Karaites versus Rabbanites: The Epistle of Sahal ben Mazliah
TOWARDS the end of the eighth century Anan ben Joseph, the author of 'The Book of the Law', boldly proclaimed the right of the individual Jew to disregard the decisions of the Talmud and the Geonim, and to base his conduct directly on the Scripture as interpreted by his own judgment. Anan's followers were called Karaites, i.e. Scripture readers. During the next two centuries many of the ablest writers and scholars among the Jews of the East belonged to this sect. One of them was Sahal ben Mazliah (910-950), a leading philologist, whose 'Sefer Dikduk' (Hebrew Grammar) and 'Leshon Limmudim' (Lexicon) were widely used. The letter addressed by him to Jacob ben Samuel, a disciple of Saadia, and to Jacob's fellow-Rabbanites, is a typical example of the propagandist and polemical activity of the Karaites.
'Know that everyone of our brethren is responsible for himself'
[ First half of the 10th century ]
I come from Jerusalem to warn the people. Who but the Karaites, who study the Torah, could enter upon this task? Why art thou angry, Jacob ben Samuel, that I have arrived with the purpose of learning and teaching, of dwelling among the wise and worthy men of my community and of dissuading the remnants of God's people from forbidden pleasure?...
O that I had the strength to wander from town to town in order to awaken and warn the People of God; as it is said: 'Go through, go through the gates: clear ye the way of the people!'1 ... 'Cast ye up, clear the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of My people!'2 And verily, you should know that there is no bigger stumbling block than that of a bad way.... I come in the great name of God in order to awaken the hearts