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EARLY KARAITE CRITICS OF THE 
MISHNAH 

By Hartwig Hirschfeld, Jews' College, London. 

I 

Nissi b. Noah 

Among the Genizah fragments at the British Museum 
there is one consisting of six small parchment leaves covered 
with rather large Hebrew square writing. Many of the 
words are furnished with superlinear vowel signs. The 
contents are extracts from various sections of the Mishnah 
in the following order : 1 

Megillah I, z. 

Rosh ha-Shanah I, 5, 6 ; II, 8. 11. 

Shabbat XVI, 6 ; XVIII, 1. 

Hullin IV, 9. 

NiddahIII,4; IV, 6. 
To almost each paragraph comments of a disparaging 
nature are attached. These, as a rule, refer to ritual matters, 
but in one instance to the grammatical construction also. 

The fragment is, of course, part of a larger work, and 
the loss of the bulk is all the more to be regretted, as these 
few specimens are probably the oldest MS. copy of Mishnah 
texts extant. If this be so, the irony of history has so 

1 The original order of the leaves was disturbed by the bookbinder, who 
placed the last leaf in the front. The numbers of paragraphs correspond 
with those given in The Mishnah, on which the Palestinian Talmud rests, 
ed. Lowe, 1883. 

VOL. VIII. 157 M 



158 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

willed that the oldest bit of Mishnah text 2 has been 
preserved through the exertions of a Karaite. Likewise 
noteworthy is the zeal shown by the annotator for gram- 
matical exactitude. His brief note on this point, therefore, 
belongs to the oldest Jewish utterances on grammar. We 
shall see later on that this learned Karaite, apart from some 
knowledge of the Mishnah, also had read the Gemara to 
which he alluded by the name of Halakot? 

As to the age of the fragment, the worn appearance of 
the parchment, the large characters, and the Babylonian 
vowel-points, all indicate an early date. To determine 
the approximate age of an undated manuscript is always a 
hazardous undertaking, but the suggestion just made is 
based not only on the appearance of the fragment, but on 
the comparison with other manuscripts all written on paper 
and bearing the dates 1004, 4 1019, 5 anc * 1030.° It is only 
necessary to place all four manuscripts side by side to 
perceive that our fragment is not only older, but very much 
older. Likewise indicative of the period of the fragment 



2 Four pages of Mishnah text with superlinear text, likewise from the 
Cairo Genizah, were published by I. Markon in Hakedem I, 41 sqq. They 
are written in a Yemenite hand, and of much later date. 

3 As to the use of the term DIDSi for Talmud, see L. Ginzberg, Geonica, 
vol. I, p. 118, rem. 1. See also Gittin, fol. 60 vo. 

4 Or. 2554, see G. Margoliouth, Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan 
Manuscripts in the British Museum, I, p. 223. 

5 Or. 2576, ibid., II, p. 180. 

6 Or. 5565 E, fol. 15, being the last and greatly damaged page of a work 
with the following colophon: pE>i>Nyi>N 21 rhh TDn^tt 3W1^K DH 

pnw nriN ffoo }D nan^N h *b rhW moy oip^2 row J&01 

hhn }2 "TOMD ir£ p!?y ]2 $5 2T01 WWl ' Finished is the writing, 
praise be to God the Lord of the worlds. The copy was made in Jerusalem, 
may God make it inhabited, in [the month of] Dulhijja of the year 421. 
Written by Khalaf b. 'Olwan for Mausur b. Hillel.' 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 159 

are the critical notes given not in Arabic, but in Hebrew, 
and Anan is the only authority mentioned. 7 

Several features of the fragment justify the suggestion 
that it is in the author's autograph. Passages which had 
been overlooked are inserted between the lines, and one 
passage is entirely missing. The number of lines on each 
page varies from eleven to fourteen. One word (fol. 39, 
vol. I) is faulty and uncorrected. 8 The manner in which 
the words msn v?\bw 9 are jotted down at the bottom of the 
same page and in the middle of a sentence show so much 
spontaneousness that they could only have been so inserted 
by the writer of the fragment. Traces of haste are visible 
on nearly every page. A copyist would have bestowed 
more care on the appearance of the pages both as regards 
accuracy and neatness, and it is most unlikely that he 
would have left his work unrevised. 

