Trying to learn about Judaism more I have been reading this StackExchange for the past few months. As a non-Jew using the correct terminology is a bit hard, so please do feel more than free to edit this question to improve it.

Regarding the rabbinic laws (The derabanan if I am not mistaken) there is often discussion and if my understanding is correct they can be 'overwritten' through time. Either way, regarding specific cases I have read about Jews not following some of these instructions (for example regarding what may and may not be done on the Shabbat) which made me wonder whether there are Jews which disregard Rabbinic law as a whole (a movement like the Sola Scriptura movement in Christianity for example), especially after reading a question like Why are we bound to rabbinic laws?.

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    Does this answer your question? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaite_Judaism [although it should be noted that Karaism is NOT accepted as a viable alternative to mainstream, rabbinic Judaism]
    – MTL
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 23:41
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    .....my question is if there are still practicing Karaites out there.
    – MTL
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 23:42
  • @shokhet, there are. There are also some Shomronim/Samaritans
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 0:11
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    Note too that there are many who consider themselves Jewish by inheritance and culture but are not observant or are selectively observant. The word has multiple legitimate definitions.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 3:07
  • @keshlam: The group that is selectively observant was the group I was thinking of originally, I just didn't know whether they were selectively observant in some organized manner or... just selectively observant. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


The most famous instance of Jews choosing to follow only the written Torah without the oral rabbinic interpretations would be the Karaites who flourished from about 760 CE to 1100 CE. Today their numbers are relatively small. Wikipedia gives a worldwide estimate of about 45,000 people, but the source of their numbers is not given. Karaite Judaism is probably the closest analogue to the Sola Scriptura movement that you mention in Christianity.

There have of course been other movements through history that have declared themselves to not be bound by at least certain aspects of rabbinic law. Pauline Christianity and Reform Judaism are two of the more famous religious movements that did so. A more disturbing instance of Jews throwing off rabbinic law can be found in the events surrounding the life of Jacob Frank.

Orthodox Jews generally consider all of these examples to be people who have fallen away from the path of Judaism, but the followers of those movements would not always characterize it as such. While they all made a conscious choice to change their practice, whether they continued to self-identify as Jews varied according to the time and place.

  • Thanks for the, as far as I can tell, excellent answer. I have right now only cursory read through the wikipedia page about the Karaites, but definitely planning on reading through it more. Was wondering why it didn't have more followers till I found this line "This conversion comes 15 years after the Karaite Council of Sages reversed its centuries-old ban on accepting converts." Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 0:15
  • I feel incredibly stupid for not entirely understanding what the oral Torah is and is not, question: Do the Karaites consider the Nevi'im and Ketuvim authoritative as well? Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 0:23
  • Converts were rare in Judaism as well since, until modern times, it was illegal and carried harsh penalties (usually capital punishment) if someone converted. So that doesn't explain the small numbers. What might explain the small numbers is what Rabbi Simcha Wasserman calls the "artificial potato". He gives a mashul, a parable, Scientists invented an artificial potato, and it resembled natural potatos in all ways - except that it didn't reproduce. A major difference between Judaism that follows Toras Moshe and artificial reformations of Judaism is that heresies never survive in the long term. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 0:44
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    If you're curious about the current state of Karaite Judaism, the Jerusalem post had a good article a few years ago which you may find interesting. Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 3:23
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    "There have of course been other movements through history that have declared themselves to not be bound by at least certain aspects of rabbinic law.." This is very misleading. Reform Judaism doesn't only differ from traditional Judaism on matters of rabbinic law. Reform Judaism challenges the entire concept of having any Jewish legal obligations whatsoever. In fact, Christianity has maintained more of an allegiance to Jewish law, than Reform Judaism has (in as much as rules about charity, not bearing false witness, and many of the sexual prohibitions, are still considered binding laws)
    – Jake
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 6:32

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