Once an influential force in Jewish life but relegated centuries ago to a near-pariah status, the Karaite sect of Judaism was given renewed vigor Sunday as the High Court ordered the Chief Rabbinate to authorize slaughter (shechita) of meat by Karaite ritual slaughterers.
The Universal Organization of Karaite Jewry sued the Rabbinate after the latter sought to prevent an otherwise Orthodox kosher slaughterhouse from also employing Karaite ritual slaughterers, to process meat separately for the Karaite public. Commenting on the decision, a spokesperson for the organization said that it was an “important victory.”
Karaite Judaism is a split from normative, or Rabbinic, Judaism that apparently formed several centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple. Karaite Judaism generally dispenses with the Oral Law, as embodied in the Talmud, instead offering its own interpretations of Jewish ritual law by analysis of Biblical verses based on scholars accepted by the movement, especially Anan Ben-David, who lived in Babylon in the eighth century.
Numerous customs instituted by the rabbis, including regarding ritual slaughter, were dispensed with by the Karaites, while others were added. In general, adherents of Rabbinic Judaism considered Karaites to be sinners, if not heretics.
When the state was formed in 1948, an informal understanding was reached between the Karaites and the Rabbinate, Karaite organization officials argued in the lawsuit. Earlier this year, they said, the Rabbinate had sought to upend that status quo by taking away the supervision certificate from a kosher slaughterhouse that the movement used. The group claimed that the presence of their slaughterers was the only reason the Rabbinate removed supervision from the slaughterhouse, and that the move had badly hurt many families affiliated with the movement, who had no other source for chicken prepared according to their custom.
The Rabbinate argued that the removal of supervision had nothing to do with the Karaites, but the court ruled that regardless, the Rabbinate had to provide not one, but multiple opportunities for use of slaughterhouses, in order to ensure that there was fair market competition and that one producer did not have a monopoly on the market.
In addition, an appeal by the Rabbinate to prevent the group from stating on the label of its meat products that they were “kosher according to Karaite ritual” was denied by the court.
The majority of Karaites live in central Israeli, mostly in Jerusalem and Ramle. Meat prepared according to Karaite ritual is usually sold in butcher shops that cater to the community, not in general butcher shops or supermarkets.