Friday, February 17, 2017

The Karaite community in California

KARAITE WATCH: A Karaite prayer: Little-known Jewish community builds center to tell its story (David A.M. Wilensky, J.).
B’nai Israel is the only Karaite synagogue in North America, serving the diaspora’s largest Karaite community — about 800 members live within driving distance of the synagogue.

Karaite Jews differ from Rabbanite Jews (as Karaites call the majority of Jews who follow rabbinic tradition) in that they reject oral law — the Talmud and rabbinic authority — relying instead on the literal text of the Bible. The two communities coexisted until the 10th century, when foundational Jewish (Rabbanite) leader and thinker Saadia Gaon denounced Karaites as apostates and sought to exclude them from the Jewish community. Relationships between these two Jewish communities have varied across time and place, but that initial antagonism has long colored the relationship.

In the Bay Area, where few Rabbanite Jews are aware of Karaite Judaism, that relationship is cordial, though not always close on an institutional level. But on a personal level, many Karaite Jews are involved with the wider Bay Area Jewish community. Many have had bar and bat mitzvahs in Rabbanite synagogues
The article has lots of information on Karaites, their modern history, and their current institutions and practices. And one excerpt on the new cultural center:
To ensure that future, the congregation has embarked on a relatively small construction project that will have a large and visible impact on their community: They are renovating their existing 3,500-square-foot prefab building and creating a 1,000-square-foot Karaite Jewish Cultural Center, attached to the synagogue, which will serve as a combination education program, museum and social center.

There is a Karaite Heritage Center in Israel, but this will be the only similar institution in the diaspora.

For a community this small, a lot is riding on the project. “If this current generation of Karaite Jews in the United States fails, it’ll be very difficult to kick-start the movement in any organized fashion,” said Shawn Lichaa, a pillar of the local Karaite community.
Worth reading if full if you have any interest in the Karaites.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Karaites are here (with more on the Karaite community in Daly City) and links (cf. here).