Karaimites or Karaimite-Subbotniks or Subbotnik Karaimites better known simply as Subbotniks are a historical Messianic Noahite group in the Tosafists approach overseen by the Subbotnik Jews of Judah ben Tabbai's Yerushalmi Palestinian Minhag which due to their disinterest in the Babylonian Talmud's interpretation of the Bible were named after a remnant of Persia's Qara'im in Isafan with whom they established a relationship somewhere in the forgotten past. They practice a much Judaized sort of Christian religion preserving the Lord's Prayer while, notably, also respecting a version of the Quran. Many were fully converted to Subbotnik Jews following the Romaniote Jewish Palestinian Minhag of Constantinople which was published in the Austrian Empire. The origins of Karaimism are obscure but seem to have begun with the part-Karaimite Karimi merchants. Karaimites were the "Children of Scripture" the so called "Karaites" of Old Russia. There are three notable stages in the development of the Karaimite-Subbotnik community which suffered from a socialist revolution in the 1930s-40s resulting in two rival sects when Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites sought to eradicate the Karimi-Karaitizer supporters of the Real Karaimite/Karaim/Subbotnik leaders.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century the Molokan-Subbotniks started professing a type of Messianic Judaism which did not recognize the authority of the Talmud and was somewhat similar to that of the Karaites so became known as the russkie karaimy or karaimity. In 1892, Bogusław Firkowicz published a Russian translation of Hebrew prayers collected by Abraham Firkowicz.362 This book, which became the first collection of Karaite prayers translated into Russian, was used, instead of by the Karaites, mainly by the Subbotniki – Russian converts to the non-Talmudic, Karaite type of Judaism. Except for the Firkoviches, the attitude in official Karaite circles with regard to these “Russian Karaites” was rather ambivalent even negative. In 1917, however, the Karaite National Assembly in Eupatoria, headed by the reformer Seraja Szapszał, allowed marriages between the Russian Karaites Subbotniki and the ethnic Karaites. After this, there were a few cases of mixed marriages between the Karaites and Subbotniki for which Seraja fell from favour and was forced out of Crimea. Although they were racially non-Jews, many Subbotniki were executed by Turkic Nazis during WWII. The Subbotniki lived mostly in the Volga and Astrakhan’ regions, the northern Caucasus, and Crimea. Some still live there today.
According to Karaite sources, an old-time Subbotniks community in stanitsa Rodnikovskaya, as well as in stanitsa Mikhaylovskaya in the same District, was a community of Karaite Subbotniks.
Privolnoye, a big village in Jalilabad District of Azerbaijan, was inhabited by two communities of Subbotniks who maintained their distinctiveness: Karaite-Subbotniks constituting about 60% of the population and Subbotnik Jews.
Karaimite-Subbotniks are first noted to have emerged from the Karimi merchants from Gazaria which is claimed to be the origin of the religion. Later, priestless Slavonic Christians adopted the ways of the Karimi-Karaitizers and called themselves Karaimites. In the 1700s, the Real-Karaimites began to appear in Lutsk serving both Karimi and Russophiles each in their own respective languages. First there was Simha Isaac Ben Moses the Lutski but it was Abraham Firkovich who first developed the religion. Soon there were Karaimite-Subbotnik colonies all along the Eastern Slavonic Christian frontiers.
Circucumcision was never practised among Karaimite-Subbotnik laity being reserved only for their Ministers who were considered Jewish or as "Old Jews" (староиудеями) by the Russian Imperial Church. They fought on the side of the White Army and a Karaimite Religious Union was recognized as a Church by the second Polish Republic. There were about 800 Karaimite-Subnotniks around Trokai and 250 in the rest of the republic. Traces of Karaimites could also be found in Sejny.
Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites attended Moscow's 1931 convention on the eradication of Judaism and rose up with the Ukrainian Nationalists and Tatars against the Russian-Speaking Real Karaimite-Subbotniks during WW2 to collaborate with the Nazis in exterminating the Real-Karaimites across Ukraine from Lutsk to Kiev and Babi Yar even as far as Krasnodar. Although Seraya Shapshal did his best to intervene, Karaimite-Subbotniks who had spent the nights in their Kanesa's were heard chanting: "Let us face death bravely as Christ did" on their way to extermination.
