Karaites, Samaritans, and Pray for Rain


Picture of rain dance being performed (ca. 1920, possibly by Potawatomi People) [Source: Wikipedia.org – Public Domain]

Two months ago (see August article), I mentioned that “most” practicing Jews in the world today follow Talmudic law; this is law (halacha) based on the Torah / Bible, but who’s guidance is based on the interpretation and commentaries of specific rabbis and sages.  Towards the end of the article, I included a short note highlighting the fact that there were some Jewish groups that disregarded Talmudic rabbinical guidance and broke away from the main vein of the Judaism prior to the Diaspora. One of these groups is the Karaites, whose members are thriving in California, and follow Judaism more closely based on the original writings of the Torah itself. Another breakaway group, the Samaritans, not only ignores Talmudic law, but also follows a slightly different version of the Torah called the Samaritan Pentateuch (and do not consider themselves Jewish). Between 40,000 to 50,000 Karaites are practicing today, however, there are only 800 Samaritans (as of 2018) that are still living.

This article will delve into the history and origin of these groups that are usually mentioned as a footnote to the larger story of Judaism. Although I will discuss their differences, I will also provide the main bridge that connects them to with mainstream Judaism – the celebration of similar holidays. For instance, all three of these groups celebrate Shemini Atzeret, a holiday that occurs this month on the day following Sukkot. This is not one of the mainstream holidays, so this is a good segue into discussing what this holiday is all about:

A. Shemini AtzereT

1. What is Shemini Atzeret?

Shemini Atzeret is the final part/day of the holiday of Sukkot (also pronounced Sukkos). Sukkot is a festive period that celebrates the spring harvest (and is one of the three pilgrimage holidays mentioned in the bible; the other two are Passover and Shavuot). The holiday is characterized by a small hut (sukkah) that is built to represent the temporary shelter used by the Hebrews during the 40 years spent wandering the desert. [For more information on this holiday, see the article on Sukkut (and Scotch).]

2. Is Shemini Atzeret Part of Sukkot?

The celebration of Shemini Atzeret is also mentioned in the bible / Torah (in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers). It decrees the eight day (shemini = eight) after the beginning of Sukkot to be a sacred occasion (atzeret = (usually defined as) solemn gathering) – which is how the name of the holiday was derived. One of the (many) mysteries of Judaism is the interpretation of what the word “atzeret” actually means.  Of course, rabbinical scholars through the years have given it much thought and provided commentary and interpretation.

  • Some believe, that due to its textual placement, atzeret could be simply interpreted as an “extension” of Sukkot festival
  • Many other rabbis believe that it is its own separate holiday (see Talmud Taanit 20b-31a) distinct from Sukkot, that just happens to occur in succession
  • One compelling viewpoint is the way Rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch (19th century) interprets it. He believes that there are two meanings to the word. The first meaning is that it eludes to a storing (“to collect, or store, or gather”) of all the sentiments of gratitude from the previous holidays (from Passover through Sukkot) since it will be two months until the next celebration (of Chanukah). The second denotes its connection with Passover and Shavuot in regard to the remembrance and celebration of freedom. He sees this as a separate holiday than Sukkot, which is why Jews do not eat in the sukkah, or a need for an etrog and lulav – however, the word atzeret does not cover the day alone, but refers to the feeling of the entire holiday season.
  • One (ethno-centric) explanation for the holiday provides that it is a bonus from G-d, and that he loves Jews so much he is reluctant to let them go back to “business as usual.” And/or alternatively, for him to spend another day, one that is restful, with his followers.
  • The word atzeret may be derived from another Hebrew word – atzar, which means to stop or holdback, which attributes to the reason why work is not allowed on the holiday.

There are four major differences between celebrating Shemini Atzeret versus the celebration of Sukkot. I have already mentioned two of them above: (1) no requirement to eat in the sukkah and (2) reciting a prayer over the lulav and etrog.  The other two differences are: (3) the memorial prayer for the deceased (Yitzkor) is recited after reading the Torah, and (4) a prayer for rain (Geshem) is recited. Technically, there are a few additional differences, but they are actions to do with the Holy Temple, so they are not applicable to us in today’s world. [Fast Fact: The prayer for rain is then recited daily until Passover, and on Shemini Atzeret, it is customary (not required) for the prayer leader to wear a special garment called a kitel (a special white prayer robe) while reciting the Geshem prayer.]

