R' Joseph Soloveitchik famously objects to interfaith dialogue. @mbloch provides a thorough examination of the halachic issues surrounding interfaith dialogue.

My question is, while this obviously applies to Jewish-Christian dialogue, does this apply to Rabbinic Judaism-Karaite Judaism? On the one hand, the opinions written can be understood as applying to those who believe in a different god, while Karaite Judaism ostensibly believes in the same Hashem; on the other hand, R' Soloveitchik writes:

We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis a vis “similar” aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and we will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these “private” topics which express our personal relationship to the God of Israel.

...suggesting that, due to its rejection of the Oral Law, the Karaite community constitutes "another faith community" and therefore cannot be engaged with in dialogue.

(Note: I added the haskkafah-philosophy tag as well because this question does contain a component of hashkafah as well as the pure halchachic discussion.)

2 Answers 2


Perhaps we can apply Rambam's approach in Hilchos Mamrim 3:3

בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּאִישׁ שֶׁכָּפַר בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה בְּמַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ וּבִדְבָרִים שֶׁנִּרְאוּ לוֹ. וְהָלַךְ אַחַר דַּעְתּוֹ הַקַּלָּה וְאַחַר שְׁרִירוּת לִבּוֹ וְכוֹפֵר בַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה תְּחִלָּה כְּצָדוֹק וּבַיְתּוֹס וְכֵן כָּל הַתּוֹעִים אַחֲרָיו. אֲבָל בְּנֵי הַתּוֹעִים הָאֵלֶּה וּבְנֵי בְּנֵיהֶם שֶׁהִדִּיחוּ אוֹתָם אֲבוֹתָם וְנוֹלְדוּ בֵּין הַקָּרָאִים וְגִדְּלוּ אוֹתָם עַל דַּעְתָּם. הֲרֵי הוּא כְּתִינוֹק שֶׁנִּשְׁבָּה בֵּינֵיהֶם וְגִדְּלוּהוּ וְאֵינוֹ זָרִיז לֶאֱחֹז בְּדַרְכֵי הַמִּצְוֹת שֶׁהֲרֵי הוּא כְּאָנוּס וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁשָּׁמַע אַחַר כָּךְ [שֶׁהוּא יְהוּדִי וְרָאָה הַיְהוּדִים וְדָתָם הֲרֵי הוּא כְּאָנוּס שֶׁהֲרֵי גִּדְּלוּהוּ עַל טָעוּתָם] כָּךְ אֵלּוּ שֶׁאָמַרְנוּ הָאוֹחֲזִים בְּדַרְכֵי אֲבוֹתָם הַקָּרָאִים שֶׁטָּעוּ. לְפִיכָךְ רָאוּי לְהַחְזִירָן בִּתְשׁוּבָה וּלְמָשְׁכָם בְּדִבְרֵי שָׁלוֹם עַד שֶׁיַּחְזְרוּ לְאֵיתָן הַתּוֹרָה

To whom does the above apply? To a person who denied the Oral Law consciously, according to his perception of things. He follows after his frivolous thoughts and his capricious heart and denies the Oral Law first, as did Tzadok and Beitus and those who erred in following them.

The children of these errant people and their grandchildren whose parents led them away and they were born among these Karaities and raised according to their conception, they are considered as a children captured and raised by them. Such a child may not be eager to follow the path of mitzvot, for it is as if he was compelled not to. Even if later, he hears that he is Jewish and saw Jews and their faith, he is still considered as one who was compelled against observance, for he was raised according to their mistaken path. This applies to those who we mentioned who follow the erroneous Karaite path of their ancestors. Therefore it is appropriate to motivate them to repent and draw them to the power of the Torah with words of peace.(Touger translation my emphasis)

So arguably, one could make the case that since those of Karaite origin are regarded as a תִינוֹק שֶׁנִּשְׁבָּה and it is therefore fitting to try and draw them closer to Torah, it might be considered okay to engage in some form of dialogue if it will have the desired effect. However, I would assume that if the person engaging in the conversation might become enamoured with the Karaite tradition, and want to pursue it themselves, then this should obviously be avoided.

