HOME > TEACHING > MEDIEVAL JEWISH HISTORY > SESSION 4
Medieval Jewish History
Alanna E. Cooper
Karaites: A Challenge to Rabbinic Authority
Although the previous session focused on the centralization of religious authority in Baghdad (from around 750-950), rabbinic leadership did not go unchallenged. The Karaites stand out as a particularly significant oppositional force. They forwarded a literal interpretation of scripture, without the rabbis as interpretive intermediaries.
In this session we study the ideas of the Karaites as a means to explore what Judaism might look like without rabbinic authority. We will also focus on the ways in which the Karaite challenge forced the rabbis to respond, and ultimately played a hand in shaping Jewish doctrine and theology as we know it today.
"Gallery of Heritics" in Sacred Trash the Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole. To be distributed.
The book Sacred Trash is about the Cairo Geniza, a repository of some 200,000 manuscripts that were discovered in the storehouse of an Egyptian synagogue, and which date back to the middle ages. This stash of documents has been a treasure-trove for researchers who have used them to piece together the contours of the Mediterranean Jewish world. For a quick and interesting overview of the Geniza and its significance, have a look at the video-trailer on the Sacred Trash website. You can find it here:
The chapter that you will read from Sacred Trash offers a layered account of the past; focusing on two different historical periods. (1) It tells the story of of the men who studied the Geniza documents (in the twentieth century), and provides information about what drew them to this endeavor. (2) It also tells the story of the people who themselves authored these documents in the middle ages, including: Hiwi al-Balkhi, Anan Ben David, Daniel al-Kumisi, and Ya'akov al-Kirkisani. What issues did they take up with the rabbinic establishment? And what - according to Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole - were their core views on Judaism?