Also note that Simchat Torah, another celebration in Judaism, is celebrated on the same day as Shemini Atzeret in Israel, and the day after in the diaspora (outside of Israel).  Simchat Torah marks the end of the cycle for reading through the entire Five books of the Bible / Torah. [For more on this holiday see my article on Simchat Torah and Jews in Baseball.]

3. How is Shemini Atzeret Celebrated?

The holiday of Shemini Atzeret is “celebrated” by (as mentioned above) by reciting Yitzkor after reading Torah on that day, reciting the Geshem prayer, and not working.  However, there could/should be actual celebrating on this holiday.  Some scholars explain that Shemini Atzeret is a “universal” holiday and you should invite others into your home (or visit others).

There are no special foods or dishes specifically associated with this holiday. However, below are websites are two websites with suggested dishes and menus that I have found around the web:

  • Jamie Geller – Traditional “Jewish” holiday menu with chicken, chicken soup, challah, and apple pie, etc.
  • My Jewish Learning – Since this comes at the end of Sukkot, make foods that celebrate the harvest and can be eaten outdoors

The Karaites observe Shemini Atzeret as a single day of rest, but do not associate it with the celebration of Sukkot. Although the Karaites do not celebrate the rabbinically-created Simchat Torah, their cycle for reading the Torah is sometimes referred to as Simhat Torah (“celebration of the Torah”). The Samaritans also observe the holiday by not working, except it is a day that they break apart the sukkah.

A. Rainmaking

If you have been reading my articles long enough you will know that I will take interesting facts seemingly out of thin air that have nothing to do with food or religion, find a connection to the article at-hand, and add it.  This month’s unlikely sub-topic is rainmaking. On Shemini Atzeret, the prayer for rain (“Geshem”) is said for the first time (during the year) and will be stated each day until the following Passover.  Many cultures have their own unique rituals to conjure rain, the most notable being the rain dances of the Indigiounous People [see also: a Native American – Lost Tribe connection?].   Because water – rain water – could mean life or death, its importance was paramount to many early civilizations, they used faith (prayers to various G-ds) and rituals (evoking magic) to hopefully bring about rain for the upcoming harvest, or to end a drought.

1. The Rain G-ds from Around the World Throughout History

Deities for rain and weather appear in almost every continent on earth (the obvious exception being Antarctica). I could write a full article on the multitude of deities but since this is only a sub-topic, I will highlight a few of the rain deities from each continent:

Africa – Many of the different tribes and nations within Africa include rain g-ds in their cultures.  For instance, Anzar is a rain deity in the Berber and Amazigh communities whom took a human as his fiancée. The Bantu People (several diverse indigenous ethnic groups in sub-Sahara Africa) have a number of rain deities in their cultures, including Sinvula, Nanvula, and Mbaba Mwana Waresa (the later was the goddess of not only rain, but also of most weather, rainbows, fertility, and BEER; interestingly, she also sought after, and then married a human and they now live together in a hut on a rainbow). As we all know, the ancient Egyptians were known for their polytheism, and one of their many deities was Tefnut, the g-d of rain and depicted with the head of a lioness and is often holding a scepter.

Americas – Rain was essential to people of the Americas, and many of the indigenous. In Mesoamerica, drought is thought to have been a factor in its downfall. The Mayans worshiped Chaac, the g-d of rain, lightning and storms who is depicted with an ax in on hand to produce thunder and snakes in the other to throw at the clouds to create rain. One of the most important deities to the Aztec was Tlaloc – the g-d of rain, water, lightning, and agriculture, who was usually shown with large goodly eyes and the fangs of a jaguar.  The rain g-d of the Navajo people is named To’ Neinilii, who is very mischievous, and in rain dances is depicted as a clown.

Asia – Mariamman is the Hindu g-dess of rain for southern India. A legend about her states that she was a human afflicted with smallpox, and after she overcame the disease, she was worshipped by her village; so she is also the deity of curing diseases.  Another Hindu rain deity is Parjana, who is also the protector of poets, and sometimes depicted with two faces smeared with butter. The ancient Babylonians worshiped the rain g-d Haddad/Adad; he is depicted with a club, thunderbolt, and wearing a helmet with bullhorns.

Australia & South Pacific – In Hawaii, the g-d of peace, music, and agriculture, was also the g-d of rainfall and the festival of Mahahiki is celebrated each year. Lono also has his place in European history – the island’s inhabitants killed Captain Cook, believing him to be Lono returning to the island.  Wondjina/Wandjina are the rain and cloud spirits in ancient Australian Aboriginal belief, ancient paintings of these spirits are found on rock art in northern Australia.

