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Karaite History: Chapter 8


Dr. Allen E. Goldenthal is the author of the Kahana Chronicles series of books available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions


Chapter 8 will continue on from where we left off in Chapter 7, regarding the Rabbanite attitude towards women as I believe this did play a significant role in ensuring the rift between them and the Karaites that would never heal. As can be read in my other articles on women’s roles in Karaism, the equality extended to women with Karaism was a hallmark of its beliefs, in a time when no other religion would even consider extending anything close to equal rights to the fairer sex. I find it hard not to laugh hysterically when my traditional Jewish acquaintances remark that as Rabbanites, they have always held women on a pedestal because they fail to mention that pedestal was only there so their wives and mothers could reach the shelves in the kitchen. The women in their households ruled the home, but that meant they cooked, cleaned raised the children, and even tended to milking the cow in the barn and feeding the chickens if they were lucky enough to have a few of their own farm animals. But she was a queen in their home. On the other hand, Karaite women were teachers, leaders, judges, doctors and well respected professionals in the community. But what did their sages, their rabbis, their wisemen really think of the women they married. We have a very clear picture of their attitude from their Talmud, and for those Rabbanite women that have never read the Talmud, perhaps it’s time you did. Let’s look at the tractacte Sotah in the Order of Women from their Talmud.


Sotah 8

Sentence 8 ח reads:

א"ר שמואל בר רב יצחק כי הוה פתח ריש לקיש בסוטה אמר הכי אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו שנא' (תהלים קכה, ג) כי לא ינוח שבט הרשע על גורל הצדיקים אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר ר' יוחנן וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף, שנאמר (תהלים סח, ז) אלהים מושיב יחידים ביתה מוציא אסירים בכושרות

“Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzḥak says: When Reish Lakish would introduce his discussion of the Torah passage of sota he would say this: Heaven matches a woman to a man only according to his actions, as it is stated: “For the rod of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous” (Psalms 125:3), indicating that if one has a wicked wife it is due to his own evil conduct. Rabba bar bar Ḥana says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says: And it is as difficult to match a couple together as was the splitting of the Red Sea, as it is stated in a verse that speaks of the exodus from Egypt: “God makes the solitary individuals dwell in a house; He brings out prisoners into prosperity [bakosharot]” (Psalms 68:7). God takes single individuals and causes them to dwell in a house by properly matching a man to a woman. This is similar to the exodus from Egypt, which culminated in the splitting of the Red Sea, where He released prisoners into prosperity.” More pearls of wisdom from those illustrious rabbis that were no experts in marriage counselling as well. In this case they are saying you get what you deserve. Evil men get evil women. So to the woman that was married to an abusive husband then she got what she deserved but she should be grateful because at least he saved her from her wretched single life where she was comparable to being a prisoner, and now has given her a level of prosperity .even if she does pay a physical price for it

Sotah 9

Sentence 9 ט says:

איני והא אמר רב יהודה אמר רב ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני בית פלוני לפלוני שדה פלוני לפלוני לא קשיא הא בזוג ראשון הא בזוג שני

“The Gemara asks: Is that so that a man is matched to a woman according to his actions? But Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Forty days before an embryo is formed a Divine Voice issues forth and says: The daughter of so-and-so is destined to marry so-and-so; such and such a house is destined to be inhabited by so-and-so; such and such a field is destined to be farmed by so-and-so. This clearly states that these matters, including marriage, are decreed for a person even before he is formed.” And thus it is evident that according to the Rabbis there is no free will. As far as they were concerned, who you were to marry was ordained before you were even born. But what they may not have realized is that they just claimed that if a woman is married to a man that beats her severely, close to the point of death even, it isn’t the man’s fault, but the fault of God who ordained she would marry that man before she was even born. It should now be evident to all, from such a ridiculous statement, why those of us of the Karaite faith can never accept the Rabbanite Talmud.


Sotah 11

In 11 יא it is written:

ותנן נמי עד אחד אומר אני ראיתי שניטמאת לא היתה שותה

“The Gemara comments: And we learned also in another mishna (31a) that if a single witness says: I saw that she was defiled, then she would not drink the bitter water, as the testimony is accepted, and her husband must divorce her and she forfeits payment of her marriage contract. Therefore, there is no need to perform the sota rite.” Here we have a case where a woman is defiled or in other words raped. The woman denies it but she has no opportunity to defend herself. One stranger’s word if given credence and accepted is is enough to destroy her world if she refuses to drink the bitter water which was an ergotimine mixture causing severe contractions of the uterus, thereby preventing implantation or even causing abortion if implantation has taken effect. The only way she will be believed is by drinking the mixture, even if the witness was wrong. Refusal means she may have been somehow guilty of the rape and must be divorced. It is a bizarre situation because at no time do they discuss the guilt of the man that defiled her, or the punishment to a witness that made up the story. The men appear to have a free pass, only the woman pays the price.