Now as regards the person of the author no direct 
information can be gathered from the fragment itself. 
There are, however, several clues which deserve being 
followed up. The first is the mention of Anan which 
shows that the author must have lived later than the 
founder of Karaism. This, in connexion with the use of 
Hebrew throughout the fragment gives the terminus a quo, 
as it is an established fact that Karaite authors did not 
write in Arabic prior to the tenth century. 10 As a later 
period is, for reasons given above, out of the question, there 
only remains the ninth century. 

Through Pinsker we are in possession of the auto- 
biography of the Karaite Nissi b. Noah, which he published 

7 Fol. 36 vo. 8 D^DVn^, see the photograph. 

9 Ibid. 

10 See Steinschneider, Die arabische Litteratur der Juden, p. 74. 

M 2 



l6o THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

on the authority of Firkowitsch. 11 The latter places Nissi 
in the eighth century, and this date is adopted by Fiirst. 
The impossibility of this period is obvious, as it would 
make Nissi a contemporary of Anan. The publication of 
this autobiography gave rise to a lively discussion. The 
late Dr. P. Frankl 12 endeavoured to show that Nissi not 
only lived much later than Fiirst assumed, but that his 
autobiography is a forgery and largely based on chapters 
from Judah Hadassi's naian ta^K, which was written in 
1 148. Frankl took the trouble to print the related 
passages side by side in order to expose Nissi's plagiarism. 
Graetz, who takes the autobiography as genuine, ascribes 
to Nissi the year 840. The later editors of Graetz, both 
in the German and Hebrew editions, and notably Harkawy, 
trustfully follow Frankl, and deprive Nissi of the author- 
ship of the autobiography. Now in the latter there occurs 
the following sentence : l3 The student (of my book) 14 must 
first learn . . . the vowel signs and accents, defective and 
full spelling according to the Babylonians (nyjp s m^>) in 
order to understand the Mishnah and the Talmud and 
Halakdt 15 with the great and small additions™ Nearly 
every word of this sentence is reflected in the fragment. 
It has Babylonian vowel-signs, it deals with the Mishnah, 
alludes to the Talmud by the term of Halakot} 1 and all 

11 Likk. Kadm., pp. 37 sqq. 

12 inSTl, VIII, pp. 29 sqq. 13 Likk., p. 41. 
14 MlMm D^aPOn |n\3, also called cbzT] 'D. 

16 See below. 

16 The * great additions' evidently refer to the Tosephta. The author 
seems to have taken this word as a plural, viz KJlSDin. Saadya also, 
in his ' Refutation of Ibn Sakwaih ' (JQR., XVI, 100), uses the Hebrew 
form nDDlTvK. With the 'smaller additions' the author probably means 
the Baraithas. 

17 See below. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD l6l 

the comments are written in Hebrew. It is known that 
Nissi prides himself on having written in Hebrew. His 
reputation among Karaites is due not so much to his 
literary achievements, 18 as to the fact, verified by historical 
evidence, that he declared it to be ' the duty of the sons of 
our people to study the Mishnah and the Talmud'. 19 
Frankl cast ridicule on Nissi's statement that he had learnt 
Greek and Latin, but we can easily credit him with a 
smattering of these languages. He does not pose as a 
profound classical scholar. Apart from all this there is 
another factor to show that Nissi was not the plagiarist, but 
Hadassi, and it is really surprising that Frankl overlooked 
it. In his encyclopaedic work Hadassi gives a sketch of 
Hebrew grammar 20 . The vowel system which he describes 
is unmistakably the Tiberian one, while he does not mention 
the superlinear system at all. As he wrote his book in 
Constantinople he was probably unacquainted with it. 
Nissi, however, who was reared in the latter system, 
naturally recommended its use. The special mention he 
makes of it even permits the conclusion that he rejected 
the Tiberian system, which he must have seen in use when, 
later on, he settled in Jerusalem. This much is certain, 
that if Hadassi is dependent on Nissi, there must have 
elapsed sufficient time between their lives to make the 
latter forgotten, and the discovery of the plagiarism 

18 Al Hiti, who composed his * Chronicle of Karaite Doctors 7 in the 
fifteenth century (see ed. Margoliouth, p. 3), does not mention Nissi at all, 
although he has much to say about Joseph b. Noah, who is supposed 
to have presided over a college in Jerusalem. His name is mentioned 
by Hadassi, /.c, par. 169. 