Europe – Zeus was the G-d of Rain in ancient Greece, besides being the King of the Olympian G-ds, besides being worshiped as the g-d of thunder, weather, etc. The corresponding deity in ancient Rome was Jupiter, who had the same abilities, including the power over rain. Looking towards norther Europe, the Norse/Vikings worshiped Freyr (also called Frey or Yngvi), the g-d of rain and sun, as well as the ruler of peace and fertility (he is also the son of Njord, the g-d of the sea); his sister is Freya, the g-dess of love, fertility, death, and war.

There are a lot more rain g-ds, but hopefully you enjoyed the brief summaries of those the few deities I have listed.

2. Rain Dancing

To invoke the power of the g-ds, their worshipers would perform various rituals, including rain dances. The dances of the Indigiouness People of the Americas were very intricate. The headdresses, costumes, and jewelry, were also designed to have special significance, and were usually only worn once a year for their designed purpose – to bring forth rain through ritual and dance.

Native American / Indigiounous People Rain Dances:

A few more rain dances from around the world:

Neither Catholicism nor Islam have dance rituals for rain, but both do include prayers for rain in their liturgy.  Although Christianity does not have a specific Patron Saint for rain, St. Isadore is the Saint for Farming (and in-turn the bringing of rain), however, there are two saints to protect against bad weather – Saint Scolastica and Saint Mederdus of Picardy.

3. The Story of Honi and How He Asked G-d for Rain

There is a story in Judaism (from the Mishna Taanit 3:8 and Taanit 23a) about Honi the Circle Maker and the ritual he performed to ask G-d for rain. The month of Adar had passed and it did not rain (it usually rained by the winter time) so they went to Rabbi Honi HaMe’aggel and asked him to pray for rain.  He prayed, and it did not rain. He then drew a circle [Fast Fact: He is sometimes called “Honi the Circle Maker”], following the directions of the prophet Habakkuk (noted in the story of Daniel and the Lions Den), went inside the circle and prayed again for rain. His prayers were only partially answered, and only a little trickle came down from the sky. The people came to him again and said that it was not enough – if more rain does not fall, people will die. He prayed again, and G-d answered with a downpour of torrential rain.  The people then came to Honi again and asked him to go to G-d again to make it stop raining because the rain was becoming destructive. The rain slowed down to normal, but it did not stop. He then asked them for a bull, which he sacrificed to G-d and asked for the rain to stop.  The rain then ceased. [Food for thought: What do you think is the lesson/moral of this story?]

[Fast Fact: This is not the only story in Jewish folklore about Honi.  There are variations about hi sleeping for seventy years.  It centers on a farmer planting a carob tree. Honi asks the man how long until the tree grows and produces fruit. The man answered, “seventy years.”  Honi responded that why would you do that if you will not eat of the tree’s fruits. The farmer answered again “I have enough carobs to eat, this if for others.”  Honi went home and fell asleep for seventy years, awakening he notices a young man picking fruit from the tree.  Honi asks “who are you” and the young man answers that he is the grandson of the man who planted the tree.  The moral of the story is that giving is important, even if you do not see who the recipient is (or even alive).

4. How to Really Make it Rain VIA SCIENCE

I have found a Semini Atzeret Rain Feast Ritual that someone posted, based on the ritual performed by Honi. https://www.ritualwell.org/Shemini-Atzeret-Rain-Feast-Ritual.  Although I mean no disrespect, the chances of making it rain through dance or enacting a ritual are farfetched. However, science, through weather manipulation techniques (sometimes called cloud seeding) could, in fact, make it rain – usually with the introduction of silver iodide or other chemicals into clouds. Although it can be done, scientists are not sure of the effects of this technique, and experimentation continues – and in anticipation of water shortages around the world in the coming decades due to overpopulation, private companies and governments are spending millions on this research.

If you want to hear the calming sound of rain without spending millions on cloud seeding or don’t want to put on the ill-fitting rain dance costume and actually get up to dance, here’s a noise generator I found where you can relax to melody of rainfall without getting wet . . . click here.

B. Spahn, Sain, and Pray for Rain

While prayers for a nice day part of the mantra most sports enthusiasts, in 1948 the fans of that other Boston team, the Boston Braves, prayed for rain.

