Crimean Karaites


Crimean Karaites

The Crimean Karaites (Crimean Karaim: sg. къарай - qaray, pl. къарайлар - qaraylar; Trakai Karaim: sg. karaj, pl. karajlar, Hebrew קָרָאִים - qara'im, 'readers', tr. Karaylar), also known as Karaim and Qarays, are a community of ethnic Turkic adherents of Karaite Judaism in Eastern Europe. "Qaray" is a Romanized spelling of the original name "къарай", while "Karaim" is a Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish name for the community. Originally centered in Crimea, Karaim were established in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe from late medieval times.

The name "Crimean Karaites" has often been considered as something of a misnomer, as many branches of this community found their way to locations throughout Europe and the Middle East. Historians distinguish between Karaite Jews and Jews who simply left the Levant before the canonization of the Talmud and therefore had no way of being Rabbinic Jews. Whether descended from the non-Rabbinic sects of the Second Temple Period, or from Rabbinate families rebelling against Talmudic rules, these communities started in present day Iran.

As time went on, some of these communities spread throughout the region, one of which was Crimea. Nevertheless this name, "Crimean Karaites" is used for the Turkic-speaking Karaite community which originated in Crimea to distinguish it from historically Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic-speaking Karaites of the Levant, Anatolia, and the Middle East (to show the difference between the ethnic group and the religious denomination). For the purposes of this article, the terms "Crimean Karaites", "Karaim", and "Qarays" are used interchangeably, while "Karaites" alone refers to the general Karaite branch of Judaism.

Contents

Language

Karaim is a Kypchak Turkic language being closely related to Crimean Tatar, Armeno-Kipchak etc. Among the many different influences exerted on Karaim, those of Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian were the first to change the outlook of the Karaim lexicon. Later, due to considerable Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian influence, many Slavic words entered the language of Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Russian Karaims. Hebrew remained in use for liturgical purposes. Following the Ottoman occupation of Crimea, Turkish was used for business and government purposes among Karaims living on the Crimean peninsula. Three different dialects developed: the Troki dialect, used in Trakai and Vilnius (Lithuania), the Lutsk or Halych dialect spoken in Lutsk (until World War II), and Halych, and the Crimean dialect. The last forms the Eastern group, while Troki and Halych Karaim belong to the Western group.

Origins and ethnic identity

Karaite men in traditional garb, Crimea, 19th century.

Turkic-speaking Karaites (in the Crimean Tatar language, Qaraylar) have lived in Crimea for centuries. Their origin is a matter of great controversy. Some regard them as descendants of Karaite Jews who settled in Crimea and adopted a form of the Kypchak tongue (see Karaim language). Others view them as descendants of Khazar or Kipchak converts to Karaite Judaism. Today many Crimean Karaites deny Israelite origins and consider themselves to be descendants of the Khazars.[1] The consensus view among historians, however, considers that the Torah religion of the Khazars was Talmudic Judaism.[2]

Former Karaim Kenesa in Kiev

Some modern Karaims seek to distance themselves from being identified as Jews, emphasizing what they view as their Turkic heritage and claiming that they are Turkic practitioners of a "Mosaic religion" separate and distinct from Judaism. On the other hand, many scholars state that the phenomenon of claiming a distinct identity apart from the Jewish people appears to be no older than the 19th century, when it appeared under the influence of such leaders as Avraham Firkovich and Sima Babovich as a means of escaping anti-Semitism.[3] In addition, Karaite works written before that time strongly suggest that Crimean Karaites previously considered themselves Jews (See Yitzhak of Troki's "Hizzuk Emunah" or a Crimean Karaite poem from 1936).

Whatever their origin, from the time of the Golden Horde onward, they were present in many towns and villages throughout Crimea and around the Black Sea. During the period of the Crimean Khanate some of the major communities could be found in the towns of Çufut Qale, Sudak, Kefe, and Bakhchisaray.

Many Karaims were farmers. Members of the community served in the military forces of Rzeczpospolita and the Crimean Khanate.

Karaites in the Khazar Khaganate

Besides the Jewish diaspora in Khazaria, a part of the Khazars converted to Judaism in the 8th-9th centuries CE. A part of the Khazars - who rebelled and then faild - joint to the Magyars and then they took part in the Settlement of Hungary in the end of the 9th century CE. An interesting relic of these Khazar people was explored in (Transylvania, today Romania) in the 20th century CE called Alsószentmihály Rovas inscription. It was transcribed by the archaeologist-historian Gábor Vékony.[4] According to the transcription, the meaing of the two-row isncription is the following:[5] (first row) "His mansion is famous." and (second row) "Jüedi Kür Karaite." or "Jüedi Kür the Karaite."

