outside of Palestine celebrates all feasts (except Kippur) for two days, Karaites do not follow this way.
These feasts are: 15th and the 21th day of Nisan (unleavened breads), the day of Weeks (Shavuot),1st day of Tishri (Yom Terua), the 10th day of Tishri - the day of fasting and atonement (Kippur), 15th and the 22nd day of Tishri (Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret).

Day of the feast Omer, it means the day when the sheaves of the first harvest were brought to the Temple, as well as feast of Weeks, when the first fruits were brought to the Temple, are not according to the Law of Moses linked with the exact date, because these feasts are strictly agricultural festivals, and celebrations are dependent on the weather.

Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) is celebrated 50 days after the Omer.

Because in Palestine falls the first harvest and bringing of the first sheaves near the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, added both Karaites and Talmudists these events to this feast.

In the matter of bringing of sheaves, is between Karaite scholars and scholars of Talmudists disagreement.

Moses told us: And he shall wave the sheaf before the יהוה, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the Shabbat the priest shall wave it.

What day of rest (Shabbat) had Moses in mind?

Talmudists identify as a day of rest (Shabbat) the first day of the Feast of unleavened breads, by contrast Karaites identify this day as Shabbat which falls on the Feast of unleavened breads, the feast of Weeks, which is derived from bringing the sheaves of the first harvest, is celebrated by Talmudists on the sixth day of Sivan, while Karaites use to celebrate this feast on Sunday, specifically the Saturday after the seventh Saturday from Saturday which falls on Feast of unleavened breads.

The Karaite principle of the free interpretation of Holy Scriptures allows me (I. I. Kazas) to say that in this topic are wrong both Karaites and Talmudists.
The above mentioned agricultural feasts in general (and the feast Omer only partially), have no relation to the feast of unleavened bread.

As was already mentioned, are dependent on climate and weather conditions.

If the disputed word the day of rest (Shabbat) meant the first day of the feast, Moses would be used instead of that word an exact date, the sixteenth day of the first month, which would not cause any doubts.

But Karaite interpretation is not well founded too (according to author of texts - my note).

Proper understanding of the statement the day after the Shabbat may help to understand correctly to law.

As is well known, for a lot of nations is the last day of the week the special occasions - festive day and has various names: the day of rest (Shabbat) for Talmudists and Karaites, Sunday for Christians and Djuma (Friday) for Muslims.

Not each day following a feast has a special name, it means that this day is referred as the day after the feast.

For example, in Czech (the author cites as an example Russian language, which is similar - my notes) the day after Sunday (nedele) is called Monday (pondeli > po nedeli), it means the day after (po) Sunday (nedele), and Sunday is exactly the festive day (czech word nedele is derived from the word not to work (nedelat), so from the day of rest).

Tatars use to call Saturday as djuma ertesi, which means day after djuma (Friday).

Jews call day after day of rest (Shabbat) as the first day of the week, or under Christian influence as Sunday.

From the above mentioned facts arises that the feast of the Omer is not related to the feast of unleavened bread, this feast can be before as same as after this feast.

The celebration of the feast Omer is based on the consideration of farmers themselves, and depending strictly on the harvest, but the most important requirement is that all the Israelites have to bring their first sheaves at the same day. (From this reason was most probably fixed the day after the Shabbat of Passover - my note).

Date of the feast of Weeks is derived from the feast of the Omer.

These agricultural feasts were particularly important at a time when the Israelites lived in Palestine, during the existence of Temple and in the time of Temple worship.

Agricultural Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) was rescued particulary thanks to fact, that according to the legend, which has relatively unstable foundation, were at this day on Mount Sinai given the Ten Commandments, and the both sects associate this day with this event, that is so important for their religion.

Next feast we celebrate at the first day of the seventh month (Tishri).

The Law calls this feast as the Feast of Trumpets.

I will not explain origin of this name in this text.

It is the custom to call this feast as begining of year, as New Year, and as was mentioned above, with this feast began the current year 5666 (written in year 1905 - translator's note) from the creation of the world.

It is natural that we have to ask why years start at the seventh month.

Claiming that the world was created in the seventh month is absurd.

There is a tradition according to which the world was created in the month of Nisan, ie in the month when we celebrate Passover, which is truly called as the first month: This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. (2M 12:2)

In view of this discrepancy (beginning of year in the seventh month), use to say scholars of Talmudists, as well as (some) scholars of Karaites that the first day of the seventh month is the beginning of the civil date, and is important for economic life, especially for commercial and agricultural arrangements and for the year of forgiveness (Shmita - every seventh year) and gracious year (every 50-th year).