Picture of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain [Source: Wikipedia – By Vern_Bickford,_Johnny_Sain,_Warren_Spahn.png]

1. Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, and a Poem about Rain

To those of you astute in the ancient idioms of baseball lore, you may have realized that the title of this article was derived from the Boston Braves rallying cry “Spahn, Sain, and Pray for Rain.” This slogan was a truncated version of a poem written by Gerald V. Hern and published in the Boston Globe on September 14, 1948 during the team’s drive for the NL Pennant (which they won; but subsequently lost the World Series to the Cleveland Indians in 6 games under the dominant pitching of future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon (2-0, 1.65 ERA)). [Fast Fact: Hern was a writer and editor for the Boston Globe until it folded in 1956, except for his service in the US Navy, where he served as a Lt. Commander. He then became VP ad PR Director at Blue Cross Blue Shield.] The complete (original) poem is re-presented as follows:

First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use 
Then an off day
followed by rain

Back will come 
followed by 
And followed
we hope
by two days of rain.

NOTE: I kind of go off on a baseball history tangent below (along with a ton of statistics), so if that is not of interest to you, please skip ahead to the next section (on the Samaritans).

The poem, specifically relates to Johnny Sain, a hard-throwing righthand pitcher that would come in 2nd in MVP voting for 1948 after a 24 win season (the Cy Young was not awarded until 1956) [Fast Fact: This was the 3rd of four 20+ win seasons, who also went on to be a pitching coach that instructed 16 20-game winners (in my few conversations with him, he would always be quick to cite this fact, and it is something that he is most proud). He also has the distinction of being the last person to pitch to Babe Ruth and the first to pitch to Jackie Robinson.] Warren Spahn, the hard-throwing left, went on to become a Hall of Famer that amassed the most wins for a left-handed pitcher – 363 (note that he lost three years to military service). However, after coming off a 21 Win, 2.33 ERA, 1.136 WHIP season in 1956, he did not have a Spahn-type season with “only” 15 Wins (and 3.71 ERA). Together, this lefty-rightly pitching duo combined for 39 wins in 1948 to bring home the NL Title.

2. 1948 Boston Braves

However, as Frank Jackson of the Hardball Times ascribed, the Braves won 91 games that year, but the other players on the team (i.e., there were 52 games the Braves won by someone other than Spahn and Sain – and there had to be some offense as well.).  There were two other 10+ game pitchers in the rotation – Bill Voiselle (13-13, 3.63 ERA) and Vern Bickford (11-5, 3.27 ERA, 1.288 WHIP).  Voiselle was an All Star (and came in 5th in MVP voting) in 1944 with a 21 win season.  Bickford became an All-Star in 1949 followed up with a 19-win season in 1950 (which included a no hitter against the Brooklyn Dodgers). A few other hurlers that rounded out the year’s pitching including Bobby Hogue (8-2), Red Barret (7-8), Nels Porter (5-2), Clyde Shoun (5-1), and a few others, including rookie Johnny Antonelli, who earned a save in 1948, and went on to have a huge MLB career being selected to six All Star Games (Career = 126-110, 3.34 ERA, 1.283 WHIP, and 31.8 WAR).

The offense was anchored by two “sluggers.” Billy Elliot had 23 home runs, 100 RBIs, with an OPS of .897) and Jeff Heath knocked out 20 home runs, 75 RBIs, and an OPS of .986. In 1948, the 23 home runs was enough to rank Elliot in 15th place for homers hit that year [23 dingers wouldn’t even put a player in the top 50 in 2019]. There were also a number of guys that could hit and get on base in the lineup as well.  Earl Torgeson had 110 hits with 70 runs and 67 RBIS – with a team-leading 19 stolen bases; Eddie Stanky had a .455 OBP and 320 BA, Al Dark slapped in 175 hits with a .320 BA and 85 runs scored, Tommy Holmes hit em’ where they ain’t 190 times (team leader in hits) in addition to scoring 85 runs, and Mike McCormack also contributed with 45 runs and 39 RBIs. Although there were other members that contributed to the team, I only included players above that appeared in 100 or more games.

