ANAN BEN DAVID, Founder of the Karaite Sect:

In the second half of the seventh century and in the whole of the eighth, as a result of the tremendous intellectual commotion produced throughout the Orient by the swift conquests of the Arabs and the collision of victorious Islam with the older religions and cultures of the world, there arose a large number of religious sects, especially in Persia, Babylonia (Irak), and Syria. Judaism did not escape this general fermentation; the weak remnants of the early schisms—the Sadducees and Essenes—picked up new life and flickered once more before their final extinction. But new sects also arose in Judaism; the most important of which were the Isawites (called after their founder Abu Isa), the Yudganites, and the Shadganites (followers of Yudgan and Shadgan). All these various heresies would nevertheless have quickly disappeared or been assimilated by rabbinical Judaism, if the political conditions of the Jews in the eastern califate had not pushed to the front a certain energetic and determined man, and placed him at the head of the new movement. So great was his influence, that he succeeded in uniting all heterogeneous antirabbinical elements under his standard, and in forming a powerful sect out of them. This man, Anan ben David, had been a candidate for the highest dignity existing among the Jews at the time—the exilarchate. When, about the year 760, the exilarch (probably Isaac Iskawi) died, it appears that two brothers among his nearest kin, probably nephews of his, Anan and Josiah (Hassan), were next in order of succession to the exalted office. The former was older and richer in theological knowledge than the latter, and was thus the better fitted for the position of prince of the Exile. He should have received the preference over the younger and less learned Josiah; nevertheless the nomination was given to the latter: Josiah was elected exilarch by the rectors of the Babylonian colleges (the Geonim) and by the notables of the chief Jewish congregations; and the choice was confirmed by the calif of Bagdad.

Proclaims Himself Anti-Exilarch.

The following were the reasons for this extraordinary result, if the accounts of the earliest authorities may be credited: In the first place, Anan was of a presumptuous and imperious disposition, while his brother was unassuming and modest. Then, it is said, Anan had shown evidences of lukewarmness toward traditional Judaism, amounting even to disdain; while Josiah was pious and reverenced conformity to the Law. Any disregard for rabbinical Judaism on Anan's part may be accounted for by his long sojourn east of Bagdad in the Persian-Mesopotamian borderlands, which were then the chief hotbed of antirabbinical schisms. However that may be, it is certain that Anan's proud disposition would by no means permit him to submit tamely to his defeat, and place himself in subordination to his younger brother. His political partizans, who seemed to follow him in religious matters also, did not desert him, and so it came to pass that Anan permitted himself to be proclaimed antiexilarch. This step was naturally construed by the Mohammedan authorities as rebellion against the august authority of the calif, who had formally invested Josiah with the position; and such an act on the part of a Dhimmi (follower of a religion tolerated by Islam; that is, a Jew or Christian) must in a Mohammedan state appear serious in the extreme.

Line of Defense.

Therefore when Anan's proclamation of himself as exilarch became known, he was arrested by the authorities one Sunday in the year 767, and throwninto prison, to be executed on the ensuing Friday, as guilty of high treason. But luckily for Anan, he met in jail a very prominent and shrewd fellow-prisoner, no other than the founder of the great Mohammedan casuistic school of the Hanifites (whose ritual is dominant in Turkey at the present day), of the name of al-Nu'man ibn Thabit, surnamed Abu Ḥanifah. He gave the unhappy pretender to the exilarchate the following very shrewd advice, which saved his life: The pretender should set himself to expound all ambiguous and doubtful precepts of the Torah in a fashion exactly opposed to the traditional interpretation, and make this principle the foundation of a new religious sect. He must next get his partizans to secure, by means of presents and bribes to the highest officers of the court, the presence of the calif himself at the trial—his presence not being an unusual thing at the more important prosecutions. At the right moment, Anan was to throw himself at the feet of the calif and exclaim, "O Ruler of the Faithful! didst thou appoint my brother Josiah to a position of dignity in one religion, or in two?" Undoubtedly the calif would answer, "Only in one." Thereupon Anan was to declare that his religion was quite a different one from that of his brother and of the rabbinical Jews, and that his followers entirely coincided with him in matters of religious doctrine; which was an easy matter for Anan to say, because the majority of them were opposed to the rabbis. The pretender and his friends complied with the shrewd counsel given by Abu Ḥanifah, and in the presence of the calif Almansur (754-775) Anan defended himself most skilfully. Moreover, Anan won for himself the special favor of the calif by his protestations of deep veneration for Mohammed as the prophet of the Arab nation and of the world of Islam, and by the declaration that his new religion, in many points, entirely coincided with the Mohammedan; instancing the fact that the setting of the festivals was not decided by the astronomical calculations of a calendar—as with the rabbinical Jews—but by the actual observation of the new moon—as with the followers of Islam. In this way the prisoner, though he had already been condemned to death, succeeded in gaining not only his freedom, but also in winning the favor and the protection of the ruler and of all the Arab authorities—a circumstance which proved of the greatest assistance to this new sect, so strangely founded.