But I'll leave it to readers to decide whether this explanation is correct.

Year with two beginnings?!

This is a strange idea.

The tenth day after the new year's day is fasting and repentance (Kippur).

Karaites and Talmudists spend the whole day in kenasa in continuous prayer.

But their customs are different.

Talmudists demonstrate mourning with their appearance: they are barefoot or in socks without shoes, dressed in casual dress while Karaites for which is foreign all phariseic and all pretended, are dressed in a festive dress, though without noticeable adornment.

Among common Karaites is current the superstition that in the time of the night of Kippur use to be open the gates of heaven, and that only the blessed people are honored to behold this miraculous phenomenon.

But in our sinful age we miss these blessed people!

Feast of Tabernacles, which lasts seven days, was appointed as a reminder of the forty years wandering of Israelites in the desert after leaving Egypt, they were forced to live in booths (tents).
Talmudists are very strict in practise of this feast.

Each head of a Jewish family (author means Rabbanites) build at the yard of his house or in apartment balcony a small hut in which they spend much of their free time, they drink there their morning tea or coffee, they use to eat there their breakfast, lunch, dinner and if the weather allows they sleep there.

I will not solve a lot of rules which uses the Talmud to wilfully determine form of the temporary dwelling, its dimensions, etc.

Karaites, by contrast to Talmudists, use to built in places of their residence one common booth in the yard of kenasa or prayer house, in this booth they after common worship use to read short prayers and sing hymns in honor of this holiday.

The day following the last day of the feast of Tabernacles is a special feast Atzeret, as it is called in the Law.

Later, the Israelites, both Talmudists and Karaites began to call this feast as Simchat Torah (Joy of the Law).

This name is derived from the following tradition.

The Fifth book of Moses, verses 31:10-11 say us: in the feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the יהוה thy God in the place which He shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.

Under influence of this regulation we use to read festively the whole Law, it means complete Five books of Moses, from A to Z, and in the time of whole feast of Tabernacles.

Karaites and Talmudists use to follow this regulation in little bit different way.

Five Books of Moses are divided into parts (parasha), its number is depend on number of weeks in a year, every Saturday has to be read one part.

The last part of the reading is for Saturday, which falls on the seven days of feast of Tabernacles, the day on which the speech is (Atzeret), we use to read the final part of the Law and we start to read the beginning of Law, the first chapter of Law with special solemnity and hilarity.

This is the reason why was the name of feast changed (by people).

Apart from these feasts Karaites and Talmudists use to celebrate 14th and the 15th day of the month Adar, which is 12th month of the year.
This day is Purim, which was appointed by Mordocai and Esther as a memorial of rescue of the Israelites living in Persia, whose extermination Haman sought.
As was mentioned above, some years have thirteen months, it means that these years have two months of Adar.
Karaites use to celebrate Purim (when the year has thirteen months), in the time of the first Adar, while Talmudists use to celebrate Purim in the time of the second Adar (ve-Adar).
Feast of Purim adopted Jews voluntarily and this feast has not the sacred character like other feasts commanded by Moses, and which differ from Shabbat only that at the time of these feasts is allowed a preparation of food for feast.
Purim is not related to any restrictions for daily life, it makes these days full of joy and hilarity.
Even poor people can participate in the general merriment, because richer people use to donate them the food or monetary donations.

Purim was crucial in the distant past for Karaite teachers of religion, who were mostly very poor, because they were not paid for their important educational work by communities or by parents of students, and financial and food donations for the feast of Purim was their only one source of income.
The first night of Purim, the students were divided into groups, and they visited houses of members of Karaite community, they sang so called ahavat (songs in honor of heads of the families, their wives and children) and showed them respect with help of the wishes of prosperity and success according to their profession, social status, age and gender.
Each head of family gave them a financial gift for teachers, as well as gave tem money for the study parents of students, the contribution was voluntary, each gave according to their capabilities.
In this way, poor teachers get a small amount of money with which they had to manage until the next Purim.

Karaites as well as Talmudists keep mourning days during which they use to observe the fast, which were set up as a reminder of unfortunate events that led the people of Israel to the loss of political independence and was accompanied to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
But there is again a difference: Karaites use to observe fasts as a reminder of events related to the First Temple, it means to the time before the Babylonian exile, while Rabbanites have fasts established in the memory of the events related to the Second Temple.

How we can explain this difference?