I would be remiss if I were not to mention that the skipper on the team, was Hall of Fame player and manager Billy Southworth.  Southworth was a right fielder (he threw rightly but hit lefty) for five different teams between 1913 and 1929. Over his playing career he hit 52 home runs with 561 RBIs, and a .297 batting average. His best year was probably 1926, when he had 162 hits, 16 home runs, and a .320 BA – earning him a few votes on the MVP ballot. That year he was traded from the Giants to the Cardinals towards the end of the season to help them beat the NY Yankees in 7 gamed in the 1926 World Series with great pitching by Jesse Haines (W) and Pete Alexander (S) to tame the precursor of Murderer’s Row [For a great article on the derivation of that term, see John Thorn’s article]. Southworth contributed by hitting .345 with a .533 slugging percentage, 10 hits, 4 RBI, and a home run during the series.  However, he earned his HOF credentials as a manager by winning 1044 games with a .597 winning percentage with the Cardinals and Braves. Besides his World Series ring in 1926, he earned two more rings in 1942 and 1944 as a manger (also with the Cardinals); a total 4 Pennants and 2 WS titles as a manager.

Sorry for the tangent, but I guess that I miss baseball, I am writing this article (or at least the first draft) in early May with no baseball (MLB, minor league, or any league) to watch or read about. They are talking about a shortened modified season with a late start, realigned “leagues,” and possibly no home games – and no fans in the stands. Hopefully, when this article is published in October, it does so in the midst of the playoffs. One bright spot in this crisis is that my Mets are still in 1st place and undefeated, and it already May. 😊 I apologize one more time that my mind has wandered off to write about the game of baseball. [Update: Baseball was played this year, although with no fans in the stands, modified rules, and a shortened season. The Mighty Mets finished the 2020 un-season tied for last place, and the postseason is being played as I write.]

3. How Much Did It Rain and Other Circumstances influencing the Writing of this Poem?

Before I return to the main plot of this article, I want to spend just a few more moments on the poem written by Hern – Remember Hern? This is an article about Hern (and his poem). You may be asking yourself – what was the motivation for the article – besides something to write about the pennant run? While the article was published on a Tuesday (which they beat the Cubs at home 10-3; Sain got the W), and it was only two days since they split a double-header in Philly (the second game going 13 innings) I could not find any evidence that there was rain during that span of three days.  However, there was a five day gap the previous week where no games were played which gave a sportswriter with time on his hands (and no game to watch) the opportunity to create this historic ditty.

It was the rain of the week and the surrounding circumstances which were probably what sparked the idea into his thoughts.  On Monday, September 6th Boston beat the Dodgers at home during both ends of a doubleheader. Spahn won the first game 2-1 (pitching each of the 14 innings needed), followed by a 4-0 win by Sain (in 7 innings). Due to rain, no games were played until Saturday, September 11th.  This time the Philadelphia fans were treated to a double-header featuring the dynamic duo of Sain and Spahn [the Phillies ended with a dismal 66-88 record that year].  Sain started the first game, winning 3-1, followed by another win by Spahn and an offensive explosion 13-2.  The next day, there was no rain and in the first game (of another double header) the Braves lost (as foretold in the poem). However, they skirted out a narrow win 2-1 in the second game in 13 innings (Bickford held the Phillies with the score tied 1-1 after 9 innings before giving the ball to Potter (W) with Dark scoring the go-ahead run on Bill Salked’s fly ball). The Braves went on to following the next straight seven games, with Spahn and Sain winning 5 of the 7 contests (sometimes throwing on two days rest).

There you have it, the story of a rainstorm that begat a poem, that spawned a memorable sports refrain, that had fans praying for rain; and thereby allowing me to provide a connection between baseball and praying for rain. [No, the fact that their team logo is a “Native American” has not escaped me, but that is a story for another time. Also note, if you came here looking to read about Jews in Baseball, sorry, there were none on the ’48 Braves, but for information on Jews in baseball, please click here.]


A. Samaritans

1. Who Are the Samaritans?

Although I hate using the word “sect,” I am not sure that describing the Samaritans as a “splinter group” or “offshoot” of Judaism is not completely accurate either; although they originate from the same basic tenets, as all of the other Abrahamic denominations, they are currently classified as their own separate religion.  The Samaritans are a religious group that, at one time, was part of the Jewish kingdom in Israel. As May 2020 there are 818 Samaritans practicing the religion and live in the cities Kiryat Luza and Holon (most lived in Kiryat Luza until a Palestinian intifada pushed most of them out in the 1980s); and the numbers have slowly risen over the past decade. [Fast Fact: The Samaritans numbered over a million followers in ancient times – but the same hatred and bigotry that has haunted the Jews and many other groups over the centuries had led to their demise and almost left them at the brink of annihilation in the early 20th century.]