After WW2 the Real Karaimites continued to find themselves at the mercy of the same Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites Nevertheless, the Firkoviches managed to keep the religious Torch burning until 2009 when it was taken to Israel by BORQA -the Central Spirital Board of Russian Qaraims Abroad. Thanks to their campaigning, despite a hiatus on Subbotnik emigration to Israel from 2004, the last Subbotnik families were granted the right to Aliyah again in 2014.
However, it should be well noted that the Real Karaimite religion has never received compensation for the Holocaust while money has instead been granted to the descendants of the Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites who committed the atrocities.
The Karaimite religion consists of uncircumcised lay Karimi-Karaitizers (Part-Karaimites/Subbotniks) and circumcised clerical Russian Karaims (Proper-Karaimites/Subbotniks). The word Karaimite means Karaim-Like Karaim-ish or Karaim-ean in reference to the Samaritan-like and pre-Talmudic Jews of Persia. However, despite the name, Karaimites are quite distinct from the people after whom they have been named. Karaimism is the Subbotnik sect of Christianity which follows the Lutski Kabbalah with an uncircumcised Molokan Subbotnik Geir laity called Karimi-Karaitizers following a circumcised clerical class of Ezrakh called Real Karaimites, NOT Qaraite Jews. Their slogan is "All Israel are brethren, both Ezrakh and Geir alike" although the fraternity does not bridge the divide between the circumcised Real Karaimites as a distinct sect from socialist Crimean Karaites who had abandoned the circumcision for secularized Sadduceeism. Religious life revolves around Birur Netzotzim whereby they distribute the Shirayim with the Kos Shel Brakhah as a Seudah Hoda'ah Havdalah following the third meal of each Sabbath and each Yom Tov.
Karaimites use the traditional Russian Calendar all around the world but in Israel they observe Yom Teruah as Indiction, Succot as the Feast of the Cross, Yashan lo Chadash as Lent, Hag ha-Motzi as Holy Week, Karaite Reshit Katzir as the Resurrection, Lag B'Omer as Midpentecost, Karaite Shavuot as Pentecost and Qaraite Bein Ha-Metzarim and the 9 days as the Apostles Fast all according to the State's Hebrew Calendar. The 10th of Av is their All-Saints Feast of the Kanesa because Karaimites are a Messianic sect like Chabadniks no-longer awaiting a Messiah.
Subbotniks use a lot of typically Church Slavonic Liturgical language and:
- the Ancient Slavonic Psalter as used by the earliest Molokan-Subbotniks which was translated by Mikolas Firkovich in 1993.
Since 1870 Subbotniks have also been using
- the 1870 Vilna "Порядок караимов" by Avraham Firkovich which is based on the original "Siddur tefillot ke-minhag ha-Karaim" by Isaak ben Solomon Ickowicz (abridged version by Viktor Tiriyaki 2002 translated by Garkavets in 2004).
You can see a redacted version of this Siddur without the Lord's Prayer by Nehemiah Gordon and Moshe Dabbah online here. It was re-published as:
- the "Порядок молитв для караимов by Avraham Samoilovich Firkovich" in 1882
and again by Feliksas Maleckis as
- the "Порядок молитв для караимов, составленный вкратце гахамом и главным учителем караимов Авраамом Самойловичем Фирковичем" translated by Isaac Boguslaw Nisanovich Firkovich, 2 vols Tsaritsyn (Volgograd) E.N. Fedorov in 1892 (vol 1 was the Prayer book according to the customs of the Karaites 1, by Feliksas Maleckis, Vilnus, 1891-1892 being Edited by Mikolas Firkovich in 1998 and vol 2 was the Prayer book according to the customs of the Karaites 2, by Feliks Malecki, Vilnus, 1892 being Edited by M Firkovich in 1999),
and again with
- the "Молитвы перед обедом, и после обеда за целый год по обряду Караимов" (Prayers before meals and after meals for the whole year after the manner of the Karaims) in 1896.