His Book of Laws.

Anan was now able to devote himself to the development of his new religion and its new code. But one thing was essential: it must deviate from traditional Judaism, for that was the very raison d'être of his new sect and the justification for his release. The fact that the majority of his followers were antirabbinical also made this course advisable. His "Sefer ha-Miẓwot" (The Book of the Precepts), which occupied him for several years, and which was published about 770, must be considered the basis of the newly found Ananite sect. It betrays very clearly that its author was anything but an original genius. He simply appropriated interpretational deviations, already existing, and ancient doctrinal differences. An analysis of Anan's code exhibits the following aspects:

Its Essential Features.
  • (1) Anan's relationship to the rabbinical or traditional legislation may be compared to that of a traveler in an unknown region, who, though he desires to separate from his guide, realizes that he is not able to find the way by himself, and is thus compelled to follow his leader, to keep his eyes riveted on his footprints, and at the same time to select parallel paths and side-lanes in order to maintain the appearance of independence. Thus we find that although this schismatic made the total rejection of tradition his watchword, he availed himself of the identical rules of interpretation framed in the Talmud—the so-called "Middot" of R. Ishmael—for the establishment of his religious laws. He makes many modifications in them, it is true, and forces many exaggerations upon them; and with his imperfect philological attainments elicits some very curious ideas. He draws freely upon those divergent opinions that are set down in the Talmud, but that did not attain recognition as authoritative decisions for religious practise (Halakah). From rabbinical jurisprudence he adopted some material with arbitrary modifications; other details again he accepted bodily from the Talmud as true and binding traditions; these latter the Karaites designate as the "inherited burden" (sebel ha-yerushah). And since Anan designedly imitates the language, style, and fashion of the Talmud most accurately, it is not to be wondered at that a gaon of the ninth century could say that the schismatic promised his followers to give them a Talmud all for themselves, and, in point of fact, did furnish them with a most impious one.
  • (2) It has already been indicated that the founder of the Karaite sect, in order to attach to himself all who had espoused antirabbinical schisms, adopted many of their principles and opinions in his new religious code. As far as is now known he took much from the old Sadducees and Essenes, whose remnants still survived, and whose writings—or at least writings ascribed to them—were still in circulation. Thus, for example, these older sects prohibited the burning of any lights and the leaving of one's dwelling on the Sabbath; they also enjoined the actual observation of the new moon for the appointment of festivals, and the holding of the Pentecost festival always on a Sunday. From the heresies of the Isawites and the Yudganites immediately preceding this epoch, he borrowed the recognition and justification of Jesus as the prophet for the followers of Christianity, and of Mohammed for those of Islam; in this way ingratiating himself with professors of those creeds. From them, too, came his prohibition of all meat—with the exception of the flesh of the deer and the dove—in token of mourning for the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.
  • (3) The Mohammedan theologian, Abu Ḥanifah, who gave Anan such successful counsel, seems also to have exerted considerable influence upon the latter's religious system. The following utterance may serve as characteristic of Abu Ḥanifah:

"Concerning those things that we have received from God and His prophet [Mohammed], we accept them with unconditional and total submission. Concerning those teachings and opinions that belong to the associates and companions of the prophets [the Ashab], we select from them the best. But as to all things else, which other teachers who followed them have left to us, we regard them as matters which came from persons that were human beings like ourselves."

Built upon Analogy.

