JUDAISM WITHOUT THE TALMUD.* WE are sorry to have to
say so, but Dr. Rule has produced a very poor and confused work on a very interesting subject. At a time when the great book of traditional Judaism is not only attracting unusual attention from the learned in the principal European countries, but—thanks to the pen of one brilliant writer—has become almost the fashion amongst ourselves, nothing can be more apposite than the reminder that there is a Judaism not of the Talmud—that a considerable fraction of the sons of Israel, with a history and a literature of their own, take their stand to this day upon a principle diametrically opposite to that of the literary edifice which Mr. Deutsch has called upon the English public to admire. Karaites and Rabbinists—the " Readers " and the Rabbi-followers —stand face to face in the Jewish world in an antagonism perhaps even more absolute than that between Protestant and Romanist in the Christian. For at the heart of the whole mass of Romish devotional literature stands, after all, the Bible, though that heart be made almost torpid by the superincumbent weight of tradition. But at the heart of Rabbinic Judaism stands not the Old Testa- ment, but the Mishnah. This, and not the Law round which it "set hedges," together with the original Gemara, or commentary, forms the centre of the folio page of the Talmud, round which flows the full stream of explanation, comment, legend, floating rubbish of all sorts. The Karaite, on the other hand, has no sacred book but the Bible, and the commentaries of his doctors have never for him replaced the Law, or obscured its authority.
The history of Karaism is, nevertheless, obscure. Rabbinists commonly maintain that it only dates from the eighth century, and ascribe its foundation to one Ahnan, son of David, in the eighth century. According to the Karaites themselves, he would seem only to have been a restorer of their doctrine, imbued, indeed, with larger views and a juster appreciation of our Lord's human work, as that of "a just and good man, one who feared God, and who taught nothing as a statute or judgment except the written law of God, setting aside all that shall be proved diverse or contrary to what Moses,—on whom be peace !— wrote in the law," than has been usual even in the Karaite body, whether before or since. But Dr. Rule shows that an authority not to be suspected in such a matter, the Arab writer Ab-ul-feda, distinguishes the Ahnanites from the Karaites, as well as from the Rabbinists, so that the melting a*ay of Ahnan's teaching into the doctrine of ordinary Karaism can only belong to a period later than that in which the learned Mussulman flourished. Still less justification does there appear to be for the theory, maintained by other writers to the present day, that Karaism is the continuation or revival of Sadduceeism. "For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit ;" but it is no less true of the Karaites, than it was of the Pharisees of old, that they "confess both." According to a sin- gular Rabbinic work called Sepher Chozri or the "Book of the Chozarite," first published in Arabic by one Judah the Levite, in the first half of the twelfth century, but professed by him to have been written 400 years before, Karaism arose nearly a century before Christ, in the time of King Alexander Jannai. The same date is assigned for its origin by Maimonides, and a learned
History of the Karaite Jews. By William Harris Rah; D.D. London: Longmans. 1870.
Karaite of the beginning of the eighteenth century, Rabbi Mordecai, confirms this view, which has been, if not established, yet rendered far more probable at the present day than it ever had been previously, through the examination of ancient Karaite gravestones in the Crimea.
Dr. Rule, indeed, admits that, so far as he can ascertain, the name of Karaite "first comes to view in the middle of the eighth century" in connection with those " Chozars " who give its name to the Sepher Chozri,—a forgotten people, who for several cen- turies held rule on the north-west of the Caspian Sea (called then the Sea of Chozar), on the coast of the Sea of Azof, the western side of the Black Sea, and along the Volga, and who extended their conquests to the North Sea, but were subdued by King Sviatoslaf in 945. They were, we are told, "a numerous people, victorious in war, prosperous in commerce, and famous in all the East. Their government was mild, and under it persons of every religion enjoyed perfect freedom." The subject of the Sepher Chozri is a dialogue between Bulan, king of the Chozars, and one Rabbi Isaac, on the respective claims of the Jewish and Christian religions, in view of the king's choosing one of them for himself ; and part of it consists of a contrast between the Karaites and their traditionist opponents, thus introduced by King Bulan :—" But pray let me know what you have to tell me about the Karaites, for lace them very diligent in their worship, more so than the Rabbinites, and I hear that their reasons are more convincing, and more in agreement with the simple meaning of the law." Although the result of the discussion is represented to be that the King is persuaded to embrace Rabbinistic Judaism, it is clear that no higher testimony could be afforded than this of an opponent to the devoutness of the Karaites, and to the simplicity of their teaching.