Does it mean that Karaites are not concerned in the more modern events, because at that time they were not in Palestine?

On this question we can give a negative answer.

It is not important if Karaites formed during the time of Second Temple a separate sect, as like the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, or not, it is quite clear that at that time Karaites were not isolated from other Jews and they lived in the same environment as most of other Jews, and they shared with them the same historical destiny.

The difference, which I describe, has origin in the time when Karaites split their community from other Jews (Rabbanites) and established their own independent religious community.

Karaites reprobated Talmud and rejected everything what was constituted by so-called Great Synagogue, and everything what was not in the canonical books of Holy Scripture, even if they have experiences with these events as a community, and they keep only fasts, which are referred by prophet Zechariah (8:19) - The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth.

Karaites never were numerous, it is conceivable that at present time there is no other so small group, as they are.

Currently are Karaites of both genders to 12 000 people.

The largest number of Karaites live in Russia.

Apart from Russia, live about 100 Karaite families in Galicia, the same number is in Constantinople and in Cairo.

The main center of Karaite population was always Crimea.

When Karaites moved into this area is difficult to say with certainty.

If we will trust to the documents discovered by Karaite archaeologist Firkovich in the Caucasus in the village Menglish, so it will mean that Karaites settled in this place at the time of the Persian King Cambyses (6th century before the christian dating).

According to this document were Karaites allies of the Persian king Cambyses in the war against Massagetian Queen Tomiris, and as a reward for their help they received from King area which was known as Kerim (Crimea), it was for them generous gift.

The more reliable evidence of an ancient presence of Karaites in the Crimea is Karaite cemetery in Chufut Kale.

In this cemetery is a huge number of tombstones, which indicate the ancient presence of karaim the Crimea.

Leaving aside those inscriptions which Firkovich dates to the first century of christian era, and which give rise to some doubts, we can point to the many grave inscriptions from 9th and 10th centuries.

It means that the presence of Karaites in the Crimea in 9th and 10th century is considered as proved.

Karaites lived in Chufut Kale, in Mangup (where you can also find a large number of tombstones, only little bit younger than thombstones in Chufut Kale), in Solchat (Old Crimea), and later Karaites settled in Yalta and other Crimean towns.

In the time of Tatar domination, were 300 Karaite families resettled at the request of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas into Lithuania and their descendants are Karaites who currently live in the western Russian provinces (in Troki, Luck, Panevezys) and Galicia (in Austria-Hungary).

There are scientifically unsupported opinions that Karaites are descendants of the Khazars who settled around the fifth century in area of the Caspian Sea and the lower Volga River, and who later ruled also in the Crimea, which was even a time known as Khazaria.

In this way Genoeses called Crimean Peninsula.

Proponents of this hypothesis strive to prove that Karaites have not the semitic origin, but they have Turkic origin, in this way they explain some differences of Karaite appearance from the (Ashkenazi) Jewish appearance.

But in favour of semitic origin of Karaites speaks presence of Levites and Kohens, the descendants of Aaron among Karaites.

The Levites and Kohens could not be present in a nation that does not originate in ancient Israel.

As next very strong evidence can serve the absolute absence of legends about Khazars.

It would be unbelievable that a whole group of people completely forget their ancestors, especially the ancestors so powerful like Khazars which had to be taken into account even by Byzantine emperors, or forget that their ancestors owned the country in which they live.

Differences in appearance could be explained in more rational way.

It is well known that the Khazars were not monolithic religious group.

Some of the Khazars professed Christianity, other of them the faith of Mohammedans and a relatively large part of Khazars professed Jewish faith.

It is very probable that these Khazars who were followers of Judaism were with Karaites in a frequent contact, as their co-religionists married Karaite partners, which could change their physical and mental characteristics, and cause some differences from the original appearance.

From above mentioned follows that we can at the most claim that European Karaites could not be necessarily pure-blooded Semites.

But identification of Karaites with the Khazars is very extravagant hypothesis.

Karaites lived long time under the dominion of the Tatars, it caused that they did not adopt only the language but also modes of dress and lifestyle of Tatars, some of the many superstitions and domestic habits.

The sixty-seventy years ago, Karaites almost did not differ from Tatars, only their appearance revealed a different non-mongolian ethnic origin.

Home, home accessories, household utensils and dishes, all was influenced by Tatar environment.

Even kenasas (synagogues) resembled with its equipments mosques.

Nowadays, however, things are different.

Contact with European civilization after conquest of Crimea by the Russian empire started major changes.