This proves that at least a part of the Khazars were Karaites. See more details: Inscription in Khazarian Rovas script and RovasPedia.

Lithuania

In 1392 Grand Duke Vytautas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania relocated one branch the Crimean Karaites to Lithuania where they continued to speak their own language. The Lithuanian Karaites settled primarily in Vilnius (Vilna) and Trakai (Troki), as well as in Biržai, Pasvalys, Naujamiestis and Upytė - smaller settlements throughout Lithuania proper - and lands of modern Belarus and Ukraine, that were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Karaims in Lithuanian territory were granted a measure of autonomy.

Kenesa in Vilnius

Some famous Karaim scholars in Lithuania included Isaac b. Abraham of Troki (1543–1598), Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, Zera ben Nathan of Trakai, Salomon ben Aharon of Trakai, Ezra ben Nissan (died in 1666) and Josiah ben Judah (died after 1658). Some of the Karaim became quite wealthy.

During the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Karaims suffered severely during the Chmielnicki Uprising of 1648 and the wars between Russia and Poland in the years 1654-1667, when many towns were plundered and burnt, including Trakai, where in 1680 only 30 families were left. Catholic missionaries made serious attempts to convert the local Karaims to Christianity, but ultimately were largely unsuccessful. The local Karaim communities still exist in Lithuania (where they live mostly in Panevėžys and Trakai regions) and Poland. The 1979 census in the USSR showed 3,300 Karaims. Lithuanian Karaim Culture Community was founded in 1988.

According to the Lithuanian Karaims website the Statistics Department of Lithuania carried out an ethno-statistic research "Karaim in Lithuania" in 1997. It was decided to question all adult Karaims and mixed families, where one of the members is a Karaim. During the survey, for the beginning of 1997, there were 257 Karaim nationality people, 32 of which were children under 16.

Russian Empire

Karaim kenesa in Trakai.

Nineteenth-century leaders of the Karaims, such as Sima Babovich and Avraham Firkovich, were driving forces behind a concerted effort to alter the status of the Karaite community in eyes of the Russian legal system. Firkovich in particular was adamant in his attempts to connect the Karaims with the Khazars, and has been accused of forging documents and inscriptions to back up his claims.[citation needed]

Ultimately, the Tsarist government officially recognized the Karaims as being of Turkic, not Jewish, origin. Because the Karaims were judged to be innocent of the death of Jesus, they were exempt from many of the harsh restrictions placed on other Jews. They were, in essence, placed on equal legal footing with Crimean Tatars. The related Krymchak community, which was of similar ethnolinguistic background but which practiced rabbinical Judaism, continued to suffer under Tsarist anti-Jewish laws.

Since the incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Empire the main center of the Qarays is the city of Eupatoria.

Solomon Krym (b.1864, d. 1936), a Crimean Karaite agronomist, was elected in 1906 to the First Duma (1906–1907) as a Kadet (National Democratic Party). On November 16, 1918 he became the Prime Minister of a short-lived Crimean Russian liberal, anti-separatist and anti-Soviet government also supported by the German army.[6]

During the Holocaust

Their status under Russian imperial rule bore beneficial fruits for the Karaims decades later. In 1934, the heads of the Karaite community in Berlin asked the Nazi authorities to exempt them from the regulations; on the basis of their legal status in Russia. The Reich Agency for the Investigation of Families determined that from the standpoint of German law, the Karaites were not to be considered Jews. The letter from the Reichsstelle fur Sippenforschung gave the official ruling in a letter which stated:

The Karaite sect should not be considered a Jewish religious community within the meaning of paragraph 2, point 2 of the First Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law. However, it cannot be established that Karaites in their entirety are of blood-related stock, for the racial categorization of an individual cannot be determined without ... his personal ancestry and racial biological characteristics

[7]

This ruling set the tone for how the Nazis dealt with the Karaite community in Eastern Europe.

At the same time, the Nazis had serious reservations towards the Karaites. SS Obergruppenfuhrer Gottlob Berger wrote on November 24, 1944:

Their Mosaic religion is unwelcome. However, on grounds of race, language and religious dogma... Discrimination against the Karaites is unacceptable, in consideration of their racial kinsmen [Berger was here referring to the Crimean Tatars]. However, so as not to infringe the unified anti-Jewish orientation of the nations led by Germany, it is suggested that this small group be given the opportunity of a separate existence (for example, as a closed construction or labor battalion)...

