I've been searching for closing in on eight hours trying to find a source from a Karaite about who they think created the rabbinic Oral law. I heard someone claim that Karaites believe Moses created the Oral law but it was his own invention, not given to him by God. This sounded fishy to me, and while I can't find that claim anywhere, I also can't find any other culprit for the creation of the rabbinic tradition. Who do they pin the fabrication on?

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    Why do you expect they pin it on any one person?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 12:37
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    Somewhat humorously, the answer is "machloket" (dispute). It depends according to which view you go, per when you think the Karaite/Rabbanite split began. Some Karaites hold that it began way back in the time of Yerov'am, whilst others believe it was invented by Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach many centuries later. I won't have time to gather the sources for you before Yom Kippur, so I'm leaving this as a comment.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 12:40
  • @DoubleAA if they pin it on multiple people, then that would be a satisfactory answer too. But when do they think it happened? Was it invented by Moses? Joshua? David? Some time between the first and second temple? Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 18:37
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    I saw a reference that they believe it was after the anshei knesses hagedolah since they accept the canonization of the tanach which was done by anshei kenesses hagedolah. Google points to web sites that show that the Karaites accept Purim and reject Chanukah which dates the split. Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 2:04
  • The Karaite religion started many hundreds of years after the Chanukah story. They were included in the decree of Haman but do not accept the Chashmoniam.
    – Schmerel
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


Well, I have time now to gather together the sources.

As I said, the answer is, somewhat humorously, "machloket" (dispute), which just goes to show you that Karaites, in the end, are Jews like any other sort of Jew... :D

Here's what Rabbi Bernard Revel wrote on the matter in his book "The Karaite Halaka":

"The question of the origin of Karaism, its causes and early development is still awaiting solution...They have no tradition as to their origin, and their opinions are conflicting...(pg. 2)

Not all early Karaites claimed antiquity for their schism. This is evident from the reply of Salman b. Yeruham to Saadia's mention of their late origin (Pinsker, II, 19). Another contemporary of Saadia, Abu Jusuf Yakub al-Kirkisani...gives a date for what he calls the Rabbanite dissension: Jeroboam, to make permanent the power he had usurped and to prevent the Israelites owing allegiance to the house of David, divided the nation by sowing the seed of dissension, perverted the Law, and changed the calendar (I Kings 12, 32). The followers of Jeroboam in later times are called Rabbanites. Those who remained faithful to the original laws were the ancestors of the Karaites. This fanciful explanation found no credence, even among Karaites." (pg. 4)

And in Kirkisani's (translated) words (HUCA VII, pg. 322-325):

"Jeroboam was the first who introduced differences in religion and sowed rebellion in Israel after the establishment of the kingdom by making changes and alterations in the laws...This is what the Scripture reports concerning the differences and innovations introduced by Jeroboam...After the Samaritans appeared the chiefs of the Assembly, i.e., the (chiefs of the) Rabbanites, namely at the (time of the) second Temple...The Rabbanites acknowledged the authority of (the members of) the Assembly, merely because they, too, were following the licentious customs inherited from Jeroboam..."

That's one view - that the Oral Law was invented by King Yerov'am in order to ensure that the schism between the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel become permanent, and the sages carried on this legacy.

Rabbi Revel continues:

"The Karaites felt keenly the need of some account of their origin that would silence the reproach of the Rabbanites and found in the event recorded in the Baraita (Kiddushin 66a; see Josephus Ant. XIII, 13, 5) a basis for claim of ancient origin for their sect. As stated in that narrative, the disagreement between John Hyrcanus and the teachers of the Law resulted in the extermination of the latter, excepting Simeon b. Shatah. As a consequence, ignorance of the Law prevailed until Simeon appeared and reinstated it.

"והיה העולם משתומם עד שבא שמעון בן שטח והחזיר התורה ליושנה" Simeon, say the Karaites, being at that time the sole authority, introduced many innovations upon his return and changed the true interpretation of the Law. To enforce these new laws, he invented the fiction that besides the Written there is also an Oral Law given to Moses on Sinai and handed down from generation to generation, and that the laws proclaimed by him went back to this real tradition.

The people followed him blindly. But some of them, knowing the false basis of these changes, rejected them and adhered to the ancient Tradition in all its purity; those were the Karaites." (pg. 5)

And that's the second view - that it was invented by Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach as part of a conspiracy to convince all of the Jews that these "new" laws had always been around.

See the footnotes in the book for a list of Karaites who state this and quotes from their books.

  • I've edited your comment to make it less antagonistic toward Karaites. I believe genetic tests have proven they are related to normative Jewish groups, and Sepharadim as a whole accept Egyptian Karaites as Jews. But feel free to edit your post back the way it was if you wish.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 18:35
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    @Aaron planning on rolling back once I figure out why I can't see a rollback option on your edit. I believe you misunderstood my comment which was solely intended as a good-spirited joke and had nothing to do with their Judaic lineage. Just as a BTW, there were times in which certain Karaite communities themselves denied any relations to the Jewish (Rabbanite) communities and sometimes even went further than that (ודו"ק). Though us Rabbanites often fought them bitterly, I don't recall ever hearing of a reverse case. To us it was and is always clear that they are 100% Jews.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 17:28
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    The joke was referring to some aspects of Karaite religious worldview.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 17:28
  • Sure thing. I admit I might be a bit too sensitive, I just want this website to be an informative place for Judaism and Israelite-ism. Not a place where we disparage or push away those that are probably related to us but happen to believe something a little bit different than us.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 19:44
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    I agree. I am also careful in the way I phrase things, this post included.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 20:03

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