In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Karaism

  • Introduction
  • Bibliography and Collections
  • General Works
  • Scholarship on the Karaites
  • Press
  • History
  • Origins
  • Golden Age of Karaism
  • Modern Period
  • Byzantium and Turkey
  • Modern Israel
  • Karaites in Eastern Europe
  • Turkic Theory
  • The Karaites During World War II
  • Karaite Anthropology
  • Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth)
  • Karaites in Lithuania
  • Other Karaite Communities Around the World
  • Karaite Philosophy and Theology
  • Karaites and Rabbanites
  • Literature in Turkic Languages
  • Folktales, Proverbs, Folksongs, and Legends
  • Gender Issues
  • Karaite Education
  • Karaite Musical Traditions
  • History of Karaite Printing

Jewish Studies Karaism
Barry Dov Walfish, Mikhail Kizilov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0090


The Karaites are Jewish sectarians with roots in Babylonia and Persia in the 8th century who came into their own as a distinct movement within Judaism in Babylonia and the Land of Israel in the late 9th century. The movement is distinguished by its strict scripturalism, that is, the sanctioning of the written Jewish scriptures, the Tanakh, as the sole source of religious authority and its rejection of the oral tradition as elaborated by the rabbis in the Mishnah, Talmud, and later halakhic literature. When the movement first coalesced, it presented a threat to rabbinic hegemony, and the rabbis, led by Saadia Gaon, fought back fiercely. By the beginning of the 13th century, the threat had been pretty much neutralized, though significant Karaite communities survived in Egypt and Byzantium through the Middle Ages and beyond. In Byzantium, relations with Rabbanites were quite cordial, and the Karaite community showed signs of Rabbanite influence. In Egypt as well, relations were good into the 20th century, when the community immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. The Eastern European Karaite communities began in the late Middle Ages and enjoyed modest success during the early modern period, especially in Russia in the 19th century, when they attained special status from the Tsar. The Soviet period witnessed a decline of all East European communities; they now number in the hundreds and their future is uncertain. The only viable community today is in Israel, which numbers some 25,000–30,000 individuals, but even this community faces significant challenges. The main places and periods of Karaite creativity were in Palestine, Egypt, and Byzantium in the Middle Ages and in several centers in Eastern Europe, particularly Crimea and Lithuania, until the 20th century. Since then little of significance has been produced. In Israel, a new generation of leaders is attempting to embark on a period of renewal. The survival of the community throughout the 21st century is dependent on their success. The following bibliography outlines the major contours of Karaite history, religion, and culture, highlighting the most important works published in the field and the directions of recent scholarship.

Bibliography and Collections

In recent years, there has been a great deal of activity. Walfish and Kizilov 2011 is the first comprehensive bibliography of Karaism and the natural starting point for serious research on any aspect of the topic. Sklare 2003 gives a thorough survey of Karaite manuscript collections, while Âkerson 2008 provides descriptions of the Karaite manuscripts in Saint Petersburg libraries.

  • Âkerson, S. M. Evreiskie sokrovishcha Peterburga: Svitki, kodeksy, dokumenty. Saint Petersburg, Russia: Izdatel’stvo “Arka,” 2008.

    In English, “Hebrew treasures of Saint Petersburg: scrolls, manuscripts, documents,” this book includes the description of the Karaite manuscripts held by the Russian National Library and the Saint Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Sciences. The most important part of the local Karaite collections consists of manuscripts collected by Abraham Firkovich. The Firkovich collections are also highly important for the history of the Karaite community in the Middle Ages as well as the early modern and modern periods.

  • Sklare, David. “A Guide to Collections of Karaite Manuscripts.” In Karaite Judaism: A Guide to its History and Literary Sources. Edited by Meira Polliack, 893–924. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    The author points out that most Karaite works have not been published, so that manuscripts are essential for in-depth study of Karaite literary creativity and historical documentation. He then gives a thorough survey of libraries with Karaite holdings, beginning with the major ones (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Cambridge, London, Oxford, JTS, Leiden), but also including many libraries with small collections.

  • Walfish, Barry Dov, and Mikhail Kizilov. Bibliographia Karaitica: An Annotated Bibliography of Karaites and Karaism. Études sur le judaïsme médiéval 43; Karaite Texts and Studies 2. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004189270.i-810

    A comprehensive bibliography of printed works by and about Karaites and Karaism until the end of 2009. Includes over eight thousand entries in over twenty languages. Online supplements are planned.

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