19 See WTO "H (fol. 9 vo.) on the authority of Aaron b. Joseph in the 
introduction to his irDDn r D (fol. 9). 

20 Par. 163. 



162 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

difficult. Hadassi even dared to appropriate one of the 
titles of Nissi's book. 21 Our fragment and the above quoted 
passages from his autobiography resemble one another so 
strongly that no serious objection can be raised against the 
suggestion that they are to be ascribed to the same person. 
The conclusion at which I arrive is therefore the following : 
Although Firkowitsch's assertion as to the period during 
which Nissi lived is unreliable, the authenticity of the 
autobiography need not be doubted. Frankl's theory is 
untenable and misled all his followers, including Harkawy, 
but all the circumstances confirm the date originally 
suggested by Graetz, viz. about. 840. Incidentally we 
learn that the specimens of superlinear vocalization appear- 
ing in the fragment are older than the famous codex of 
the Later Prophets 22 by about seventy years. 

On the basis of the foregoing remarks I venture the 
suggestion that our fragment is not only the work of Nissi, 
but actually written by his own hand. 

In his selections from the Mishnah the author chose 
such as, he thought, would bring out the perversity of the 
Rabbis as clearly as possible. Unfortunately his notes 
have suffered much by age, and many words are either 
defective or completely obliterated. This is largely the 
case with the annotations on the regulations connected 
with the public reading of the Book of Esther. It is 
towards the end of this paragraph where the quotation 
from the Halakot (Talmud, Megillah fol. 12 verso) occurs: 
* If a person read the Megillah written amidst other books 
(of the Hagiographa), he has not fulfilled the duty of 

21 D^Bil 'D. 

22 Prophetarum posteriorum codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus, ed. 
H. Strack, fol. 1816. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 163 

public reading'. The concluding passage is unintelligible, 
because several words are missing in the middle. 

To the extracts from Rosh ha-Shanah, ch. ii, the words 
are added : ' All these are alterations, those that defile it 
shall surely be pitt to death (Exod. 31. 14) and also which 
ye shall proclaim in their seasons (Lev. 23. 8) \ The 
paragraph dealing with the proclamation of the new moon 
concludes with the following note : ' We know that they 
count 23 the new moons by calculation (with the help) of 
the "shiftings"'. This, of course, refers to the Rabbinic 
rule of l^nn, viz. that the first day of Passover must not fall 
on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. 

At the end of the paragraph dealing with the blowing 
of the Shophar the author found an opportunity of showing 
his superior knowledge of grammar. Supplementing the 
abrupt marginal note mentioned above, he says : ' rwrhw 
D^DVD is not in accordance with what those learned in the 
Torah know: The correct word is W)b&> as is written 
Exod. 23. I4\ 24 This remark has a peculiar interest of 
its own. The mistake he corrects is not due to the 
copyist of the MS. used by the author, but seems to have 
existed in his archetype — as well as in the other MSS. It 
is found not only in the codex of the Mishnah preserved 
in the University Library at Cambridge, 25 but also in 
the MS. of the British Museum Or. 2219 (containing 
Maimonides' commentary), fol. 15 verso. In the Talmud 
MS. of the British Museum, Harley 5508 (fol. 18 verso), we 

23 Fol. 39 vo, 1. 1 ; see facsimile. The fragment has D^OWl?. The 
author uses the term DTinD probably with a side-glance to Lam. 2. 14. 

