[WIP] Crimean Karaites or rather Crimean Karaimites?

By Vadim Dovganyuk

[The following blog post is a work in progress and will be expanded as more information is collected and verified.]

As a descendant of Crimean Karaites, I often have to face ignorant people who state that we’re Turkic, not Jewish. Beyond the fact that it’s offensive, there is also the fact that the whole Khazar origin theory has been disproved by genetic studies. The theory was instead just used to gain safety among the anti-Jewish practices of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. That doesn’t change the fact that many people, especially followers of the American neo-Karaism–like Nehemia Gordon, use the theory to deny our heritage, religion, and existence.

The writings of Nehemia Gordon do show something important. In his writings, there are a lot of weird things. Like the fact that he calls the language “Karaylar”, even though this is the people. While he calls the people “Karaylar-Karaites”. And that sparked interest to me, as it reminds me of a different people, the “Karaim-Karaylar”, more commonly known as either Part-Karaimites or Karimi-Karaitizers.

To quote the information supplied by The Central Spiritual Board for Russian Karaims Abroad:

Karaimites or Karaimists practice Karaimism. It is not Karaite Judaism but it is a Messianic way of approximating in life certain practices from Hebraic tradition as understood in socio-historical context.

Karaimites came from the ancient Hypsistarian religion of the Crimeans (Karimi). They were not Karaites, only Karai-like and so somewhat unfairly they are thus called Karaitizers. Nevertheless, they were actually more like Noahites to the Krymchaks than Crimean Karaite imitators, despite appearances.

Karaimites may be either Russian-Karaims (Zera Yisrael) whose men should be circumcised or Karimi-Karaitizers (Friends) whose men should be uncircumcised. The difference between Russian-Karaims and Karimi-Karaitizers is the difference between the Biblical Ezrakh Israelite and Ger Noachite interpreted by Karaimites as professional (‘Alim) and amateur (‘Ummi) respectively.

As Karaimites may be either Zera Yisrael (Mahul Russian Karaims) or Noahites (Areil Karimi Karaitizers) they are not “Karaimite Jews” and though they often live among the Jews the Karaimite are noticeable precisely because of this two tier system. Neither are Karaimites anything to do with Sadducean Korahim. In fact there are certain religions like Sadduceeanism which one must reject in order to join the association because Sadduceeism has unspiritual tenents such as rejecting the Afterlife.

Russian Authorities tell us the Karaimites grew illegally among communities surrounding the remnant from whom they were named Old Judaists (Persian “Jidi”), that means of the Babylonian Exile, who populated the Khazar Sea shores and who welcomed apostles from Jesus and respecting the Shirazi Muhammad but refused the Babylonian Talmud and were quite distinct from the Roman Judaeans.

During WW2 the Socialist Secularized-Sadducean Crimean Karaites collaborated with Nazis in the Holocaust against Karaimite-Subbotniks across Ukraine (Lutsk, Kiev, Babi Yar) even as far as Krasnodar. They are not a religious community of Proper Karaimite-Subbotnik Russian Karaims nor even as Part-Karaimite-Subbotnik Karimi-Karaitizers.

Karaimites were tolerated by Russian authorities as long as they did not attempt to convert Orthodox Christians so they targeted Sunnis for conversion instead. It is important to note that the term Russian Karaite means Karaimite and is not meant to refer to Karaite Jews in the territory of the former Russian Empire.

Karaimites believe in circumcising the foreskin of the heart and are uncircumcised except for ministers who may also be called Karaims or Karaites but such Karaimites are quite distinct from typical Karaite Jews. For example, Karaite Jews reject Kabbalah while Karaimites study it. Karaite Jews permit no Ger-Toshavs while Karaimites are mostly Ger-Toshavs. Karaimites believe in henosis-by-will-surrender and reject the idea of unique hypostatic union. Karaimites have no Moshia’ but G-d and like Chabadniks do not wait for the Mashiakh. Karaimites, like Abraham and Moses, use Terabinth groves in the absence of a Kanesa. In fact, perhaps the only thing that Karaimites have in common with Karaite Judaism is in rejecting the Babylonian Talmud’s interpretation of the Bible and in placing the Biblical narrative above Oral Torah (Sevel Ha-Yerushah).

The Central Spiritual Board for Russian Karaims Abroad

Most of the information shared by people like Nehemia Gordon is not about the Crimean Karaites, but rather the Karaimites. That being said, it’s not that surprising that people got mixed up. As a lot of information became intertwined, and not without a reason…

While reading the official website of the Public organization “Regional National-Cultural Autonomy of the Crimean Karaites of the Republic of Crimea” and the Ukrainian Association of Crimean Karaites “Krymkaraylar”, there is a page about the religion. It states specifically this word several times, “Karaimism”. It might sound weird until you continue reading on and come to the following text,

… The history of Karaimism shows how, in the course of the mental development of the people, the interpretations that turned out to be erroneous were replaced by more correct interpretations.

Public organization “Regional National-Cultural Autonomy of the Crimean Karaites of the Republic of Crimea” and the Ukrainian Association of Crimean Karaites “Krymkaraylar”

So, what is Karaimism even? Officially speaking, it’s the religion of the Karaimites, like said already… And that’s where I would remind you of another part of the text by The Central Spiritual Board for Russian Karaims Abroad, which said these words specifically, “Crimean Karaite imitators”.
The Crimean Karaites of today took their practices and made them their own. It’s shown by the mixed religion of Christianity and Islam, like the Karaimites adhere to. But also the belief of not ethnically being Jewish, as most Karaimites believe as well…

The reason how the histories got intertwined and misunderstood has to do with the reason the Crimean Karaites survived crucial moments in history, like the Second World War, which was by claiming Karaimite beliefs. Which would have been okay if it wasn’t for the fact that people like Seraya Shapshal and his indirect descendant Volodymyr Ormeli instead started claiming more and more of the Karaimite practices to become part of the belief system of the Crimean Karaites.

It’s the part where actually most writers who write about the Crimean Karaites not being Jewish actually show their own ignorance, as they never talk about the Karaimites. But maybe there’s a point to this? Those who the Crimean Karaites previously claimed to descent from, just like the Iraqi Karaites did, are the Sadducees.

To be continued…

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