Every morning and evening, in synagogues around the world, these Jews pray through the Bible and wait for the Messiah. They are called Karaites, or “Readers of the Bible,” and like Messianic Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they accept only those Jewish traditions which do not contradict the Hebrew Scriptures. These “biblical” Jews follow the strict teaching of the Law of Moses and maintain that Rabbinic Judaism and the Oral Torah – traditions eventually codified in the Mishnah and the Talmud – are not necessarily God’s authoritative word.
Karaite Jews are known in Israel as Benei Mikra, or Sons of the Scriptures. In Jerusalem, they pray daily in the oldest active synagogue in the world named “The House of Prayer of the Sons of the Scriptures,” which has been in nearly continuous use since it was constructed in the 6th Century CE.
Karaite Jews do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) like the rest of Judaism in the fall, but, again like many Messianic Jews, commemorate Yom T’ruah, the biblical Day of Trumpets, as instructed in Leviticus 23:24. Karaite Jews observe “biblical kosher” laws, so they eat meat and milk together, provided the meat was not the offspring of the animal that produced the milk, in accordance with Exodus 23:19. They celebrate the Jewish holidays, except Hanukkah, which is not in the Bible, and they hold daily prayer services with a Karaite Siddur, a prayer book containing prayers woven together from biblical verses.
These biblical Jews will pray when two or three are gathered together, rejecting a rabbinical requirement of at least 10 men for a minyan, or communal prayer. And they don’t lay tefillin. Rather, like Messianic Jews, they interpret the commandment to bind God’s word to one’s arm and forehead to mean that we should act and think according to God’s word.
Surprisingly, and like most Messianic Jews, Karaites believe in patrilineal descent, meaning a Jew is someone whose father is Jewish, since almost all Jewish descent in the Hebrew Bible is traced patrilineally. The Karaite motto, like that of the Bereans mentioned in the New Testament, is: “Search the Scriptures well, and do not rely on your own opinion.”
Origin of the Karaite / Biblical Jews
Since the time of Moses, there has been a continuous movement of Jews who were dedicated to the observance of the original written Torah by its peshat, or face-value meaning. The Pharisee religious movement, however, argued that the Torah needed sages to explain it to the common people. They claimed that in addition to the written law, God gave Moses an “Oral Torah” which, along with its commentaries, has been compiled into a series of books collectively known as the Talmud. It is these oral laws that regulate all modern Jewish tradition. Karaites, like the Jewish disciples of Jesus, point out that an “Oral Torah” is never mentioned in Scripture, and, therefore, cannot be authoritative for Jewish life.
Modern Biblical Jews
During the Middle Ages, Karaite Jews made up as much as 40 percent of the total Jewish population in the world. But rabbinical Judaism rejected their facevalue interpretation of Scripture, and it is the rabbinic orthodox view that has since dominated the Jewish world. Today, there are only about 50,000 biblical Jews worldwide, with the largest communities residing in Israel and the United States. Smaller communities exist in Turkey (Istanbul), Europe, and China.
Meir Rekhavi (picture), chancellor of the Karaite Jewish University in the USA, says that rabbinical Judaism has gone astray because it no longer adheres to the Hebrew Bible. A fascinating statement, given the fact that all arguments against the Messianic claims of Jesus come from rabbinic traditions developed after Christ.
Are Karaite Jews open to the Messiahship of Jesus? I spoke to one member who said they are still waiting for the Messiah, do not know much about Jesus having never read the New Testament, but would like to search the Prophets and find out.
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