Our brothers - istanbul karaites

Автор: Kefeli Abraham, The Karaite Composer and Priest and the Head of Kiev Karaite Community Tatyana Kefeli


At the end of June 1997 as representatives of Crimean Karaites we were glad to visit our brothers and faith-brothers - Istanbul Karaites. The word "brothers" is not accidental here because the relative, cultural and social conditions of brotherly connections were established many years ago. The identical surnames as Yefet, Levi, Ormeli, Egiz, Chaddiq, Kohen, Al`yanaki, Yeru, Koycu, Kokey, Michri, Kefeli, Aga, Emildesh, Yirtlach, Teriyaki, Ayvaz, Bolek, Sinani, Kulte, Chybar etc. shows that. Moreover any of well-known persons as faith-teacher Aharon (1260-1520 Solkat-Constantinople) and poet Eraq (who translated the "Bakhchisaray's Fountain" by A.S.Pushkin into Turkish) lived in Istanbul and Crimea. Unfortunately in period of Soviet power all those relative and cultural connections between Karaites of Crimea and Istanbul were lost. Things well known years ago now are forgotten. There fore here we will try to give some information about Karaites of Crimea and Istanbul in the past and the status of them now.

The history of Karaites of Istanbul (Constantinople) is very long and connected directly to the history of Karaites of the Crimea. In the book "Avne Zikkaron" by A. Firkovich we can find the ancient ear tombstones beginning from 6-th year of first century A.D. They belong to a few families of captivity Israel. Those tombstones refer although undoubtedly to the history of the Crimea. They have a tie with Byzantine Empire which played considerable part in later history of Karaites of Istanbul. In the 4th century A.D. the Emperor of Byzance Theodosius (the son - in - law of the Emperor Constantine) was favorable to Karaites (Bene Mikra) and many of them went to Adrianople and Constantinople and later to Crimea from Persia.

When the Karaizm (the mainstream that does not recognize the authority of the post-Biblical tradition incorporated in the Talmud and in the later rabbinical works) became the state faith in Khazarian Kaganate in 740 A.D. , the community of Istanbul became the bridge between Karaites of Spain and Karaites of Kaganate. It is well-known the letter which was written by the secretary of the minister of Spanish Khalif, Khasday ben Yitzhak Shafrut , the Karaite poet Menakhem ben Sarukh and the answer at it by Khazar's Kagan Yosef.



In this period Karaizm, was uncompleted as faith and many disagreements were between various communities and persons: "One says so and another says so". The strengthening role in the process was played by scholars from the milieu of Istanbul Karaites who lived in the 12th and up to 15th centuries A.D. as Aharon I, Aharon II and Eliyahu Bashiyachi. That time Istanbul community was numerous enough (7 Kenasses, the houses of prayer, were in Istanbul in the 14th century). The community of Crimea was also numerous at that period (two Kenasses containing about 2000 persons and four Midrashes /schools/ were in Solkhat only about the 15th century). The largest part of Istanbul Karaites lived at that time in district Kara Koy. The books "Ech Khayim" ."Gan Eden" and "Keter Torah" by Aharon from Nikhomedia and "Adderet Eliyahu" by Eliyahu Bashiyachi were respected and had decisive authority at the time of religious disputes. Later on Karaites of Istanbul and of Crimea actively collaborated in publication of religious literature. So books like "Zeher rav", "Miftakh shershe leshon haivri" , "Sifre hakhinukh le-petakh tikhva" were published in Istanbul at the time of Sultane Makhmud. The Old Testament in Turkish-Crimean-Karaite language, the prayer books and principal works of Karaite scholars were published in the Crimea too. All those publications were sponsored by Karaites of Istanbul and of Crimea.

Before the arrival of 'Turks Byzantine Karaites of Constantinople spoke Greek. In period of Turkish power they switched to Turkish.

A language change was interesting also in history of Karaites in the Crimea which was the part of Turkey since the 15th and until the 18th century. The ancient Turkish language of Crimean Karaites which kept the most ancient status among other Turkish dialects was changed by Turkish Ottoman language. For example, the language of a medjuma (medjmuah), the manuscript collections of folklore by the Karaites of Crimea, represents more "Osmanly" than the old Karaite language. Such assimilation passed at most owing to contacts of both Crimean and Istanbul Karaites. But influence of the Turkish language became two-side as soon as the President of Turkish Republic Kemal Ataturk carried out the reform of Turkish language and about 500 words were taken to academic dictionary from old Karaite language.

At the very little time of our sojourn in Istanbul we met a few families of Istanbul Karaites including their hazzan (priest) Yusuf Saddik. On Saturday we together with Dr. Levi's family and Mr. Saddik went to ancient kenassa of Istanbul which resembles very much kenassas of Eupatoria (Gozlove) and Chufut-Cale in Crimea. The marble memory boards with inscriptions in Hebrew, the antique marble fountain to wash hands before the prayer, the old candlesticks keeping till now candles, ekhal with scrolls of Torah, the beauty of room inside the building were very impressive and reminded the Karaite kenasses of Crimea. The hazzan Y.Saddik was earring out our common prayer with prayer book published in Vilno by Y. I. Shishman (1892). The women were praying at the balcony. All our prayer continued about one hour. Now Karaites of Istanbul attend this kenassa on Saturdays and holydays. After prayer we had a very pleasant meeting with Mr. Yefeth family. It was very fine to feel ourselves in conventional and warm atmosphere, to speak our own language and to eat the meals that used to eat our fore fathers.

Unfortunately the Karaite community of Istanbul is not very big now. It is about 80 persons whose father and mother are Karaites. They do not accept to their religion any proselytes. But assimilation still proceeds; only 12 Karaite families are formed from 80 persons of Karaite origin in Istanbul, However as we know from our conversation with Mrs. Margarit Levi, the community is cohesive and poor Karaites are supported by the rich.

We were very much interested with the heritage of Istanbul Karaites and impressed by the visit to Karaites in Istanbul. We will hope that such contacts between Karaites of Crimea and Istanbul will be continued in future.

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