The story of how this group splintered off requires a short backstory, which I will summarize.  According to the Bible, the Hebrews were divided into twelve separate tribes.  After the death of King Solomon (late 10th c. BCE) the tribes divided Israel into two parts – the Kingdom of Israel in the North with Samaria as its capital, and the Kingdom of Judah in the South, with Jerusalem as its capital.   The tribes of Judah and Benjamin made up the tribes in the southern kingdom. There were ten tribes that made up the kingdom in the north (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, and Ephraim). However, according to the Book of Kings, it was the Assyrians that brought together the Samaritans (called “Cuthim”) together with the Jews they conquered from Israel. The Samaritans learned some facets of Judaism and adapted them as part of their own religion.

[Fast Fact / Side Note: It is interesting to note that although the bible discusses the tribes and their separate geographical territories, there has been no evidence found that ties the whole kingdom as one unified “country.” There are also some claims that the people of the Northern and Southern tribes did not eve practice the same religion (or as some articles refer, a “royal ancient Israelite religion.” However, there has been some evidence of animal offerings / sacrifices as specified in the Torah; although other “cultish” practices have been uncovered along with those (e.g., the excavations at Tel Dan). However, the fact that the Samaritans use a Torah, or at least a very close version [see below], should be proof that there was a religious association (at least before the diaspora). Archeologists believe that the answers may lie in/under the Temple Mount, but excavations there are forbidden. In addition, with the conquer of Northern and Southern Israel, any such evidence could have been destroyed over the centuries.]

In about 840 BCE, the Assyrians attacked and conquered the lands of Northern Israel.  All the inhabitants either were taken as slaves back to Assyria or they fled and dispersed through different countries (this is known as the diaspora). These ten tribes have become known as the Lost Tribes of Israel, and there are many theories as to where they wound up, and a number of groups claim ancestral ties.  The Samaritans claim ties to the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh (the sons of Joseph), and possibly the Levites, who lived in the north, near the capital city and area known as Samaria. [Fast Fact: The southern kingdom was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th c. BCE by the Babylonians.] They retained their adherence to the bible separately from the other Jewish groups, and this isolation kept them (consciously or unconsciously) from adopting the rabbinical oral law surrounding the Torah that evolved over subsequent centuries; however, they may have adapted some Assyrian/pagan traditions/practices due to assimilation through the centuries. Science, through genetics, has proven that their ancestors did originate in that area.

2. Are There Differences between the Jewish Torah and the Samaritan Torah?

Whereas mainstream Judaism follows not only the Torah, it also adheres to multiple texts including interpretations and commentaries as guidance, Samaritans only follow one text – the Five Books of Moses, which they call the Pentateuch Torah (although through the years they have developed their own interpretive literature). When comparing the Pentateuch Torah to the Jewish Torah, there are some differences – almost 6,000. While about half are only variations on spelling, the other half show a departure between traditional Torah liturgy and Judaism – although not are all significant. Some of the differences highlighted in a Tablet Magazine article include:

  • In the story of Cain and Able, the story ends with Cain asking Able to go out to the field
  • Additional monologue between Moses and the Pharaoh are added
  • Whereas the Torah states that the Hebrews lived in Egypt for 430 years, the Pentuach Torah revises the sentence to read that the Hebrews lived in Egypt and Canaan for 430 years (which clears up a chronological inconsistency argued by biblical scholars)
  • Moses’ son (Isaac) was circumcised in the Samaritan Torah (he was not in the Jewish Torah)
  • The Ten Commandments of the Bible are Eleven Commandments in the Samaritan Bible – with an additional commandment to build an alter on Mount Gerizim. The Masoretic (Jewish) Torah does not state where the alter was to be built; King David chose the location of the Holy Temple and the alter.

Also note that there are differences between the Masoretic Torah and the Torah found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls (scrolls/documents found in a cave in Qumran (near the Dead Sea), written by an early Jewish sect known as the Essenes at about the time of the Second Temple). Technically, in addition to the Samaritan Pentateuch, there are four early version, counting the Septuagint (which is an early version of the Masoretic Torah that was translated into Greek around the 2nd century, and subsequently used as the basis for the Christian Bible. Scientists and biblical scholars argue as to which one is the oldest/original – or if there is even an older version of the Five Books of Moses.

