Condemned as heretics by Jewish authorities, the Karaite branch of Judaism rejected rabbinical rule and rejected the Talmud. In the eighth century CE, 'Anan b. David left the Babylonian rabbinical profession and began teaching a popularly accessible and mostly literal interpretation of Jewish scripture. 'Anan cautioned the emerging movement, which would come to be Karaite Judaism, not to obey him or any other religious expert. According to later followers, he urged, "Search diligently in the Torah, and do not rely on my opinion."
Later Karaites became so critical of authority that they denounced their own founder. For example, the Karaite Daniel al-Qumisi, who started a Karaite sect in Jerusalem, referred to 'Anan as the "chief of fools."
Flourishing largely in Islamic lands, the Karaite movement had extensive dialogue with Islam and even borrowed elements of Islamic tradition. According to some sources, 'Anan was imprisoned and condemned to death when a Muslim prisoner suggested a legal argument that would save him. 'Anan used this argument and escaped execution. Over time, the Karaites adapted the Islamic notion of ijma, meaning communal consensus, in order to settle disputes when the meaning of scripture was unclear. By the fifteenth century, a widely accepted Karaite text known as the Mantle of Elijah had codified the role of communal consensus: "[T]radition, on the other hand, is what is acknowledged by all Israel, and it does not go against that which is recorded in the Writ of divine truth; and our scholars have said that every tradition which does not go against Scripture, does not add to what is stated in Scripture, is acknowledged by all Israel, and has (indirect) support in Scripture, is to be called (genuine) tradition, and we must accept it."
Today, there are an estimated 50,000 Karaite Jews.
- Robert Brody, The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 88.
- Brody, The Genoim of Babylonia, 89.
- Brody, The Genoim of Babylonia, 86.
- Brody, The Genoim of Babylonia, 91.