24 The Bible has here Dv^ffi, but the author evidently quoted from 
memory. 

25 Ed. Lowe, Cambridge, 1883. 



164 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

find &£&>, but a small n is written above the last letter. 
The copyist of the last mentioned MS. seems to have been 
aware of the mistake, but evidently shrank from omitting 
anything he found in his original. Incidentally this is 
a striking proof of the faithfulness displayed by copyists, 
and should serve as a warning against hasty surmises that 
ancient texts were tampered with freely. Our Karaite 
author, not satisfied with the correction of the mistake, 
gives the rule for the gender of Hebrew numerals, albeit 
incompletely, illustrating it by various examples. 

The regulations of the Mishnah Niddah 3. 5 ; 4. 6 are 
supplemented by what looks like a quotation n^an bz 
nnt bbn. Such a sentence, of course, does not exist in 
the Mishnah or in any of the ancient sources. The author 
probably intended to say nna for DH?a, and utterances of 
this kind occur indeed among early Responsa. 26 Without 
insinuating baser motives to the author, we cannot absolve 
him from the charge of carelessness. It may have pleased 
his Karaite zeal to pounce upon an alleged Rabbanite 
utterance open to severe criticism. Instead of examining 
his source he simply remarks : ' God did not command this, 
He is far above wickedness and injustice.' 

The fragment concludes as follows : ' Since we have seen 
that the firmament was created on the second day, the 
lights on the fourth, and Adam and Eve on the sixth, and 
that the first Passover, when God led His people from 
Egypt, was on the night of the sixth, which is (based upon) 

26 See iraiMTO rW, Mantua, 1597, fol. 25 vo. ; K^il mt pSD JVM ^3 
Mltfan rvaiETl, Leghorn, 1641 : HUT pSD ]Ttt3 bl (my attention was 
drawn to these passages by Dr. A. Marmorstein). Anan (Harkavy, Studien 
und Mittheilungen, VIII, p. 41) says njDr tibtt T\lf? iTU pa *3KB> &6l 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 165 

1"-D (it results) that fi2 is alluded to for the purposes of 
celebrating Passover on any of these days. This is what 
Anan says in agreement with them (the Rabbanites), viz. 
not Passover on the seventh (day), nor Sukkoth on the 
first . . . . , Passover is not debarred (?) from (being cele- 
brated) on the seventh (day), nor Sukkoth from the first. 
As for the seventh and the first (days) there exist allusions 
to the celebration of Passover and Sukkoth on them, 
because light was created on the first day, and also on 
account of the glory of the seventh day, the great and 
holy Sabbath.' 

The relics of Anan's Book of Commandments extant 
do not contain the passage quoted by our author. As it 
is given not in the Aramaic original, but in Hebrew trans- 
lation, we do not know if all or how much is intended to 
be quoted. Apart from this the meaning of the few words 
saved is not clear, because we should expect 'the sixth' 
instead of the 'seventh'. The fault probably lies with 
Nissi, who seems to have mixed up the rule of fi2 with 
that of i"ik. 

II 
Joseph al-Basir 

From the preceding specimens we see that Nissfs 
criticism betrays neither great powers of judgement nor 
accuracy of detail. There is a conspicuous lack of detail 
in his remarks. No attempt is made to appreciate the 
genesis and development of the rabbinic tradition, or to 
disprove its raison d'etre. His bickerings neither refute 
nor instruct, yet he showed his brethren the way to combat 
their opponents by attacking them on their own ground, 
and they were not slow to follow his example. 



166 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

' Strife ', taught the Grecian philosopher Heraklitos, ' is 
the father of things \ Well might we apply this doctrine 
to the struggle between the Rabbanites and Karaites ; for 
it was fruitful in every respect. It produced valiant fighters 
and an important literature. The only misfortune is that 
this literature is so scrappy, and thus prevents us from 
visualising this enormous spiritual movement in its fulness. 
It is no paradox to say that we owe the life work of 
Saadya to the Karaites. All his writings, without exception, 
served the one purpose of defeating the Karaites. About 
twenty years ago a scholar, speaking of the lost polemical 
writings of Saadya and his opponents, expressed satisfaction 
that only ' a few fragments of this class of literature ' had 
been saved.*" 7 Since then, many more dealing with both 
sides of the question have been unearthed. Saadya s 
polemical writings are not mere recriminations, but scientific 
treatises of great value, and also the attacks of his critics 
are important from the theological, historical, linguistic, 
and generally literary points of view. Every scrap, par- 
ticularly if produced by one of the older generation of 
Karaite authors, is worthy of careful study. 