The most remarkable confirmation of the authority of the Sepher Chozri lies in the fact that it is precisely in the old haunts of tho Chozars that Karaism remains most flourishing to this day, and that Rabbi Isaac's very grave has been discovered. Karaite teach- ing seems, indeed, at one time to have spread almost wherever Judaism itself was to be found. One Rabbi Beshitzi, a young Karaite, who set out on a pilgrimage to ascertain the condition of his brethren, and explored the Holy Land, Assyria, Chaldma, Arabia, and Turkey, on his return reported that they "were multiplied like the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven." Dr. Rule (who is usually very chary of dates) does not state the period of this itinerary, but places it after his account of Ahnan in the eighth century, though, strange to say, before a statement that "when Mohammed took Mecca, he found it inhabited by Sabians and Karaites," i.e., in the first half of the seventh century. The Rabbinist Benjamin of Tudela mentions them at Constantinople, Ascalon, Damascus,—the last-named city noted as a chief seat of Karaisna. In the course of the tenth century, a celebrated controversy took place between Rabbi Saadiah, surnamed Faytimi (from his birth-place, Faytim, in Egypt), and the most eminent Karaite of his day, Rabbi Solomon ben Yerukhim. A liturgy, prepared by Saadiah, which came out in A.D. 940, contained bitter impreca- tions on the Karaites, and caused them to withdraw altogether from the synagogues, which they had hitherto continued to fre- quent, to build others, and to frame a liturgy for themselves (A.D. 960). In Spain, indeed, the struggle came on later, lasting for about half of the twelfth century (1110 to 1161); though only in Castile, since there is evidence that in Catalonia Karaites and Rabbinists lived peaceably together in the fifteenth century. To the fourteenth century belongs the greatest Karaite writer, Rabbi Aaron, son of Elijah, born in Cairo about 1300, author of a commentary on the Pentateuch entitled the Crown of the Law. It is, however, admitted that Karaism began to decay from about the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fif- teenth century. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, in Egypt, for instance, where their synagogues had been large and numerous (one of them boasting of a library of "a hundred thousand volumes"), they were reduced to abject poverty and extreme ignorance. Again, in Lithuania, where they had a renowned synagogue at Torok, about seventeen miles west from Wilna, "holy, full of riches, glory, science divine, philosophic, and refined," the storms of war almost ruined their communities. Still it is in Southern Russia and Russian Poland that they have chiefly kept together, and it is from these quarters that modern accounts of them have been almost exclusively derived. Thus, the Rev. Dr. Henderson, as an agent of the Bible Society, visited a Karaite synagogue at Lutzk, in Polish Russia, in the year 1821, and thought that it "more nearly resembled a place of primitive Christian worship than the synagogues of any of the other principal sections of Judaism." He proceeded to the Crimea, and found at Djufut-Kale a community of above 250 families, exclu- sively Karaite, and all engaged in trade. Behind the town was an ancient cemetery, reported by themselves to be 500 years old, but which appears from later information to be much older. According to Dr. Henderson,- ' The Karaites are free from many of the superstitions to be found among the Jews in general, such as the transmigration of souls, the
power of talismans, itc In their persons they are tidy ; their domestic discipline and arrangements are correct and exemplary, and their dealings with others are characterized by probity and integrity. It is one of their favourite maxims that those things which a man is not willing to receive himself, it is not right for him to do to his brethren.
They are universally respected by all who know them ; and I never yet heard any person speak ill of them, except he was a bigoted Adherent of the Talmud. In the south of Russia, where they are best known, their conduct is proverbial. A Polish gentleman in Dubno in- formed me that while the other Jews resident in Lutzk are constantly embroiled in suits at law, and require the utmost vigilance on the part of the police, there is not a single instance of prosecution recorded _against the Karaites for the space of several hundred years, during which they have been settled at that plase."
Kohl, the German traveller, who visited Kale in 1841, reports almost as favourably of the Karaites, though his attention was -chiefly confined to externals. Later accounts were collected -during the Crimean war, and published either in the French Moniteur or the Archives Israelites in 1855 and 1856. Djufut- Kale had suffered greatly through the war, and its 250 families were reduced to 100, many of these only composed of old men, widows, and children. The cemetery was reckoned to con- tain 40,000 tombs, and amongst them that of Rabbi Isaac Sangari himself, the Rabbinist victor in the controversy recorded in the Sepher Chozri, and converter of the Chozar king, dated A.D. 766. Another handsome synagogue was found at Eupatoria, the Karaite cemetery of which is said to be "the finest Israelite cemetery in the whole world." Since the war, moreover, the most ancient gravestones in the Djufut-Kale cemetery have been carefully examined, tracings -taken and published in the Melanges Asiatiques of St. Petersburg, -and it results from them that "the inscriptions, which may with .very rare exceptions be pronounced Karaite," date as early as A.D. 330.
Till the present century, the main source of information respect- ing Karaism was a work by James Trigland, Professor of Theology in Leyden in the latter part of the seventeenth century (Triglandii Diatribe de Seca Karmorum.) For centuries after the invention of printing the Karaites had no press of their own, and an edition of the Karaite liturgy, printed in Venice in 1529, at the expense .of the Karaite body, contains a curious MS. note or memorandum 'for the signori stampatori, who are requested "to be careful not to trust them to the Hebrews who usually take charge of the 'offices, correct the press, and amend the errors, for, being -enemies of the said Karaites, they will corrupt the text," but to make use of Christians skilled and learned in the Hebrew tongue. in the present century, however, a revival of Karaite zeal appears to have taken place, and after a first attempt at a printing-office in Kale, which did no good work, a large printing establishment was founded at Eupatoria in 1825, under the direction of Abraham Firkowitsch, who after printing several standard Karaite works with success, travelled, like Beshitzi before him, into foreign lands, visiting Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, Persia, and the Caucasus, in search of the scattered Karaite com- munities, and bringing back with him a rich harvest of ancient 'rolls of the law and other MSS., now deposited in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg.