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Do Surnames Indicate Origins? The Case of the Skulener Rebbe.

“הרב פורטוגל (המשפחה נקראה כן בשל היות מוצאה מגולי פורטוגל אשר השתקעו ברוסיה


Has anyone written an in depth study (utilizing primary source material) of the Sabbath Lamp controversy that hit the the Karaites in the 15th century?

The focus should be on the dynamic father-son duo Moses and Elijah Bashyatchi of Byzantium.

While the Bashyatchis instituted many reforms, the lifting of the ban on Sabbath lamps is the most interesting and the most important. It was this prohibition that had the Karaites apart from their Rabbanite brethren for centuries.

The Bashyatzi reforms were not accepted without vigorous opposition (sometimes from their own close family members). The communities became fractured into two opposing camps: one was called מדליקים,literally “the lighters”, i.e. those who lit candles on the eve of the Sabbath and the מכבים, literally the extinguishers, i.e. those who made sure to put out all fires with the arrival of the Sabbath. Tracts like איגרת איסור נר שבת by Byzantine Hakham Abraham Bali (an unapologetic extinguisher) and other apologia that were composed by traditional old-line Karaites have never, to my knowledge, been properly studied.

It is also still unclear exactly which communities accepted this relaxation wholesale; made compromises in Synagogues but not in dwelling places; and who continues to adhere to the original Karaite interpretation of this prohibition to this day.
For instance, it is commonly perceived that this specific Bashyatzi reform was embraced in Asia minor, The Crimea, and Eastern Europe (although a friend informs me that his father once wandered into a dark cold Karaite Kenesa in Birzai, Lithuania on a Friday eve. Other anecdotal evidence points to such anti-reformist tendencies in the Crimea as well) while the deeply traditional Middle Eastern Karaites categorically rejected it. This is certainly no longer true as traditionally most Karaite synagogues in Israel not only light oil lamps on Friday eve but even sell this honor to the highest bidder. By the 1940s, the last Karaite Hakham of Egypt, Crimean-born Toviya Levi-Babovich daringly proclaimed from his Cairo pulpit that “our ancestors were mistaken in their well-meaning zeal to adhere to the literal interpretation of “thou shalt not light a fire in your dwelling places on the Sabbath”.

On the other hand, I have personally witnessed Egyptian Karaites in Israel who still sit in the dark on Friday eve (some even unplug all electrical appliances).
i should think that an exhaustive study of this phenomenon is a scholarly desideratum.

What Is The Provenance of This Painting?




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This purports to represent the excommunications of Karaites, by the Rabbis of the Geonic Academy on the Mount of Olives (as Marina Rustow shows in her Heresy and the Politics of the Community, this ceremony was initiated by a rogue group of Rabbanite zealots and was hardly sanctioned by the Academy of Eretz Yisrael) see my post here for more

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi Offering Praise to a Karaite? (and by extension, to THE Karaites) Surprising?

בספר שירת חייו של ר’ יהודה הלוי ישנו שיר לכבוד חתן יהודי קראי, בו ריה”ל מגלה יחס חם לבני קהילת בני מקרא: ” יראי אל בני מקרא / בניכם שימעוני… לכן חזקו ואל ירפו ידיכם / ביען אין בכל העמים כמותכם”.

Judah Halevi sends his warm tidings, in the form of a poem, to a Karaite groom. The poem offers effusive praise of the Karaites as a whole. Surprising? somewhat, however cf. Yashar Delmedigo’s letter to the Karaite Hazzan Natan ben Yosef of Troki (the relevant excerpts are reproduced in my post here).

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It Is Rare To Come Across a Non-Truncated Representation of the Decalogue in Synagogues.


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I am not sure why that is (a simple space issue?), but I must say that it is precisely why I adore this non-truncated version. It comes from the Karaite Mosheh Al-Dari Synagogue in Cairo which has recently undergone some extensive restorations.

See more here

The Bombing of the Karaite Jewish Quarter in Cairo, Egypt, 68 Years Ago

1788341584On June 20, 1948, a bomb detonated in the Karaite Quarter of Cairo killed 22 Jews and wounded another 41. As part of a series of attacks on the city’s Jewish population, the event gave a significant push to an ongoing wave of emigration of Jews from Egypt.

Read more


and here


Sabbetai Sevi Apparently Had a Following Even Among Some Karaites..

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While it is certainly strange that Karaites would revere a man whose very being was so enmeshed in Jewish mysticism-a discipline that was largely seen as heretical (even idolatrous) among the vast majority of Karaites (with the rare exception of Karaite Kabbalists such as Simcha Isaac Lutzki of course), I can understand why Sabbetai and later Sabbateans would actually court them. To Sabbetai, the Talmud was no longer relevant. The Frankists would later take it a step further and renounce the Talmud altogether. Something to think about.

My Review of Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz. Please Share and Comment.


Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz is an engaging and often fascinating read about the development of the Kosher food industry in the United States and indeed how Kosher became a staple of Americana.

Did you know that in 1925, about 25% percent of steers that were slaughtered in the United States were done so in a Kosher manner? Did you further know that Jews, in the US at that time, constituted the largest consumer of beef per capita (Horowitz: “In 1909 a national study showed that Jews, regardless of income, ate close to one hundred pounds of beef and veal annually”) ? Did you know that currently the biggest consumers of Kosher food in the US happen to be gentiles. In fact according to Horowitz, by the late 1980s “there were at least three non-Jewish kosher food consumers for every observant Jew”. These consumers range from those who apparently feel that kosher equals healthier and more sanitary; to Muslims who want to be assured that they are not imbibing any products containing pork; others are lactose-intolerant who rely on a given product’s certification that it contains only non-dairy ingredients; still others are vegetarians who rely on the ‘parve’ label to insure that no animal products are included.

Additionally there is a large market for Kosher sweet wine in the African-American community. In fact by 1950, 80 (!) percent of the consumers of Manischewitz Concord Wine were gentiles, the vast majority of them African Americans!

These and other factoids (elaborated upon generously by Horowitz) provide a fascinating read for scholar and laymn alike.

The author describes in interesting detail the trajectory of the Kosher meat industry in America from its heyday in the early decades of the 20th century (did you know that kosher poultry was more expensive than beef?), to its slump in the last decades of that century, only to be resurrected in the 21st century.

The higher standards of Kosher (see “glatt”) that became mandatory, and the resultant spike in price, did indeed cause many Jews who kept kosher, but were otherwise non-observant, to quit buying Kosher meat. I found it interesting that the consternation over kosher meat prices was already a concern in Jewish America of 1902. This report from the New York Times of 1902 amply demonstrates that the last thing you want to do is mess with a Jewish housewife’s briket:

“Jewish housewives on the Lower East Side poured into the streets, breaking windows and throwing meat. The women were protesting a jump in the price of kosher meat from 12 to 18 cents a pound” see here…/…/15/1902/kosher-beef-boycott-of-1902

The author is obviously quite familiar with halakhic (Jewish Religious Law) methodology and cites formulations thereof liberally throughout the book, often but not always following it up with explanatory notes. As a former Rabbinic student, this is of course not a problem for me, but for the average reader this may pose a bit of a challenge. (considering that gentiles make up the largest consumers of kosher products, this is something to keep in mind).

In a future edition, I hope the author would also consider writing more in detail about the “kosher meat wars” that took place in the first several decades of the last century. While only briefly mentioning involvement of organized crime in the booming kosher meat industry, it but scratched the surface of a good if often uncomfortable story.

Equally discomfiting are the instances of fraud wherein cheaper non-Kosher meat was packaged and sold as Kosher. The author cites cases from the 20 and 30s. There were even raids on such illicit operations that I couldn’t help but find tragicomic; in one instance, a team composed of Rabbis, Board of Health Inspectors as well as Dept. of Agriculture operatives stake out an establishment, lie in wait and eventually swoop down to catch the culprits red-handed.

One does not have to look that far back to find instances such as these. As recently as 2006, the New York Times described “Shevach Meats” a large distributor of Kosher meat for the Ultra-Orthodox communities of Rockland County, NY as “passing off [non-kosher] chicken as kosher”
See here:

Other lighthearted moments are had when reading how a Rabbi in California was awakened by State Troopers in the wee hours of the morning, and then rushed at breakneck speed amid flashing lights and sirens in order to “begiss” (a kosher process that is aptly described in the book) a truck of kosher meat that got stuck in a snow storm en route to the east coast.

A sub industry of Kosher that was only briefly touched upon is the involvement of the most conservative (lower case c) elements of Orthodoxy in Kashrut. I am referring specifically to the explosion of the Hasidic populations primarily in the NY Metro areas and what they have fashioned to suit their most stringent kashrut requirements. Halav Yisrael for instance (literally “Israelite Milk”) is not mentioned. Halav Yisrael requires that a reliable Jew be present during the extraction of the milk and that unsupervised milk may not be used. Primarily Hasidic Jews are very stringent in this requirement (the exact background behind this “requirement” and the vehement disagreement it engendered from Ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic Rabbis is beyond the scope of this review) and will not consume any dairy products that are not marked with the Halav Yisrael tag. Dairy companies like Golden Flow Dairy for instance were founded by-and are under the proprietorship- of Hasidic owners and their products are to be found in most Haredi areas of Metro NY.

While most contemporary Hasidic Jews take these product for granted, they were almost non-existent in pre-WWII America (except for apparently one small farm see here It can be traced to the emigration to the United States of a large group of religiously pious Rabbis (mostly Hasidic and Hungarian Ultra-Orthodox) and their followers from Eastern Europe. While the author does discuss the phenomenon of “glatt” meat (whose origins are the same), it does not devote any space to its dairy counterpart.

One thing I found odd was the passage describing Horowitz’s meeting with the head of the Orthodox Union. I suspect there must have been some kind of misunderstanding as the passage “he radiated disapproval for my evidently non-Orthodox mode of dress and behavior” seems so incongruent with a man who is often described as “Bill Clinton’s Rabbi”. Furthermore, Horowitz informs us in his epilogue that he made sure to show the utmost respect to his interlocutors and interviewees. For instance, “I wore a kippa when entering an Orthodox Person’s home out of respect for their beliefs”.

Milk Store, Toronto, 1903. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Probably NOT Halav Yisrael..

Please Read and Comment on My New Post at the JHI Blog

The Karaites Finally Renovate their Most Ancient Synagogue in Jerusalem– and Museum Adjacent to it.

Video is in Hebrew



This article, in english, is a word-for-word translation (not the best one, I’m afraid).

Check out the site of the Karaite Heritage Center in Israel (Hebrew) for more


On the History of the Anan ben David Synagogue see Brill 

I reproduce here the relevant section:

1. The Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem

The Karaite synagogue is the oldest one in Jerusalem (Pinkerfeld 1971, p. 15 ). Traditionally, the Karaite community in Jerusalem is said to have been established by ʿAnan ben David, the putative founder of Karaism, in the ninth century. This tradition is unsupported. Based on its appearance and the way it was constructed, with crossed arches in the ceiling, the synagogue building appears to date from the eleventh or twelfth century, when the Karaite community in Jerusalem enjoyed its greatest growth and fame. At first the structure was probably at street level, but over the centuries apartments and rooms “piled up” around it as they were demolished and rebuilt. As a result, the synagogue building became lower than its surroundings. The earliest document attributing the building to the Karaites is from 1561. Until the 1948 war, the synagogue could be approached by a steep staircase that descended about 5 meters (16 feet) from the courtyard. Tradition has it that the Muslims banned the Karaites from cutting windows in the walls so that their voices would not be audible outside the building.

When access was restored in 1967, the synagogue was in a half-destroyed state. It was reconstructed based on a drawing by the architect Jacob Pinkerfeld. The sanctuary, which measures 8 × 10.5 meters (26 × 35 feet), is crossed by a row of two pillars, each measuring 1 meter × 1 meter (3.2 × 3.2 feet) according to Pinkerfeld’s reconstruction (see plan).

Two recesses on the eastern side were apparently used for storing Torah scrolls. The rear currently serves as the women’s section, although there is no proof whatsoever that there ever was a women’s section in the original building. The synagogue apparently had two pulpits, one between the two central pillars and the other near the ark. The sanctuary was surrounded by storerooms. The northeastern room served as a ritual bath and may have been connected underground to the ritual bath of the adjacent Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue.

In any case, this double-stoa room is the oldest such sanctuary known anywhere in the world. Until 250 years ago, it was a dark place, with just a little light provided by qandīls (oil lamps) hanging from the ceiling; then three lighting shafts were cut from the courtyards above into the synagogue. But even then the light that made its way in was dim. In front of the entrance to the sanctuary was a small vestibule for removing shoes and storing personal prayer articles; these practices were probably adopted under the influence of Muslim prayer customs.


See here for some interesting historical documents, of this historic site, from the British-Mandate era