The Caraites. -- By: Charles H. Brigham

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 021:81 (Jan 1864)
Article: The Caraites.
Author: Charles H. Brigham


The Caraites.1

Rev. Charles H. Brigham

In one of the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, in a house of moderate size, marked among the rest by its peculiar whiteness and neatness, a small community of some five-and-thirty souls dwell separate from the rest of their race. It is their boast and their consolation that they are the oldest inhabitants of the Holy City since the destruction of the second temple. They have suffered from plague, from famine, from persecution, from apostasy, until their numbers are reduced to this little band; but they still keep their union, their ritual, their purity of doctrine, and the precious volume of their ancient law. Under their house, in a subterranean chamber, lighted through a small square opening in the roof, and by a little glass chandelier with four oil lamps, strangely confusing the artificial with the natural gleam, is the synagogue, which, small as it is, has room for a larger company than the household dwelling above it. Upon the sacred ark is a silver plate inscribed in golden letters with the ancient creed of Israel: “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Not from a roll, as in other synagogues, but from a book of parchments, the pages decorated with arabesques and illuminated initial letters, is the service chanted. This manuscript bears date of the sixth century, and carries back the possessors to an age earlier than the authentic beginning of the sect; for this little community, gathered in one house, is all that remains here of that important body of reformed Jews, that in the eighth and ninth ages were honored by the name of “Jerusalemites,”

but are better known to us (though not much known to any Christians) by their name of Caraites.

The name Caraite, from the Hebrew Kara, to read or recite, describes the radical difference of this sect from the other Jewish sects. They are textualists in opposition to the traditionalists. They hold to the letter of scripture, in opposition to the forms of its various interpretation, and to the accretions by which the rabbins have overloaded and superseded it. This general difference has always been recognized, though beyond this, the information of scholars concerning the peculiarities of the sect has been sufficiently meagre. Very few eastern travellers have made any mention of their customs, and the studies of orientalists have but slightly noticed their literature and their dogmas. Benjamin of Tudela observes that in Damascus, in the twelfth century, there were about two hundred Caraites and four hundred Samaritans living on friendly terms together, but not intermarrying; yet he does not tell us the names of their rabbins, or...

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