The importance of new fragments found can best be 
measured, if we consider how scant is our knowledge of 
the literary life of Eastern Jews during the ninth and the 
earlier half of the tenth centuries. Almost complete silence 
reigns in the generation after Nissi, but it is scarcely 
probable that nothing was written on the great question 
of the day. Of David Almokammas, who must have 
lived during this period, we do not know whether he was 
a Karaite or not, although he is claimed by later Karaite 

27 M. Friedlander in JQR., V, p. 197. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 167 

authors as one of their brotherhood. 28 We only know 
that he wrote a polemical treatise against Christianity, 
and, according to Kirkisani, composed a commentary on 
Genesis. 29 An attack by him on the Rabbinic code is not 
known. We are equally in the dark as to the attacks on 
the Mishnah by Ibn Sakweih, another contemporary of 
Saadya, and would probably know very little about him 
were it not for the rejoinder of the latter. 20 

Among Saadya's writings there is one with a certain 
title (probably mutilated) 31 dealing with Rabbinic tradition. 
The correct reading of the title I believe to have found 
quoted by himself in his commentary on Exodus, viz. 
Refutation of speculation with reference to the traditional 
law. 32 The existence of some such treatise is vouchsafed 
by his own allusion to it. 33 It would have been incon- 
ceivable that he should have written a number of pamphlets 
on legal side issues, whilst omitting the main axiom of 
Karaite teachings, viz. the speculative method (kiyds). The 
work was apparently lost, but it is worth trying to see if 
no trace of it can be found anywhere. 

There exists an Arabic fragment in the British Museum 
containing the bulk of chapters 14 and 15 of a treatise in 
defence of kiyds. This fragment has been briefly dealt 
with by Dr. Poznariski, 34 who ascribes it to Kirkisani, 

28 Al Hiti, /. c. y p. 5 ; cp. Harkavy, Abu Yusvif Ya'kub al Kirkisani, 
St. Petersburg, 1894 (Russian), p. 306. 

29 See my Qirqisdni Studies (not yet published), p. 9. 

80 See my article in JQR., XVI, pp. 105 sqq., and Poznanski, The Karaite 
Literaiy Opponents of Saadyah Gaon, London, 1908, pp. 4 sqq. 
31 fryDD^ VKT^K "6y DfrOp, Steinschneider, /. c, p. 50. 

82 .VJJED^K JpanB^N •>£ Dtfpi>N L ,K\22K,JQR., XVIII, p. 600. 

83 Ibid. 

34 Festschrift zum achtzigsten Geburtstage Moritz Steinschneiders, p. 210. 



l68 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

against the testimony of Moses Bashyazi. Of this, how- 
ever, later on. The first of these two chapters consists 
in the main of quotations from a work of an opponent 
who, as may be seen from chapter 15, is no other than 
Saadya. The object of the author of the fragment is to 
refute Saadya's attack against kiyas. A special feature 
of the fragment is that it is written in the Arabic language 
and script, almost devoid of diacritical points, and that even 
the Hebrew passages occurring therein are so written. 
This is a peculiarity which deserves some attention. We 
have seen that in the tenth century Karaite authors ex- 
changed the Hebrew language for Arabic, but used Hebrew 
square characters for both. This is the case with David 
b. Almokammas, Salmon b. Jeroham, Kirkisani, and largely 
with Jepheth. With the last named a change was effected, 
and we suddenly find a great number of Karaite MSS. 
in which both the Arabic text and the Hebrew quotations 
are written in Arabic characters. The oldest MS. so 
written is, as far as I was able to ascertain, Jepheth's 
Commentary on Ruth, dated 1004. Some Karaite copyists 
went even further and left a large number of fragments 
in Arabic writing of Hebrew texts from various books of 
the Bible without a single Arabic word. 35 This practice 
went on for about three centuries. What may have been 
the reason ? The rules of Arab orthography are not appro- 
priate for Hebrew on account of the larger number of 
vowels in the latter language. The copyists found a way 
out of the difficulty by adding the Hebrew vowel-signs 

