The Religious Council of Karaite Jews unanimously reelected their chief rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Piroz, for another four-year term. Piroz has been serving as chief rabbi since 2011.
The Karaites are a small sect of Judaism who follow only the written Torah and reject the later additions of Oral Law, including the Mishnah and the Talmud. “Karaite” comes from the Hebrew verb “to read” because they consider themselves literal interpreters of the Books of Moses.
There are approximately 40,000 Karaite Jews across Israel, and 10,000 abroad, including about 1,000 in San Francisco.
There are 11 Karaite synagogues in Israel. The largest communities are in Ramle, Ashdod, Jerusalem, Bat Yam, Rishon Lezion, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim and Beersheba.
Some Karaite traditions include the removal of shoes in synagogues and prostration while praying. Karaite Jews also practice a different interpretation of kashrut, permitting the consumption of poultry with cheese since the relevant verse in the Torah simply enjoins “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.” Some eat milk and meat together in various degrees, believing that the verse actually forbids participation in a Canaanite fertility ritual and is not about dietary restrictions.
Karaites also do not celebrate Hanukkah, since that holiday is not mentioned in the Torah.
The Karaite movement was established about 1,300 years ago by Anan ben-David HaNasi and others in Baghdad. Many Karaite Jews came to Israel from countries like Iraq, Iran, and Egypt in the 1950s and 60s.
There was tension between Orthodox Judaism and Karaite Judaism until 1973, when then chief Sephardic rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that Karaite Jews are Jews “for all intents and purposes,” and that Orthodox Jews can marry Karaite Jews.
The sect subscribes to interpreting the Torah as “pshat” or “plain meaning,” looking for the simplest and clearest interpretation and eschewing the boisterous discourse between rabbis that is characteristic of the oral law in the Mishnah and Talmud.
Piroz, the chief rabbi, was born in 1972 in Or Yehuda and served in the Air Force, and then moved to Beersheba to study at Ben Gurion University. He is currently pursuing doctoral research into Karaite founder Anan ben-David HaNasi.
The Supreme Council of Karaite Judaism, which includes two deputy rabbis and a general secretary, is elected every four years.