Although Anan, in common with older schismatics, was opposed in certain points to traditional Judaism, he evidently could not, as long as he laid claim to an office dependent upon the Babylonian rabbinical academies, have possibly devised so radical a project as that of completely overturning the thousand-year-old edifice of rabbinical Judaism. It could only have been such circumstances as those which made the creation of a new sect a matter of life or death for him, and that fateful meeting with Abu Ḥanifah, which could have induced him to apply to Judaismthe maxim of the celebrated Mohammedan theologian just quoted. Anan imitated this Arab teacher still further. Abu Ḥanifah was accustomed in certain cases to take the words of the Koran, not in their literal, but in a symbolical sense (Ta'awil); and Anan adopted the same method with the Hebrew text of the Bible. Illustrations of this method are not infrequently, indeed, afforded by the Talmud itself. Thus he interpreted the prohibition of plowing on Sabbath (Ex. xxxiv. 21) as applying to marital intercourse; the word "brothers" (aḥim, Deut. xxv. 5) in connection with the levirate marriage he interpreted as "relatives," etc. But Anan's indebtedness to Abu Ḥanifah's system was most suggestively demonstrated in the following. Abu Ḥanifah's chief importance in the range of Mohammedan theology consists mainly in that to the three accepted sources of law in Islam—the Koran, the Sunnah (tradition), and the Ijma' (agreement among Moslems)—he added a fourth; namely, Rai (the speculative, individual view), claiming that in cases not provided for in the first three sources of law, it is permitted to the teacher of religion and to the judge to make his own decision with his own speculative reason in accordance with analogy (Ki'as; Hebrew heḳesh or mah maẓinu) with the cases actually provided. Now with Anan, too, it is found that the greater number of his innovations are based upon analogy. But he distinguished himself from his Mohammedan model in that he built mainly, not upon analogy of subject as Abu Ḥanifah did, but upon analogy of expressions, of words (the rabbinical gezerah shawah), indeed even upon analogy of single letters; a system which can hardly be considered a step in advance. The earliest sources tell also of another doctrine borrowed by Anan from the Mohammedans; namely, the belief in the transmigration of the soul (metempsy-chosis). This doctrine, represented in Greek antiquity especially by Empedocles and the Pythagoreans, had always been wide-spread in India, and was encountered there by a Mohammedan sect called the Rawendites, adopted by them, and in the middle of the eighth century was carried to Babylonia (Irak). This, too, was annexed by the Karaite schismatic, and he is said to have written a special work in its defense.

Minute Prescriptions.

In regard to general characteristics, this founder of Karaism, it must be confessed, was anything but a reformer in the modern sense of the word; for instead of lightening the load of traditional law, he increased the severity of religious praxis, as will appear from the following. Anan rejected all the admeasurements instituted by the rabbis (shi'urim); and instead of any permissible minimum for prohibited things—which the Talmud admits, as for instance shishim, one part in sixty, or ke-zait, "the size of an olive," etc.—he insisted that even the smallest atom of anything prohibited, mingling with an infinitely large quantity of a thing permitted, was sufficient to render the whole of the latter prohibited. In his law-book he maintains that as long as Israel is in exile the flesh of domestic animals, with the exception of the deer, is prohibited. The Talmud relates that after the destruction of the Second Temple, certain ascetics (perushim) sought to prohibit meat and wine because they had been employed in the Temple ritual, and that Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah repressed the movement. The schismatic Abu Isa, just before Anan's time, had succeeded in imposing this piece of asceticism upon his followers as a law. His example was now followed by Anan, who in addition prohibited the flesh of poultry and of all birds with the exception of the pigeon and turtle-dove.

Rules for Slaughtering.

The additional abolition by him of the injunction against eating meat and milk together (basar be-ḥalab) was thus rendered almost gratuitous. To this limitation of the eating of meat must also be added his regulation concerning the personality of the individual who slays creatures for food; Anan rejected the broad precept of the Talmud that "slaughtering is permissible to anybody," demanded a certain dignity for the act, and required from the slaughterer a complete profession of faith. From this dates the Karaite custom of reciting the articles of the creed preparatory to slaughtering. Finally, not satisfied with the Talmudic dictum that in the act of slaughtering it is sufficient to cut through two ducts—gullet and windpipe—Anan required that in addition two more—arteries or veins—should be severed. In addition to the legal fast-days appointed by the Bible, Anan, by means of word-analogies and peculiar misinterpretation, instituted the following: The seventh day of every month; the 14th and 15th of Adar instead of the rabbinical fast of the 13th, including thus the Purim festival; also a seventy-days' fast from the 13th of Nisan to the 23d of Siwan; including Passover and Pentecost as times of fasting when neither food nor drink could be partaken of by day.

Circumcision of children, according to Anan, must be performed with the scissors only; any other instrument was strictly forbidden under penalty of death. Other regulations concerning the same ceremony were of a like stringent character, and only he upon whom the operation had been performed accurately and with full observance of all these requirements was allowed to act in the capacity of mohel (circumciser). The omission of any single detail rendered the operation insufficient and vain, necessitating its reperformance. An adult (that is, a proselyte) might be circumcised only on the eleventh day of the month.

