I saw this recently:

"If one, G-d forbid, [is not careful to place the tefillin above his hairline and instead] puts the tefillin on his forehead, he is following a custom of the Karites, and has not fulfilled the mitzvah at all….and has said a bracha in vain." {Mishna Berura 27:33}

I had thought that the Karaites did not wear tefillin and interpreted the verse in the Torah as "figurative"?

  • Where did you get that from? Karaites take everything in the Torah as literally as possible.
    – DonielF
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 20:38
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    It may be that either the translator rendered this Mishnah Berurah as "Karaite" and that the original read "Sadducee" or that the author (the Chofetz Chaim) preferred to use Karaim as they are contemporary, rather than historical (considering that not everyone is learned and that contemporary examples would be more helpful to them) Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:24
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    @DonielF, according to my Karaite friends, one of whom has been working on a "Karaite 'Shulchan-Aruch'" some Karaim actually do use tefillin which otherwise fulfil all of the halachot Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:26
  • @DonielF judaism.stackexchange.com/a/94938/13438
    – Alex
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:27
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    @DoneilF See this: "Karaite Jews do not wear tefillin in any form. According to Karaites, the Biblical passages cited for this practice are metaphorical, and mean to "remember the Torah always and treasure it". This is because the commandment in scripture is "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart"… "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for forehead ornaments between thine eyes". (Deuteronomy 6:5,9) Since words cannot be on one's heart, or bound on one's hand, the entire passage is understood metaphorically." Commented May 13, 2019 at 21:38

3 Answers 3


There are different groups of Karaites, and the general rule is that all opinions are accepted and are subject to equal scrutiny. To quote from Karaite Korner's FAQ section: https://www.karaite-korner.org/karaite_faq.shtml

"If you interpret the Bible then don't you have your own Oral Law?

No. An Oral Law would imply that we claim that a given set of interpretations were bestowed upon us through a prophecy which was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Not only do we not make such a claim, but **we believe that every interpretation must stand up to the same objective scrutiny, regardless of its source**.

How can you have a community if everybody interprets the Bible themselves?

This is only a problem if we start off with intolerance. Karaites have learned to have tolerance of greatly varying interpretations as long as they are derived from sound principles of Biblical exegesis and only based on the Tanach. The reason for this tolerance is that we know that it is more important to do the right and moral thing than to do the same thing as everyone else."

Therefore, some Karaites wear Tefillin, some don't. The Torah only says to bind an "os" (sign) on your hand and a "totefos" between your eyes. Tefillin is the oral aspect of the same law. Since the Karaites reject being "bound" to oral law, they interpret as they wish, and in some cases go based on Rabbinic interpretation.

On the note of Tefillin, the same site Karaite Korner states that as a general rule, they don't wear Tefillin:

"Do Karaites wear Tefillin (phylacteries)?

No. See http://www.karaite-korner.org/tefillin.shtml

But I thought Karaites wear Tefillin between their eyes?

This is not true. See: http://www.karaite-korner.org/tefillin.shtml.

How can Karaites know how to make Tefillin if the written Torah doesn't tell us how?

We can not know how to make Tefillin from the Torah because Tefillin were only invented by the Rabbis 1500 years after the Torah was given. The Torah commands us to treasure the commandments as jewels, not to strap leather amulets onto our heads and arms."

Anecdotally, it's ironic that it was "invented by the Rabbis 1500 years ago" when Tefillin in "amulet form" was excavated from the Qumran caves, showing evidence that it's much older. See https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1591202/jewish/The-Tefillin-of-Qumran.htm

  • The photos of your quotes are cutoff
    – Dude
    Commented Jan 21 at 17:52
  • It's a machlokes in kareities. Commented Jan 22 at 2:51
  • Was the 'anecdote' a dig at the Karaites or a real part of the answer?
    – user34203
    Commented Mar 12 at 2:51
  • It’s my comment on the Karaites’ claim of Tefillin only being 1,500 years old, which is not true.
    – Rafi Hecht
    Commented Mar 22 at 14:43

Mishnah (Megillah 24b)

העושה תפילתו עגולה, סכנה ואין בה מצוה.

נתנה על מצחו או על פס ידו, הרי זו דרך המינות.

See Rashi (ad loc.), that this was the manner of the "minim", who degenerate the words of the Sages, and follow the literal meaning of the verse.

Kessef Mishnah (Hilchos Tefillin 4:3) reads "Saducees".

פירש''י סכנה שלא תכנס בראשו. נתנה על מצחו של ראש ושל יד על פס ידו הרי זה דרך הצדוקים שמניחין מדרש חכמים והולכים אחר המשמע.

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    This is a word frequently changed by censors so there's no reason to think the Kesef Mishna actually ever said or meant Sadducees
    – Double AA
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 2:02
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    Who were the "minim"? Jewish-Christians? They were wearing tefillin on their foreheads? Commented May 14, 2019 at 3:13
  • The tzadukim and karaites are two separate sects,in fact the Karite website says this explicitly
    – sam
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 15:40

Karaites do not wear tefillin.

The idea that Karaites "always" follow the literal meaning is patently false. It is a contrarian belief system in that it takes the mainstream understanding & turns it on its ear. Take the issue of "T'fillin" since that was specifically referenced. Karaites denigrate mainstream Judaism for donning T'fillin.

Why? They say we are too literal. They say that when we don a tiny box with a snippet of the Torah on our forehead & on our left bicep we are being literal when the Mitzvah is merely to keep the Torah in our heart & on our mind.

On the other hand, consider Kashrut. We understand the Mitzvah not to boil a kid in its mother's milk as a blanket prohibition against mixing any & all dairy with any & all meat. Karaites declare that we must be MORE literal. They argue that the only prohibition is against literally boiling a specific kid in its own specific mother's milk.

In other words, it is a system of contrarianism, decisions with such pettiness as one might expect of a system invented by Ananites, partisans of a failed candidate for Exilarch.

  • What if they are right? From their point of view, wouldn't it be ridiculous for people to wear a box on their head and arm because they misunderstood the intent? Or maybe God's command to not boil a kid in it's mother's milk meant what it said in plain language? I've heard a Karaite Jew actually say, "You know, I could be wrong." I've never heard those words from an Orthodox Jew.
    – user34203
    Commented Mar 12 at 3:10

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