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The Name Karaite

According to Dr. Leon Nemoy, the name Karaite first appears in the ninth century in the writings of Binyamin Nahawandi. He maintains that the word is derived from the Hebrew Qara’, which means to read. However, this is not accurate. The name Karaites (Qara’im) is but the shortened form of the name Ba‘alei or Benei Miqra’ [masters or sons/disciples of Scripture] which was used to differentiate us from the Rabbanites [Rabbanim] or Ba‘alei HaQabbalah [masters of (Rabbanite) tradition]. During the Second Temple Period we were known as Benei Sedeq [sons/disciples of truth/righeousness] or Saddiqim [the righteous], (not to be confused with the Sadducees [Sadduqim]). Because of the codiification and subsequent enforcement of the Talmud from the Sixth century c.e. onward, it came about that it was necessary to distiguish ourselves from those that yeilded to the coersion of the Talmudic academies and, thus, the name Ba‘alei or Beni Miqra’ / Qara’im started to be used. The Karaite community in Egypt had in its possession, until the end of the 19th century, a legal document stamped by the palm of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, the first Islamic governor of Egypt, in which he ordered the leaders of the Rabbanite community not to interfere in the way of life of the Karaites nor with the way they celebrate their holidays. This document is dated 20 A.H. (641 c.e), more than one hundred years before ‘Anan.

(cited in "Al-Tahdhib", No. 38, 5 Sept. 1902, p. 158;
"Ash-Shubban Al-Qarra'in", 4, 2 June 1937, p. 8; and
Mourad El-Kodsi, "The Karaite Jews of Egypt", 1987)