Indeed, in terms of the Hashkafic perspective, it is interesting to note the Wikipedia page on Rav Soloveitchik as saying:

Soloveitchik was a life-long critic of all forms of non-Orthodox Judaism, including Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism. He believed that these denominations were in significant error where they differed from Orthodox Judaism. He compared religious dialogue with Reform and Conservative leaders to dialogue between Pharisees and Karaites, considering it ridiculous.

So possibly if we read between the lines, it would seem at least to Rabbi Soloveitchik's view that such dialogues should be avoided.

  • See Radvaz's comment on the Rambam (ad loc.): נראה שכתב רבינו זה ללמד זכות על הקראין, אבל הנמצאים בזמנינו זה אם היה אפשר בידינו להורידן היה מצוה להורידן, שהרי בכל יום אנו מחזירין אותם למוטב ומושכין אותם להאמין תורה שבעל פה, והם מחרפין ומגדפין את בעלי הקבלה, ואין לדון את אלו בכלל אנוסים אלא כופרים בתורה שבעל פה וכבר הארכתי בתשובת שאלה על ענינם: Aug 4, 2021 at 14:45
  • Ooh good one! Do you want me to add?
    – Dov
    Aug 4, 2021 at 18:08
  • Use your own judgement. There are many differences between dialogue and debate: capstone.unst.pdx.edu/sites/default/files/… Was the Radvaz "debating" the Karaites of his day, having "dialogue" with them, or just trying to be “mekarev” them? Aug 4, 2021 at 20:20

In Megilas Taanis for Nissan in the first entry we find that Chazal did engage in dialogue with the Tzedukim;

שהיו צדוקין אומרים מביאים תמידין משל יחיד וזה מביא שבת אחד וזה מביא ב' שבתות וזה מביא שלשים יום. ומה היו דורשים אמרו כתוב בתורה את הכבש אחד תעשה בבקר. ליחיד משמע. אמרו להם חכמים אין אתם רשאים לעשות כן לפי שאין קרבן צבור בא אלא משל כל ישראל שנאמר צו את בני ישראל וגו' קרבני זה הדם לחמי אלו חלבים. לאשי זה הקטרת. ריח זו הלבונה. ניחחי אלו הנסכים. וכל שהוא כריח ניחוחיתשמרו להקריב לי במועדו שיהא כולם באים מתרומת הלשכה: ר' עקיבא אומר מניין שלא יצא וירעה בעדר ת"ל תשמרו להקריב לי במועדו. ולהלן הוא אומר והיה לכם למשמרת עד ארבעה עשר יום. מה להלן מבקרין אותו ד' ימים קודם לשחיטתו. אף כאן מבקרין אותו ד' ימים קודם לשחיטתו. וכשגברו עליהם ונצחום התקינו שיהיו שוקלין שקליהן ומניחין אותן בלשכה והיו תמידין קריבין משל צבור. וכל אותן הימים שדנום עשאום י"ט:

Having said that, the Gedolim of the previous generation ( R' Moshe, and others) were opposed to such to participation with other Jewish groups. About 20 years ago, Random House published a book that featured a debate between an Orthodox Rabbi and a Reform rabbi. (One people, Two worlds). The work generated a lot of controversy within the ultra orthodox community due to the general rulings of Reb Moshe, Reb Aron and others. So although it seems allowed according to the letter of the law, the Hashkafa of it is the source of fierce controversy.

  • 1. Did Chazal have "dialogue" with the Saducees, or were they "debating" them? 2. Are we as qualified to debate the Saducees, as Chazal were qualified? 3. Now that Chazal have established the oral Tradition for us, what would be the point in debating the Saducees today? Aug 4, 2021 at 21:14
  • @IsraelReader 1. In the particular case brought in the answer it was probably a debate, but there are plenty of cases were they engaged in dialogue as well (Rava with the bleeding finger and many others). 2. Probably not, which is why many are opposed to it, although today's Karaite's are probably a far cry from those back then as well. 3. I don't know if there's a point, that wasn't the question. Although Rabbi Reinman who published the book, claimed he made a number of people change to orthodox with it.
    – Chatzkel
    Aug 4, 2021 at 21:20
  • See the Mishnayos at the end of Maseches Yadayim iirc for actual dialogues of these debates.
    – N.T.
    Aug 5, 2021 at 0:09

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