Rules for Sabbath.

It was forbidden to go outside of one's dwelling on the Sabbath except for purposes of prayer or necessity. Anything that is ordinarily carried on the shoulders, owing to its size or weight, might not be carried around even in a room. Anan's law-book insists that the Sabbath evening (Friday) must be passed in darkness: lights kindled in the daytime on Friday must be extinguished at nightfall, for it is forbidden to pass the Sabbath in a place artificially illuminated. Cooking and baking must be done on Friday, not only for Friday and Saturday, but also for Saturday night, to forestall any impatient longing for the close of the Sabbath. Viands already prepared must not be kept warm, but eaten cold. Unleavened bread (Maẓẓah) must be made exclusively of barley-meal, and he that prepares it out of wheaten meal incurs the punishment appointed for those that eat actual leaven (ḥameẓ). Nor may this unleavened bread be baked in an oven, but, like the paschal lamb, it must be roasted on the coals. In spite of his pretendedly tolerant utterances concerning the founders of Christianity and Islam, Anan amplified very considerably the traditional injunctions designed to keep the Jews distinct from other nations, particularly in the matter of the dietary laws.

That the founder of Karaism had small respect for science is often shown in his law-book. He forbids the use of medicines and of medical aid in general, for it is written, he says, "I, God, am thy physician" (Ex. xv. 26); this is held to prohibit drugs and doctors.His opposition to the astronomical determination of the festivals, of which he boasted to the calif, led him to declare astronomy as a branch of the astrology and divination forbidden in the Bible, thus undermining the very foundation of the rabbinical calendar.

Reasons for His Views and Methods.

The impelling reasons for this rigorous tendency evinced by Anan in his legislation can not now be accurately stated. Possibly experience with the sects of the Isawites, Yudganites, and Shadganites, which immediately preceded him and were all more or less liberal in their views—some of them maintaining that after the destruction of the Temple the whole Jewish ceremonial law was no longer obligatory—showed him that such liberality soon lost its attraction for the main body of the people, and completely failed to impress them. This seems to have induced Anan to strike out in the opposite direction. He may also have been influenced in this attitude by the preponderance in both numbers and influence of the remnants of the strict Sadducees among his followers. At all events, his rigorous restraints caused many Karaite writers to reckon him among the ascetics (perushim) and among those "who mourned for Zion" (Abele Zion).

Karaism Succeeds Ananism.

Be this as it may, it is certain that the whole Ananite legislation was better fitted for the world-renouncing recluse than for the free citizen of the world. Although the story that Anan removed to Jerusalem is a later invention, it is true that, some time after his death, his devoted followers, who were called Ananites (the name Karaites appears later), could find no better course than to settle in the holy city and live there a secluded life of asceticism. They gradually disappeared; the greater portion of the antirabbinical schismatics separated themselves by degrees from the Ananites and created the much milder form, Karaism, which is better fitted for secular life.

During his life, however, Anan's political influence was sufficient to group all antirabbinical seceders around him and keep them together. The general and unlimited freedom in the investigation and exposition of the religious law which he openly proclaimed possessed a special attraction for all opponents of traditional Judaism. His well-known declaration expresses this principle, "Search thoroughly in the Law and depend not upon my opinion." It is therefore not to be wondered at that he closed his life as undisputed head of the new sect (about 790-800), and transmitted his position to his son Saul, whose descendants were designated nesiim (princes) by the Karaites.

  • All ancient sources and many new ones from manuscripts were collected by S. Pinsker in his epoch-making work (not free from errors), Liḳḳuṭe Ḳadmoniyot, Vienna, 1860, which, before publication, was utilized by Jost (additions to the second volume of his Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, Leipsic, 1859, and by Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, vol. v., new ed., Leipsic, 1895), and contains the best matter available upon the subject. Anan has been treated by Fürst, Gesch. d. Karäert. Leipsic, 1862, at great length (but, besides Pinsker's data, much is contained that is unfounded and fantastic). These were followed by Hamburger in Winter and Wünsche's Jüdische Literatur. The writer was fortunate enough to discover several new manuscript sources, including fragments of Anan's Codex, published in the Russian Voskhod (1897-98);
  • also outlined in German in the new edition of Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 1895, vol. v., and in the Jahrb. f. Jüd. Gesch. u. Lit. (Karpeles, Berlin, 1899).
A. H.