Till this time Karaites lived closed and isolated life, engaged in a small trade and they did not leave the boundaries of Crimean peninsula, the main source of their livelihood was fruit farming, vegetable farming and agriculture.

After the conquest of Crimea by the Russian Empire were opened for Karaites the door into the whole Russian Empire, Karaites had the opportunity to trade in the southern provinces of Russia, and they step by step moved with their families into those parts of the empire, and they began to live among the Russian population.

Due to their nature, for which is unnatural a nationalism and feeling of national exclusivity, quickly adopted the Russian language, Russian mores and Russian education, ie the cultural European language, European manners and European education.

Since the end of the first half of the last (eighteenth) century, Karaites began to gain even higher academic education.

One of the first Karaite holders of higher education was the honourable Hakham Kobecki of Troki.

Despite the fact that to Karaites hostile Talmudists scorn with Karaites, and consider them as barbarians (Canes muti non patentes latrare), Karaites have currently a tremendous amount of brothers with higher education, Karaites have their own doctors, lawyers, engineers, hight school teachers, etc.., not to mention young people attending secondary schools.

When we spoke about an enormous amount, it of course does not mean a number in an absolute sense, but the high percentage of these people in small Karaite community.

Percentage representation of people with higher education in the Karaite population is so huge, that Karaites are the most educated group in comparison with other ethnic groups.

However, these Karaites with higher education are so far only, figuratively said, a kind of plateau with no significant peaks; but this fact would be unfair to criticize in regard to the recent past (isolation during the Tatar domination), even Rome was not built in one day.

Strong changes occurred also in the lives of Karaite women.
In ancient times were Karaite women, as is common among all Eastern nations, fully subordinated to men.
As the girls they were completely subordinated to their fathers and older brothers, after the wedding to their husbands, some of these men did not treat with women as with human beings.
Like as among the Tatars, women only rarely left the female part of the house (gynecee), they avoided to men who were not members of family, they did not come on the street with bare faces.
Education of women was considered as unnecessary, only a very small number of Karaite women were able to read and write.
In this regard, education of Karaite women was even less frequent than among Tatar women, who as a child may attend the mekteb, lower school, where they learned to read the Quran, although purely mechanically without understanding a word.
Karaite girls were married very early, some of them even as children in their 11 to 12.
Selection of groom was depended on the parents, the girls were loyaly subordinated to the choice.
Karaite women did not meet their future husband till the wedding, they did not know their spiritual and moral level, they did not know in what hands they find themselves on the rest of their life.

Nowadays it is very different.

Today, Karaite girls begin be emancipated; marriages, when they do not know their future husband, are very rare, relations between the partners become more equal.

Today is impossible to find an illiterate Karaite woman, at least in the young generation.
At this time the most of Karaite girls acquire education in schools, from primary schools to higher education courses for women.
Great attention is paid to the aesthetic education of Karaite women.
Karaite women dedicate to music and singing.
Today, Karaite women do not avoid to social activities, they cooperate with the Russians in the areas of charity.
When we talk about the status of Karaite women, we can not omit the fact that the Law of Moses permitted polygamy, however, for Karaites it is not common.

Throughout of my whole 73-year-old life I have met only one case of bigamy, which was confirmed by Karaite spiritual authority, after long hesitation, and in very exceptional circumstances.

I think it is important to describe the laws of marriage, as are practiced by Karaites.

1) persons who wish enter in the marriage must follow the same, Karaite faith.
2) bridegroom and the bride must have legal age, according to the laws of the country where they live.
3) to be the marriage valid, both persons entering in marriage must agree with this marriage.
4) to be marriage recognized as valid, must be fulfilled all of the following three things:
a) mohar (dowry), which presents the groom to the bride (according to the Law of Moses the groom present it to the bride's father), it is a valuable object (ring, bracelet, etc.), which symbolizes the engagement.
b) the written wedding document (shetar), which is written in the ancient form, and which contains, besides the description of the rights and obligations of couple, the dowry list, dowry which brought the bride from father's house.
c) family life
5) Marriage is prohibited between blood relatives and related persons.

Persons related by blood and related persons are described in the Third book of Moses in verses 18:6-18:
None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness.
I am the
יהוה.
The nakedness of thy father, and the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or the daughter of thy mother, whether born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover; for theirs is thine own nakedness.
The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister; for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter-in-law: she is thy son' wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; thou shalt not take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness: they are near kinswomen; it is lewdness.
And thou shalt not take a woman to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime.

