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32569 Part 4

All these writers were, however, surpassed by Abraham Firkovich (1786-1874), whose literary activity covered nearly fifty years, and who calls for more extended notice, because his name is closely associated both with the development of Karaite science and with one of the greatest historical forgeries. The finding of Karaite antiquities in the Crimea happened as follows, according to impartial accounts (comp. Harkavy, "Altjüdische Denkmäleraus der Krim," 1876, pp. 206 et seq.): When Emperor Nicholas I. visited the Crimea for the first time, in 1836, the governor-general of southern Russia, Prince Michail Woronzow, undertook to restore and furnish in truly Oriental style the old castle of the khans at Bakhchiserai. He entrusted the necessary purchases to the Karaite merchant Simah Bobowitsch, a man of affairs who had business relations in Constantinople. Bobowitsch went to that city and received during an audience with the sultan permission to select what he needed from the sultan's castles and warehouses.


On his return to Bakhchiserai, Bobowitsch also had charge of furnishing the castle, remaining even after the czar had arrived. At that time a deputation of the Crimean Rabbinite Jews (the Krimchaks) was presented to the czar, and, like the other natives of the Crimea, they submitted their petition to be released from military service. The czar asked the delegates: "You believe in the Talmud?" "Yes, your majesty; we believe in it," they replied. "Then you must furnish soldiers," the czar replied curtly. On this occasion Prince Woronzow said to Bobowitsch: "You see, Bobowitsch that you Karaites have done a very sensible thing in cutting loose from the Talmud; when did this happen?" Bobowitsch thereupon replied that the Karaites never had had anything to do with the Talmud, that their religion was older than the Jewish religion, that the Karaites had taken no part in persecuting and crucifying Jesus, and made other statements current among the Karaites. "Can you prove this?" asked the prince. "Certainly," replied Bobowitsch.


When subsequently, in 1839, a society for history and antiquities was formed at Odessa, Woronzow remembered Bobowitsch's promise. Bobowitsch had in the meantime been elected chief of the Crimean Karaites, and commissioned his tutor Firkovich, who was known as an inveterate foe of Rabbinism, to furnish the necessary documents proving the great age of Karaism, especially in the Crimea, giving him, in addition to travelling expenses, a definite salary while occupied in this work. He furthermore procured for Firkovich an authorization from the government to collect all the necessary records and historical documents among the Karaites and Jews. Armed with this authority Firkovich travelled through the Crimea and the Caucasus; he took from their owners whatever documents he deemed necessary, plundering especially the rabbinic Krimchaks; fabricated various epitaphs (among them that of Isaac Sangari and his wife) and epigraphs in manuscripts; tampered with the dates of documents, and interpolated the names of Crimean localities and Karaite personages in many of them.


He did all this for the sole purpose of representing the Karaites in the Crimea as a highly developed people dwelling there since the time of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser, in the seventh century B.C., and of proving that the Rabbinate Jews owed all their culture to the Karaites, especially Hebrew grammar, punctuation, Masorah, poetry, etc. Extravagant and surprising as these alleged facts seem nowadays, they yet found credence at that time in Russia, especially in government circles, though not for unselfish reasons. Attempts were even made to defend these forgeries on quasi scientific grounds. They paved the way for the emancipation of the Russian Karaites, who according to the alleged documentary evidence were shown to have lived in Russia long before the birth of Jesus, and had therefore taken no part in the crucifixion. This argument, however, is not original with the Karaites, for it is well known that various old Jewish communities in Spain and Germany brought it forward in their defense during the Middle Ages.


In several cases the Russian Karaites had resorted to it previously, of course backing it with silver, to advance their separation from the Rabbinates—in 1795, for instance, when they were exempted from the double taxation imposed upon the Rabbinates Jews at the instance of the venal Count Zubow, and in 1828, when they were exempted from military service. But in general they were considered in Russia, as everywhere else, as a relatively late Jewish sect, until Firkovich, on the strength of his "discoveries," renounced all connection with Jews and Judaism, and even with the name of "Hebrew," claiming the name of "Russian Karaite." Thanks to his labours and pretensions, which, as was then customary, were accompanied by considerable gifts to influential persons, the Russian Karaites received full civic liberty in 1863, which was confirmed with special emphasis in 1881 by the well-known anti-Semitic minister Nicholai Ignatieff.


