Friday, November 24, 2017

Karaite and ancient sectarian halakhah

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2017: Early Karaite Halakha according to Karaite Commentaries to the Bible (T-S 16.316) (Yoram Erder).
The Genizah documents are essentially fragmentary. In order to understand the Karaite halakha in these documents in its broad context, one needs to read the extensive corpus of early Karaite commentaries, which are mostly found in manuscripts in western libraries and in the Firkowitcz Collection in Russia. These commentaries are written in Judaeo-Arabic and most of them were not in the hands of the first scholars. Not only that, but the first scholars did not trouble themselves to compare their Genizah documents with the early Karaite commentaries available in their time, and instead they made do by reading late Karaite commentaries to the Bible written in Hebrew in the later Middle Ages, since these were readily available in print. The Karaites that wrote these later books did not, in their writings, present the halakhic controversies of their predecessors.

The first scholars studied the early Karaite halakha in the light of poor remnants of sectarian halakha they found in the Talmudic literature. From 1910 they had at their disposal the Damascus Covenant scroll that was discovered in the Genizah. When and where it was written was still then in debate. Nowadays, of course, we can examine early Karaite halakha in the light of the entire corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Past PaleoJudaica posts noting Cairo Geniza Fragments of the Month in the Cambridge University Library's Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit are here and here and links. For many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Karaites, start here and follow the links. Cross-file under Karaite Watch.

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