Tractate Kiddushin

In the Tractate Kiddushin we can read the following regarding what is the true worth of a woman:

2aב׳ א

1 א

מתני׳ האשה נקנית בשלוש דרכים וקונה את עצמה בשתי דרכים נקנית בכסף בשטר ובביאה בכסף בית שמאי אומרים בדינר ובשווה דינר ובית הלל אומרים בפרוטה ובשווה פרוטה וכמה היא פרוטה אחד משמונה באיסר האיטלקי

MISHNA: A woman is acquired by, i.e., becomes betrothed to, a man to be his wife in three ways, and she acquires herself, i.e., she terminates her marriage, in two ways. The mishna elaborates: She is acquired through money, through a document, and through sexual intercourse. With regard to a betrothal through money, there is a dispute between tanna’im: Beit Shammai say that she can be acquired with one dinar or with anything that is worth one dinar. And Beit Hillel say: She can be acquired with one peruta, a small copper coin, or with anything that is worth one peruta. The mishna further clarifies: And how much is the value of one peruta, by the fixed value of silver? The mishna explains that it is one-eighth of the Italian issar, which is a small silver coin.

For those that aren’t numismatists, the Issar that is less than the denarius would buy perhaps a few loaves of bread. The prutah, a small copper coin used in Judea would buy perhaps a few slices from one of those loaves. In other words, a woman wasn’t worth much.

But how does a woman gain her own freedom and right to choose her own direciton in life. We seen ins sentence 2 ב:

וקונה את עצמה בגט ובמיתת הבעל היבמה נקנית בביאה וקונה את עצמה בחליצה ובמיתת היבם

“And a woman acquires herself through a bill of divorce or through the death of the husband. A woman whose husband, who had a brother, died childless [yevama], can be acquired by the deceased husband’s brother, the yavam, only through intercourse. And she acquires herself, i.e., she is released from her levirate bond, through ḥalitza or through the death of the yavam.” In other words she must be a widow and hope she had childred by her dead husband. If she didn’t have any children, then she becomes the property of his brother through intercourse. Her only way out is by proving the halitza which means she is in some way a blood relative of the brother. One might argue that a woman in those days didn’t want their own freedom but does that really mean they shouldn’t have the right to choose who they marry next?

Now how is it that these Rabbis were so certain God intended a woman to bought. We find that in sentence 4 ד.

וכסף מנא לן גמר קיחה קיחה משדה עפרון כתיב הכא (דברים כב,יג) כי יקח איש אשה וכתיב התם (בראשית כג,יג) נתתי כסף השדה קח ממני

The Gemara continues its explanation: And from where do we derive that betrothal is accomplished by means of giving money? It is derived by means of a verbal analogy between the term expressing taking stated with regard to betrothal and from the term expressing taking with regard to the field of Ephron. How so? It is written here, with regard to marriage: “When a man takes a woman” (Deuteronomy 24:1), and it is written there, concerning Abraham’s purchase of the field of the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite: “I will give money for the field; take it from me” (Genesis 23:13). This verbal analogy teaches that just as Ephron’s field was acquired with money, so too, a woman can be acquired with money.

To most of us, we would consider this to be apples and oranges. Somehow, taking a wife, is equated by the Rabbis as identical wording used in the Bible for when Abraham bought the burial cave and said, “Take my money.” It is a logic than one can only determine would come from a bunch of old men sitting around a table and discussing the value of a woman. Sadly, this concept of value still exists among those in the orthodoxy.


I raise these issues primarily to help those that wonder why Karaites oppose the Talmud, seeing it as nothing but a harmless explanation of what was written in the Torah. The issue is, that it is far from harmless. It is a distortion of the truth and beauty of God’s words. I’ve just provided a small insight into what is written in the Talmud. I think most of today’s generations should be shocked and appalled by what is written in its pages. A book that can claim a woman is worth a penny in today’s money is a disgusting piece of literature that deserves to be placed in a museum to remind us how far we have come and the rest of the copies burned. It has no place in a modern society, and it should be a sin to even refer to it as the unwritten words of God. It is the written worlds of men. Vile, lecherous, sick minded individual that have earned places of esteemed honour among the Rabbanite Jews. But in order to understand the history of Karaism, one must appreciate the most momentous cause of the rift between us and them. I can write endlessly on the subject but I think two chapters are enough to prove the Karaite viewpoint. For those who’s eyes have been opened to the lies and distortions of the Talmud, then I encourage you to read it for yourselves. Once the blinders are removed, I think you will be shocked by some of the things it says.

Until Next Time

Shalom Aleichim

Dr. Allen Goldentha/Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana

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