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Karaite Jews prepare for Succot with a lemon twist
09/22/2010 05:13

300 people are expected to attend holiday services at the ancient Karaite synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Pop quiz: The Four Species of Succot, which starts Wednesday night, are lulav (palm branch), hadass (myrtle), aravah (willow) and etrog (citron) – correct or incorrect?

According to mainstream or rabbinical Judaism the answer is correct. But if you ask Karaite Jews, members of an ancient Jewish movement which strictly adheres to the Bible and ignores the Talmud and rabbinical law, the answer is more complicated.

The new moon sighting (from Israel) resulted in Sukkot beginning on Friday night at sunset, two days after the mathematically calculated rabbinical calender had predicted.

A reference to the making of the rabbinical calendar is posted below. This method of determining the new month via a mathematically calculated calendar occurred after the Jews were sent into exile... the rabbinic court -- the Sanhedrin -- had already been disbanded.

Rabbinical Stories - The New Month and the Authority of the Patriarch
The Jewish calendar was not fixed until the fifth century CE. Each month began with the appearance of the new moon and had twenty-nine or thirty days. If the new moon appeared on the thirtieth day of the previous month, then that day became the first of the new month. If the new moon failed to appear, then that month had thirty days and the new month automatically began the next day. To ensure that no mistakes were made, the Mishna prescribes that witnesses testify before a rabbinic court, which would assess their testimony and proclaim the new month.

“The Torah does not talk about hadass, but of etz avot, which is boughs of thick trees and can be from any tree, not just the myrtle,” Maor Dabah, the educational coordinator for the Universal Karaite Judaism Movement, told The Jerusalem Post last week.

“There’s no disagreement over the arava. Regarding the lulav, the command is to use the palm-shaped date. But the lulav isn’t palm-shaped,” he said.

What about the etrog, the revered citron which is the prize possession of many Jewish families during the holiday and can fetch prices of up to a few hundred dollars on the market? Karaite Jews disregard it completely.

“Again, Torah does not use the word etrog. It talks about peri etz hadar, that’s mean ‘fruit of goodly tree’ and can be any fruit which is new and fancy. Citron etrogs are relatively new imports; there were none in the Land of Israel during the First Temple, so we use regular lemons, oranges or olives instead. From Nehemia 8:14 we can easily learn that the commandment of the Four Species of Succot is to build the succa from them, and not to play with them by our hands.”

Nehemiah Chapter 8
14 And they found written in the Law, how that YHWH had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month;
15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.'
16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim.
17 And all the congregation of them that were come back out of the captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the ordinance.

Besides Succot, Karaite Judaism differs significantly from other rabbinical traditions.

For instance, descent is through the father, not the mother; Karaites do not lay tefillin; Hanukka is not celebrated because it isn’t in the Torah, and the dietary prohibition against eating a calf in its mother’s milk is taken literally and doesn’t apply to mixing dairy and meat products in general.

For a patrilineal descent explanation, see Who is born a Jew?

For an explanation on mixing dairy and meat, see Kosher: Jewish vs Biblical

The Karaite movement emerged as a distinct form of Judaism during the ninth century in Babylon and over the course of history has had ups and downs in its ties with the rabbinical stream.

The East European branch of Karaite Judaism, which survived well into the 20th century, has largely disappeared.

But most members of Egypt’s Karaite community moved to Israel after it was founded.

Today, there are between 20 to 50 thousand Karaite Jews in the world, the majority of which live in Israel.

“We are commanded to live in Israel and we serve proudly in the army,” Dabah said.

“There are concentrations of Karaites in Ramle, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Moshav Matzliah, Moshav Ranen, Beersheba and Jerusalem. We like to live close to the land.”

He said the biggest Karaite Succot gathering of about 300 people is expected to take place at their ancient synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on the third day of Succot. But if you’d like to show up at the event and witness the unusual traditions of this branch of Judaism, just remember they’re on a slightly different time than the rest of us.

Many rabbinical Jews are waiting for the re-creation of the Sanhedrin before "daring" to return to the new moon sighting... let's hope that will be soon.

Israeli New Moon Society: Its history and reinstatement
by Roy E. Hoffman
In 2001, at the suggestion of Rabbi Zvi Idan, President Katzav, President of Israel, called for the establishment of a Sanhedrin-type body. In early 2004, a large number of very senior rabbis were asked if they considered a Rabbi Moshe Halberstam was worthy of smichah. All of the few who responded indicated that he was worthy. On that basis he then gave smichah to others. By 13th October 2004, there were about 90 smuchim and a big Sanhedrin of 71 was formed in Tiberius (see video). The Sanhedrin has been meeting every month or so since its reestablishment. In June 2005 the Sanhedrin replaced its leader (Nasi), Rabbi Zvi Idan with Rabbi Adin Steinzalts. On the subject of the calendar, they are only willing to say that they intend to discuss the implications of fixing the calendar according to observation in our times. However, while I have not heard any formal condemnations of the Sanhedrin's activities, most major authorities are not taking it seriously, citing serious flaws in the manner in which they reinstated the smichah. As a result, this Sanhedrin has not yet received and may never receive the widespread recognition that is required in order for it to be valid according to Jewish law (according to Maimonides Hilkhot Sanhedrin 4:11,12).

“We will celebrate Succot a day after rabbinical Judaism this year, so the pilgrimage will be on the 26th of September, which is the third day of Succot according to our calculations, and not the 25th. Those different times happen because we start the months according to the new moon, like in the biblical age,” Dabah said .