It was published a third time in 1901. There are also:
- "The Russian Siddur" compiled by Eliezer Aaronovich Semyonov in 1907 (500 pages, no Hebrew)
- "Jacob's Voice" by F. Maleckis published in 1910
However, since the end of the 2nd Aliyah Subbotniks have been dropping use of such books. The last such book used by Subbotniks was
- "Everyday Prayers" by Simon Firkovich published in 1935 and edited by Mikolas Firkovich in 1993.
Subbotnik Karaimites have their origins in the Raskol's Bezpopovtsy reconstructionist movement. Without a valid Christian clergy, various Bezpopovtsy turned to the Bible to find a solution to the problem. Karaimstvo which in English is Karaitization or Karaimism, (not Karaism itself) was developed in order to get around Church laws against Judaizing. They sought a way to restore a legitimate priesthood without deviating from the Slavonic Bible. Paul's comment that Christ would be no profit to them if they allowed themselves to be circumcized made them think that Christ was somehow only for the nations not for Israel. Therefore the Children of Israel had not been replaced as a legitimate clergy appointed by God for mankind. All they had to do was to find Jews who understood the Bible the same way to be their Pastors. The inherent Karaite-style reading of the Bible which Christians practice led them to understand that surrogate intentional Torah observance and descent from Jacob were all any stranger in Christ required to become an Israelite. Such Israelites could guide Christians without being accused of trying to Judaize them.
They continued to follow the Gospel but as God-worshippers in such a way that it did not disagree with the Old Testament. They were the first to develop Karaimism as a sort of "Christian Noahite" movement which we can call Subbotnik-Karaimism (Karaimite Sabbatarianism) although looking to Karaimites rather than Jews as their guides. These Karaitizers followed their leaders in the same way that Orthodox Jews would follow Rabbonim. They observed all the Pentateuch laws which could be identified as applying to uncircumcised Gerim and their circumcised Priesthood of prophets. Real Karaimism finally began to crystallise in the 19th century under the influence of the Firkoviches.
Real Karaimites/Subbotniki (Russian-Karaims)
Certain Molokan Subbotniks/Karaimites who had Jewish ancestors while avoiding Judaization took the step to get circumcised and began to follow the Jewish dietary laws to lead their own communities. The Part-Karaimite Noahites were prohibited from practising circumcision which was reserved only for Real Karaimites (Real Subbotniks). They would also be discouraged from joining the circumcision (the priesthood) and could only follow the example of Timothy if persistent. Paul's circumcision of Timothy was interpreted as a priestly ordination. Therefore they only needed volunteers of Jewish descent willing to be circumcized to serve as pastor for the community. Jews would not refuse such a person the right to circumcision if they chose it. Thus the concept of a Real Karaimite was born. These Subbotnik/Karaimite leaders were known by their followers as Real Karaimites or Real Subbotniks as well as Real Karaims to distinguish themselves from the uncircumcised Karimi-Karaitizers. Unlike the Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites, REAL Karaims rejected the Sadducees. The Real Karaimites were also known as Russian Karaimites (as distinct from Karimi Karaitizers) because they remained Russians in all things, using their native language in all religious functions.
Many Real Karaimites wanting to settle in Israel go through an optional assimilation program to become orthodox Subbotnik Jews.
Karaimites played a major role in the first and second Aliyahs. After the Bolshevik revolution they began to show Polish sympathies fighting for the White Army and were rewarded with permission to establish their first Karaimite Church during the interwar period in the new Polish Republic. They fell prey to the Secularized Sadducean Socialist Crimean Karaites who were in collaboration with the Tatars, Ukrainian Nationalists and Nazis during WW2. They were recognised as legally eligible for Aliyah until 2004, and again in 2014 for the last few Karaimite-Subbotnik families.
Karaimites are no longer entitled to make Aliyah but may be entitled to citizenship in Israel through the local immigration office in Upper Nazareth. For this reason, being a Karaimite Noahite is very attractive to some Bnei Noah. However, although legally irrelevant, the office is not likely to believe those who do not appear to have any origins in the ex-USSR. Expect an uphill battle against prickly pears if you decide to persist. Zera Yisroel Subbotniks can also apply for circumcision in Israel free of charge to become Real Subbotniks and can then go through a Giyur LeChumra to become Subbotnik Jews.