35 See Hoerning, Description and Collation of Six Karaite Manuscripts, 
London, 1889. The author's opinion that they date from the tenth century, 
also adopted in Margoliouth's Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manu- 
scripts in the British Museum, cannot be maintained. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 169 

according to the Tiberian system. At any rate I did not 
find a single instance of Arabic writing with the superlincar 
system. I thus arrive at the following conclusions. First, 
Arab writing for Hebrew was practised in Palestine only, 
and not before the eleventh century. We can take it that 
from the very outset Jews in Arab-speaking countries 
wrote Arabic in Hebrew characters even before the ordinary 
Arabic alphabet had been developed. As for Arab writing, 
Jews had to learn it from Mohammedans, but as their 
whole literature was of a religious character, they had no 
reason to use any other than Hebrew writing. There were 
probably only few who desired to study works on Moham- 
medan theology or on secular subjects, and those who 
mastered the Arab alphabet were the exception rather 
than the rule. In Palestine the art of reading and writing 
Arabic was probably practised very little. Secondly, the 
use of Arabic writing by Karaites is an unmistakable sign 
of defeat. Their cause was so much damaged by Saadya\s 
slashing attacks that they retired into their own confines. 
As they could scarcely hope to make converts, they put 
out all their strength to prevent the loss of adherents and 
considered the use of Arab script for Arabic and Hebrew 
as the best means to achieve this -end. 

Before dealing with the probable author of the work 
of which the fragment forms a part, it is necessary to take 
note of its contents. The beginning is, unfortunately, 
missing. The following is the translation of ch. 14. 

' He (Saadya) said : I must mention how these matters 
were handed down by Moses. They were witnessed by 
the people in their various aspects just as they were put 
into practice by Moses. He was told to write the T5rah 
in the fortieth year in the following manner. God said to 



170 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Moses, Write Ureshith bard eldhlm, dictating word for word, 
and he wrote from bereshith to w'skama Id tabor. This 
contains the brief account of the happenings of 2.488 years. 
We believe this account of the writing of the Torah to 
be true, and whoever reads it will find in it satisfactory 
evidence for the statements and laws which it was meant 
to contain. From the first year onward Moses taught the 
people the whole law and statute which God commanded 
him, for which purpose he appointed " chiefs of thousands, 
chiefs of hundreds ,, ) &c. in order to expound all that he had 
imparted to them. He would not, e.g. have commanded 
them to eat unleavened bread without explaining from 
which kind of grain it was to be taken, nor eschewing un- 
cleanliness without expounding the rules concerning 
persons suffering from running issue, &c. From this it 
necessarily follows that tradition preceded the writing of 
the law by forty years. When the Israelites were gathered 
in the holy land, the King and the High Priest watched 
and guarded these records, especially during the existence 
of prophecy. When we went into the first exile and the 
prophets were removed, the learned feared that traditional 
knowledge might be forgotten. They therefore collected 
the sources and codified them. This they called Mishnah. 
It was kept in its various divisions in the expectation that 
they would be retained by means of fixing the sources. 
And so it happened. These divisions were kept in memory 
till the second exile. We, then, digested them in a more 
detailed manner than in the first instance in solicitude for 
the disciples. They, in their turn, left them unfixed, so 
that they might be further investigated. This system 
they styled Talmud. Now if some one asks: How can 
statements contained in the Mishnah and the Talmud be 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 171 