Despite their exempt status, confusion led to initial massacres. German soldiers who came across Karaims in Russia during the initial phase of Operation Barbarossa, not aware of their legal status under German law, attacked them; 200 were killed at Babi Yar alone. German allies such as the Vichy Republic began to require the Karaites to register as Jews, but eventually granted them non-Jewish status upon being instructed by Berlin.[8]

On interrogation, Ashkenazi rabbis in Crimea told the Germans that the Karaims were not Jews, in an effort to spare the Karaite community the fate of their Rabbanite neighbors.[9] Many Karaims risked their lives to hide Jews, and in some cases claimed that Jews were members of their community. Many of the Karaims were recruited for labor battalions.[10]

Karaim cemetery in Warsaw, established in 1890.
Karaim cemetery in Trakai

In Vilnius and Trakai, the Nazis forced Karaite Hakham Seraya Shapshal to produce a list of the members of the community. Though he did his best, not every Karaylar Jew was saved by Shapshal's list.

Post-War

After the Soviet recapture of Crimea from Nazi forces in 1944, the Soviet authorities counted 6,357 remaining Karaims. Karaims were not subject to mass deportation, unlike the Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Armenians and others the Soviet authorities alleged had collaborated during the Nazi German occupation. Some individual Karaims were deported.

Assimilation and emigration greatly reduced the ranks of the Karaim community. A few thousand Karaims remain in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Poland. Other communities exist in Israel, Turkey, the United States, and Great Britain.

Notes

  1. ^ Blady 113-130.
  2. ^ Brook 110-111, 231.
  3. ^ Miller ___.
  4. ^ Vékony, Gábor (2004): A székely rovásírás emlékei, kapcsolatai, története [The Relics, Relations and the History of the Szekely Rovas Script]. Publisher: Nap Kiadó, Budapest. ISBN 963 9402 45 1
  5. ^ Vékony, Gábor (1997): Szkíthiától Hungáriáig: válogatott tanulmányok. [From Scythia to Hungary: selected Studies] Szombathely: Életünk Szerk. Magyar Írók Szövetsége. Nyugat-magyarországi Csoport. Ser.: Életünk könyvek, p. 110
  6. ^ Fisher, Alan W. (1978). The Crimean Tatars. Hoover Press. pp. 264. ISBN 9780817966621. http://books.google.be/books?id=Qjwid7xcOPIC. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  7. ^ YIVO archives, Berlin Collection, Occ E, 3, Box 100, letter dated January 5, 1939.
  8. ^ Semi passim.
  9. ^ Blady 125-126.
  10. ^ Green passim.

References

  • Ben-Tzvi, Yitzhak. The Exiled and the Redeemed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1957.
  • Blady, Ken. Jewish Communities in Exotic Places. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000. pp. 115–130.
  • Brook, Kevin Alan. The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2006.
  • Friedman, Philip. "The Karaites under Nazi Rule". On the Tracks of Tyranny. London, 1960.
  • Green, W.P. "Nazi Racial Policy Towards the Karaites”, Soviet Jewish Affairs 8,2 (1978) pp. 36–44
  • Karaite Judaism: Introduction to Karaite Studies. Edited by M.Polliack. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2004, 657-708.
  • Kizilov, Mikhail. Karaites Through the Travelers' Eyes: Ethnic History, Traditional Culture and Everyday Life of the Crimean Karaites According to the Descriptions of the Travelers. Qirqisani Center, 2003.
  • Kizilov, Mikhail. “Faithful Unto Death: Language, Tradition, and the Disappearance of the East European Karaite Communities.” East European Jewish Affairs 36:1 (2006): 73-93.
  • Krymskiye karaimy: istoricheskaya territoriya: etnokul'tura. Edited by V.S. Kropotov, V.Yu. Ormeli, A. Yu. Polkanova. Simferpol': Dolya, 2005
  • Miller, Philip. Karaite Separatism in 19th Century Russia. HUC Press, 1993.
  • Semi, Emanuela T. "The Image of the Karaites in Nazi and Vichy France Documents." Jewish Journal of Sociology 33:2 (December 1990). pp. 81–94.
  • Shapira, Dan. “Remarks on Avraham Firkowicz and the Hebrew Mejelis 'Document'.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 59:2 (2006): 131-180.
  • Shapira, Dan. “A Jewish Pan-Turkist: Seraya Szapszał (Şapşaloğlu) and His Work ‘Qırım Qaray Türkleri’.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 58:4 (2005): 349-380.
  • Shapira, Dan. Avraham Firkowicz in Istanbul (1830–1832). Paving the Way for Turkic Nationalism. Ankara: KaraM, 2003.
  • Shapshal, S. M.: Karaimy SSSR v otnoshenii etnicheskom: karaimy na sluzhbe u krymskich chanov. Simferopol', 2004
  • Zajączkowski, Ananiasz. Karaims in Poland: History, Language, Folklore, Science. Panistwowe Wydawn, 1961.

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