But for Karaites are banned from moral reasons some relations, that are not directly prohibited by the Law of Moses.
It is not allowed to marry a deceased wife's sister, despite the fact that Moses only forbids marriage with sister during life of his wife, not to be sown discord between the sisters, on the base of the fact that they become rivals (3M 18:18):
And thou shalt not take a woman to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime.

The marriage of two brothers with two sisters is prohibited too.

Talmudists are not so strict in relationship issues like Karaites.
According to Talmudic volumes are prohibited only directly mentioned in the above verses, no analogy is allowed.
Moses forbids marriage with father's sister, a aunt (Talmudists accept marriage with a niece, uncle) though it is an analogous relationship, ie the same relationship.

The right of divorce was allowed by Moses only to men, but Law does not explain exactly in what cases a man may apply this right.
The fate of women was fuly depended on the goodwill of men.

When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, then it cometh to pass, if she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, that he writeth her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house. (5M 24:1)

In this verse is impossible not to see the superiority of the ancient Eastern men over women.

Karaite scholars protect women against the arbitrariness of men, that they do not permit the divorce without judicial proceedings, they prescribed rules of divorce based on common sense and the principles of justice.

Based on these rules can apply for a divorce not only male but also female.

Reasons for divorce are:
Finding that the bride was not the virgin on their wedding night
Adultery, not only by a wife, but also by her husband
Incapacity of married life
Disease
Cruel treatment in married life
Disruption of married life by incessant quarrels
All that harms the honor and reputation of the family.

Marriage can be divorced, even against the wishes of both spouses, in case that was made illegally, against the Law, for example, between blood relatives or related people.

After the divorce the man write out, or in case that the man disagree with divorce, the spiritual court, divorce certificate, known as Get, which serves as proof that the woman is single and that she has the right to remarry.

This document does not state the year since the creation of the world, but year after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which points to the fact that divorce is the destruction - the destruction of the family.

Karaites use to arrange weddings with great seriousness.

Even in recent times, Karaite marriages lasted several days, sometimes longer than a week.

Some wedding days and evenings had even own specific names.

I will describe to you how the Karaite wedding took place during my childhood, it means in the forties of the last (19th) century.

A few days before the wedding the groom‘s close relatives and friends used to send to the groom various gifts, each according to their capabilities, such as the fabrics, golden and silver jewelry for his future wife.
These gifts known as khondja were sent to the bride's house and became part of her dowry.

Also, the family of bride sent to the groom a valuable gift, for example on an expensive fur for coat, a gold watch or something like that.
This gift was known as khondja ayvazi, which means something like against-gift to khondja.

The wedding started in the day which both parties agreed, in this day the groom sent to the house of the bride the decanter of vodka and various sweets accompanied by musicians.
Musicians left house of bride after playing a few songs.

I must underline that exceptional act of the wedding ceremony was proceeded without musicians.

Musicians were hired by groom on his own expenses for the whole wedding.

The groom chose among his married friends two shoshbins (sidekicks), they were throughout the whole time of main ceremonial rites in his nearness.

On the same day, in the evening at the bride's house, bride met her girlfriends (sometimes due to the small number of Karaites, even all mature Karaite girls in the town) for which the bride prepared meals and dancing.
Girls danced only with girls without the presence of men, men had not access into women's part of the house, which could be compared to the harem.
If a man came into the house of the bride, he could see the dancing girls in the women's part of the house only via side windows (and choose a possible bride).

This evening was known as kizlar gedjesi (girls evening).

The bride did not dance, she sat in the corner, her face was wrapped in a veil.

In short, the bride did not show throughout the whole time of wedding her face, even not to women.

The groom remained in house of his family in a friendly conversation with his friends and peers, for which was prepared the wine and refreshments.

The second day in evening was the wedding ceremony.

Young men met in the morning in the house of groom, in which was from the morning a banquet with music and dances.

In the house of the groom young men dance without women, together or solo.

In determined time was the groom escorted with music to the urban spa, which was for him available throughout the whole day (he had to pay for it).

After return from the bath, the ceremony began with the wearing of groom for the wedding ceremony, again accompanied by music and songs.

For each clothing garments was sung specific song.

These songs did not contain themes of love or poetry.

It was a loud announcement of the garment, which was dressed in the rhythm of music: the groom - weared - his pants, the groom - weared - his caftan.

In the house of the bride was at the same time similar ceremony.

The bride was dressed in wedding gown, women sung a song that expressed the sadness of separation from her parents' house.