The recognition of the human and civil rights of the followers of any confession need not be deprecated; yet it is deeply to be regretted that the foremost champions of the rights of the Russian Karaites and their Christian fellows at the same time endeavoured, and still endeavour, to cast slurs upon Judaism and to vilify the Rabbinate Jews, emphasizing the weak points of Rabbinic in order to show the alleged superiority of Karaism to better advantage. This inimical attitude of Russian Karaism and its paid protectors was occasioned by Firkovich. Nevertheless, it must be noted that Firkovich, with his industry in collecting much valuable material, rendered great services not only to Karaite literature (the material discovered by him and edited scientifically by S. Pinsker and others marking an important epoch of this literature), but also to the history and literature of the Rabbinate Jews and Samaritans. In conclusion it may be observed that Karaism, in opposing and criticizing the party of the Rabbinates, has done good service to the latter. The Karaites are estimated to number about 10,000 in Russia and about 2,000 in other countries.


Karaism is not, as asserted by its opponents, the outcome of mere personal ambition, but the natural reaction and counter-movement against Talmudism brought to a state of stagnation in the Saborean and early geonic period. In pointing to the written Law or Scripture as the only divine source of authority, it gave to Judaism a healthy stimulus in the direction of renewed Bible study and research and inaugurated a new epoch in Jewish history. Its weakness, however, consisted in its being an altogether retrogressive movement, deriving support from remnants, literary or otherwise, of seemingly long extinct Sadducee and Essence doctrines, and ignoring the progressive element represented by the rabbinic Halakah, in favour of Sadducee adherence to the letter of the Law (see Geiger, "Gesammelte Schriften," iii. 283 et seq.; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 413-429).


However bold and original Anan's combination of the Sadducees and rabbinic methods in his system of hermeneutics, the longing for the past glory of Zion, for the restoration of the Temple with its sacrificial and Leviticus laws of purity, lent Karaism a sober, ascetic, and world-shunning character. "Only when and where wine and meat can be offered upon the altar may they be used at the table," was made the maxim of the Karaite "mourner for Zion," even though later Karaism did not adhere to it (Harkavy, "Liḳḳue admoniyyot," ii. 1903,  jurisdiction in civil as well as in criminal cases, outside the Holy Land, is suspended, though he who does not act in conformity with the Law should be excommunicated ; perfect separation from the Gentiles is enjoined, and no meal prepared in any form by them should be eaten . Rigorous Essences rules are inculcated in regard to married life; menstrual fluid, human excrement, blood, and any other unclean issue must be covered with earth; privies must be kept distant from the limit of human dwellings; ablution of both hands and feet after every easement of the body, and before entering the synagogue or reading from the Law.


It is required; both the water and the laver must be kept holy. None is allowed to enter the synagogue or read from the scroll of the Law with shoes on his feet, or after having taken wine; to irreverent treatment of a single Law there is attached the penalty of death by God's hand or of excommunication by man. Tefillin are not recognized as Biblical, Deut. vi. 8 and xi. 18 being taken symbolically; all the more sacredness is ascribed to the iit, which must be twisted, spun, and attached by an Israelite expressly trained for the purpose. Circumcision must be performed by a Jewish believer, with a consecrated instrument (scissors), and after the person has been consecrated; for proselytes the eighth, and for other adults the eleventh, day of the month is set apart, and in the case of both Periah is omitted Regarding the Sabbath, the rules enforced are the same as those of the Samaritans and Falashas, and as those prescribed in the Book of Jubilees: No light or fire is allowed; marital intercourse and leaving the house are forbidden (later, it was permissibleto go as far as 2,000 yards); light burdens, however, may be carried in the hand. No kind of work may be done by a non-Jew for a Jew. The act of circumcision on the eighth day should be performed upon the child at the close of the Sabbath, so that the work of healing may take place on Sunday nor may the Passover lamb be sacrificed on a Sabbath. All work except preparation of food is prohibited also on the holy days; so is the slaughtering of animals


The "maẓẓah," as the bread of affliction, should be made of barley. Shabu'ot must always be observed on the day after Sabbath, as the Sadducces and Samaritans interpret the Biblical "the morrow of the Sabbath" (Lev. xxiii. 16). The "Sukkah" should be made of the plants mentioned in Lev. xxiii. 40 and Neh. viii. 15. The 1st of Tishri is a day of "contrition," not of the blowing of the shofar; the beginning of the year is the 1st of Nisan; and a second Sheba (not Adar) is the intercalary month in a leap-year. anukkah is not celebrated; Purim is a two days' fast; and there is a seventy days' fast in remembrance of the Haman persecution, and a fast on the seventh day of every month; the source is unknown as yet). Instead of the 9th, the 10th of Ab is the fast-day in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem. The New-Moon is fixed by observation.


 


 


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