The Samaritans follow similar holidays to Judaism, but only the ones mentioned in the Torah (e.g., Purim and Chanukah occurred afterwards, and not part of the same “history”). The holidays themselves are followed as they were in the days of the ancient world.  During Passover, there is an animal sacrifice, and the blood is placed on the foreheads of the congregants – in addition to eating the blood along with matzah.  Another difference between Samaritanism and Judaism is that the religion is centered on Mount Gerizim (vs. the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah) in Jerusalem).

The Samaritan Community has been publishing a newsletter since 1969 called the Samaritan Update. The newsletter provides updates and information on the Samaritans – including both current events and historical articles.

3. Origin of the Term “Good Samaritan”

The term “good Samaritan” comes from the New Testament, in the Book of Luke also known as the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:30-10:33). The book recounts a story told by Jesus about a Jew that was robbed, beaten, then left on the side of the road in a state of near-death.  After both a priest and a Levite pass by the man, the third person, a man from Samaria, helps the injured Jew.  This was a surprise to the listeners, since Samarians and Jews hated each other. Although the term “good Samaritan” comes from this parable, the book was first published in the 1st century, and the term not become popular until the 1600s. One of the earliest known references appeared in Peter Chamberlen’s book The Poore Mans Advocate, or, Englands Samaratin in 1649. The term is now frequently used to describe a person (or organization) that goes out of their way to help others – especially strangers.

4. Good Samaritan Laws

In the legal sense, when discussing the “Good Samaritan,” one is referring to a person who helps a stranger, but in the case where the person does more harm than good (e.g., move a person from a burning car, but in the process breaks their leg) they are not liable for their actions.  This legal immunity has been around for a long while.  In the United States, every state had some type of Good Samaritan immunity law by 1959 (although many are rather confusing). Many other countries have their own versions of this legislation.

The other side to this law is that some Good Samaritan laws may require individuals to act (to help) others (sometimes called “duty to act” or “omission to act”), but once again – if anything happens to the stranger, the person will not be liable. However, if the person does nothing, there could be liability/punishment. An example of this is the final episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer watch a mugging and do nothing about it; they were all arrested under the Good Samaritan Law.

In the Jewish religion there is a duty for a bystander to rescue/help those that are in peril.  This may be either by helping physically or monetarily. [This is a whole other article to be written in the future.] Note that Good Samaritans do not (usually) apply to on duty: doctors, EMT workers, rescue workers, etc.

A. Karaite Jews

Search scripture well, and don’t rely on my opinion.” [Ancient Karaite proverb]

1. Who Are the Karaites?

The Karaites are a religious group that has its origins in Judaism.  The religion is known as either Karaism or Quarism. For many centuries, the Karaites centers were in Egypt, Crimea, and Turkey. There are believed to be between 40,000 and 50,000 Karaites practicing today, with about 40,000 living in Israel (mostly in Ashod and Ramla). There is a large conclave of Karaites living in the US (about 250 families) – in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are a few smaller communities living in Eastern Europe, but consider themselves as being their own distinct group.

Although they are not always labeled or listed as Jewish, (from what I have read), adherents believe themselves to be Jewish. The main difference between Karaites and modern Judaism, like the Samaritans [see above] is that the Karaites do not believe in the Rabbinical laws. They believe that the laws and guidance are found in the Torah itself and do not use the Talmud or the oral Torah as authority.  They believe that the Torah should be interpreted as it is written, and as it would have been understood by a person at the time the Torah was given. As Shawn Lichaa, expert on Karaite history, and author of the Blue Thread Blog, “Karaites are not literalists, they are textualists.”

The origins of the Karaite are unknown. It is believed that a pre-cursor to this group broke off from mainstream Judaism at some time in the first or second century BCE, and may have been a mix of some known early-Jewish groups such as the Isunians, Yudganites, and Malikites.  Some argue that the group either did not want to adhere to the authority of the rabbis, or just disagreed with the rabbinical movement. [Fast Fact: Rabbinical Judaism is where a group of rabbis provide interpretations and guidance on the Torah and per se become the halacha or law.] There is also a theory that a breakaway group had merged with another ancient group known as the Sadducees in the 2nd century ADE. The Karaites officially were created (maybe it was a resurgence or the anti-rabbinic thought or and possibly a unification in its thinking during the 8th century) under the leadership of Anan ben David.