The song began: aglama, gelin, aglama (do not cry, my bride, do not cry).

Other words of this song I unfortunately do not remember.

Women plaited hair of bride into numerous plaits, in the way used by Tatar women till this day, only two non-plaited strands of hair remained at the temples that formed two ringlets, known as zyufami which differed married women from unmarried girls and widows.

During the plating of plaits on head of the bride, collected attending girls small silver coins for poor women who participated in the preparation of hair.

Then was the bride dressed in wedding dress, jewelry was putted (if she had it) as like other decorations, the veil was attached, and the bride was seated in a corner of room, surrounded by her girlfriends in the similar age, and they expected the wedding ceremony.

The wedding ceremony took place usually in the bride or groom's house where all people went after the evening worship in kenasa (Karaite synagogue).

If was the wedding ceremony in the groom's house, the bride was festivaly carried there before the ceremony in a carriage, the carriage was drove by groom's relatives.
The bride was carried into the carriage in the arms of the bride's brother, or one of her closest relatives, in the same way he took her out of the carriage into the room in which was kertek, the bridal bed.

There the bride remained until the end of the ceremony.

If was the wedding ceremony in the house of the bride, the groom came to the house.

The ceremony took place in the same way.

Assembly of members of Karaite community browsed the jewels and other valuables scattered on the table, which became the dowry the bride, and they evaluated its.

Hazzan, who did not hold only office of cleric but also the office of notary, wrote all the jewelry and other valuables into the list that was part of the wedding document.

The list contained: clothing, underwear, cash, real estate and also above mentioned mohar.

All mentioned was in inviolable ownership of bride, because marriage did not rid her rights to have personal property.

Then came into the room or hall where the meeting took place, the groom, accompanied by friends and peers.

Hazzan (or other person) read aloud the wedding document, signed by the groom and by witnesses, and the authorized person give it with mohar to bride.

The bride remained in her room, and did not appear in front of members of the community.

It was part of the civil ceremony.

The religious part of the ceremony consisted, as like today, from reading verses from the Holy Scriptures, which are related to marriage and wedding, from prayers and blessings to the newlyweds.

After it were sang spiritual songs in biblical hebrew language and began congratulations.

Finally were served meals.

After old members of the community left, the youth continued in celebration and feasting, and they did not permit to the bridegroom to go into the room where was the bridal bed without a ransom, which was addressed to the poor members of the community.

This was end of the wedding ceremony but not end of wedding.

The newlyweds did not leave the house for seven days, they symbolically guarded their wedding bed.

The next morning was in the house of the groom prepared breakfast for close relatives and friends.

This morning was known as kertek aldi, which means greetings in front of the bridal bed.

One of the evenings which fell on the seven days of the wedding was known as bakhshish gedjesi, which means evening of gifts.

In this evening, after dinner, gave relatives to newlyweds various gifts.

Another of the evenings was known as arslan odjak gedjesi, which means evening of the lion’s fireplace.

It was the evening from Friday to Saturday.

It is well known that all the holidays, including Shabbat start in evening, so this evening was festive too.

All works were terminated, and the rest and peace of Saturday began, including marital relations between the newlyweds, tenderness of love between the newlyweds was during this holy day prohibited.

Newlyweds spend this festive time in friendly conversation with close relatives and friends, they told stories and gave riddles each other, friends and relatives helped in this way to the newly married couple to resist to temptations of erotic pleasure, it means to a pleasure that was understandable in their new relationship, but in the time of Shabbat it was the sin.

On Saturday morning, was the couple accompanied by people singing spiritual songs to kenasa (Karaite synagogue), where toke place the next celebration.

This Saturday, which was known under its biblical hebrew name Shabbat khatanim (groom's Saturday), were some changes in worship: worship contained many verses from the book Song of Songs by King Solomon, which glorify beloved man and girl, because these verses have according to existing traditional interpretations the allegorical religious significance.

Other days of wedding are not so important, so I do not consider as necessary to describe its.

In this section, I mentioned many details that significantly extend the text.

Such lengthy marriages with endless festivities were possible only in the old days, when Karaites were liberated from the domination of Tatars, at a time when Karaites still did not leave borrowed customs, at a time when life in its patriarchal simplicity was contented with little, and when a large and constant efforts was not needed for life, and when remained a lot of time for celebration and merriment.

Nowadays were conditions of Karaite life changed, the life became more hectic, Karaite weddings become much more simpler and its are not so much different from the weddings of European nations.

 

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