Anan ben David and his brother were both prominent Jews in Persia (around Bagdad) in the 8th century, and both sought to be named the head of the Jews living in the Babylonian called an exilarch. The position needed the authority of the caliph (Muslim civil leader), and the title was bestowed to his brother.  Anan then declared himself the anti-exilarch, so he was arrested.  In his defense, he pleaded that he had formed and was head of another religion, one which was more Islamic in nature – so he was released.  He then wrote the Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (“The Book of Precepts” or “Book of Commandments”) which is a collection of all of the core tenets of the Karaites, with the rejection of the Talmud (Rabbinical Judaism) and called for the self-interpretation of the bible at its core. [Fast Fact: It is not a complete exclusion; rabbinical could be considered in an individual making their own decisions, but they are not considered binding.] The term “Ananites” was first used to describe the group, and did not acquire the name  “Karaite” or “Karaitism” until the 9th or 10th century due to the follower’s emphasis on personally reading the Torah.

Although the Karaites do not have tombs of liturgy as rabbinic Judaism, there are huge amounts of works on their philosophies and teachings, and other especially polemic literature written during the 10th century when there was a huge philosophical literal war of words between mainstream rabbis and the Karaites (even Maimonides considered the Karaites heretics – but still considered them as fellow Jews).

2. Differences in Karaite Celebration of Holidays and Religious Practices

Although many of the practices are consistent among Karaites and Rabbanite Jews (what Karaites call other Jewish denominations), there are also a number of differences, especially where the sages of the Talmud interpret the words of Torah vs. their plain meaning.  For instance, an issue recently discussed (August 2020, Is Chicken Parm Kosher?) was the law of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) of milk and dairy being forbidden to be eaten together. The passage in question is the forbidding of someone to eat a kid that was boiled in its mother’s milk. Under rabbinical Judaism, this has been expanded to forbidding the consumption of any meat with any dairy product, even if they are not cooked together.  Karaite Jews can eat milk and meat together, as long as the meat has not been boiled in its mother’s milk – as is expressed in the Torah.

A few of the other differences include:

  • The celebration if “Rosh Hashana” is observed as advised in the Torah, to have a Sacred Assembly and not observed as a rosh hashana (a new year)
  • Chanukah is not observed. However, unlike the Samaritans, they do observe Purim – a joyous holiday, and a day that many marriage engagements are announced
  • The laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) are followed, but as stated in the Torah (e.g., the meat and milk example above); they also do not eat chelev (suet/animal fat) which has been allowed by rabbinical guidance
  • Shabbat is observed, with some differences, and do not recognize Talmudic guidance that may loosen Shabbat restrictions such as the use of fire on shabbat – one should not light a fire before the Sabbath if it may continue to burn during the Sabbath
  • During prayer they take off their shoes and prostrate on the ground (kind of looks like Muslim prayer)
  • There is no concept of a minyan in Karaism
  • They do not wrap in tefillin – which is not in the Torah; they wrap themselves in the word of G-d

3. The Crimean Karaites

The Karaites in the area of Crimea (also around Lithuania and Turkey) do not consider themselves as Jews. The Crimean Karaites began separating themselves from the Jewish community in the 18th century but became more isolated as the years progressed (They had asked for, and received, permission to be treated as non-Jews by the Czar in 1863 [?possibly the Subbotnik Karaites?]).  They do not use or learn Hebrew, and claim that they originate not from Jews, but from a pagan cult. The biggest separation occurred due to the Nazis.  To avoid the antisemitic persecution of Jews, the Crimean Karaites asked to be considered their own (non-Jewish) religion.  The Nazis asked several rabbis and Jewish scholars (I am guessing not for their authority, but for confirmation) as to whether these Karaites were Jewish. The rabbis all replied that they were not; and the Nazi’s took the Karaites of the list as Jews. However, it is suggested that the rabbis and scholars provided their opinion of the Karaites to be non-Jews in order to save the lives of the Karaites, who would not have to suffer the persecution of the Jews under Nazi rule.


I was going to add a Karaite recipe, but have not personally cooked any myself thus far.  I did try to contact the Karaite Jews of America a few months ago about supplying a recipe, but they have not yet responded.  In the meantime, I will direct you to a website entitled “The Karaite Kitchen” [click here] for related recipes.


[Note: Although Wikipedia can be a dubious source to use as for reliable reference, it is a great springboard to use as a starting place to begin research (especially the citations that are used in their articles that (usually) provide links to more authoritative references). Since I did use Wikipedia articles a few times to begin my different avenues of research more than usual for this article, I have included a few links to their website.]

2 thoughts on “Karaites, Samaritans, and Pray for Rain

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