traced back to individual authors ? We answer that those 
who handed them down were a number of people. When 
they had recorded them, they substantiated them showing 
that they had not invented them. An instance of this 
kind in Num. 31. 23, which is ascribed to El'azar, 
who conveyed the command (to the people) but did not 
contrive it. Another question is, how is it that a difference 
arose in the Mishnah or the Talmud between two tra- 
ditionists? The reply is that no difference exists as 
regards the point at issue, but it is like a difference in 
the initial stages of some matter as it appears to a person 
who hears it. Here three classes must be distinguished. 
First, One doctor grasped the subject more clearly than 
another, and differed from him, and taught it according 
to his conception. Thus Moses corrected Aaron and his 
sons when they burned the he-goat (Lev. 10. 10) till they 
unloaded their minds to him, because he was not sure 
that they had done so unwittingly. Secondly, It occurred 
that two things were handed down in the name of. Moses, 
one being lawful, the other unlawful. Some doctors treated 
on the lawful one first, whilst the other matter should have 
been taught first. Both pronouncements were equally 
correct, the matter being lawful from one point of view, 
but unlawful from another, e.g. Deut. 20. 19 ; Lev. 22. 12-13. 
There is no difference between these two principles which 
must be brought into harmony one with- the other. 
Thirdly \ one doctor only heard one part of a subject, but 
believed that he had learnt the whole of it, whilst the other 
had it complete. Now, when the former taught his view, 
the other rejoined : we have learnt the whole of the subject 
and it contains something which renders your version more 
distinct. If any one read the law of shcCtnez (Lev. 19. 19) 



172 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

he might explain it in a general way, but when he reads 
through the whole Torah and comes to Deut. 22. n ? he 
will see wool and linen especially mentioned. There are 
other instances of the same kind. Know that those 
who reject this doctrine, whenever they are confronted 
with rabbinical laws of which the details are not to be 
found in Holy Writ, say that Moses left them in this 
condition because he meant us to develop them by means 
of speculation. I re-echo this attack on speculation in order 
to disclose its mischievousness. He then continues : Some 
Karaites regard the rejection of tradition by part of the 
people as the refutation of it. If this be so, say they, 
then the prohibition to commit it to writing 36 would be 
tantamount to rejecting it likewise Some even, says he, 
consider the difference of opinion in matters of oral tra- 
dition as rejection, but in this case any variation in an 
oral text which has been committed to writing would be 
an attack on it.' 

Thus far Saadya. The bulk of the author's rejoinder 
deals with that portion of Saadya's treatise which is 
missing. The main points of the reply are, in abridged 
translation, the following: The author of the fragment 
begins his refutation by stating that the harmfulness of 
Saadya's assertions is quite obvious. Saadya asserts, he 
says, that Moses never made a command look like a pro- 
hibition, supporting this by Deut, 30. 11 and Prov. 8. 9. 
This, however, is also Karaite doctrine, and confirms 
the kiyas. Saadya must surely mean that careful and 
impartial examination accompanied by the speculative 
method clearly reveals the meaning of any law. Saadya 
has set up seven rules 37 which compel us to resort to 

36 Gittin 60 b. 

37 See Geiger, Wissenschqftliche Zeitschrift y &c, V, p. 313, in the name of 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 173 

rabbinic tradition. As regards Sisit, Sukkdk, and similar 
laws, rabbinic teaching differs from the Bible. In Ezra (3. 4) 
it is stated that the people celebrated the feast of Tabernacles 
as commanded in the Torah. Rabbanites violate the law 
of Szsit by confessing to be ignorant of the nature of 
Tekelet. Szsit, consequently, should be relinquished entirely 
at the present time, just as they allowed the rules of 
purification to lapse in consequence of the want of ' the 
water of separation'. This also applies to Terumah. 
Although we do not know how to deal with it in our time, 
we need not do so, since the priest to whom we would have 
to pay it is an unknown person. If we have to search for 
evidence, it would result in kiyds, as is the case with many 
other laws not explained in the Torah. On the other 
hand the prohibition laid on the king not to increase the 
number of his wives, or his horses, or his wealth, are supple- 
mented by explanations. Saadya further states that the 
law of Sabbath cannot be carried out without rabbinic 
tradition. With regard to his opinion on work on Sabbath 
he ought to be ashamed of mentioning it. Rabbanites 
permit certain work on Sabbath, but actual facts and 
reason show that they violate it. They permit the sewing 
of one stitch and the writing of one or even two letters. 
Sabbath may be violated for children but not for David, 
king of Israel. 38 They also permit borrowing articles of 
food 39 from a friend. Saadya's allusion to vessels subject 

Salmon b. JerOham. These points are : 1. Sisith, Lulab, Sukkah ; 2. Terumah; 
3. Sabbath; 4. Unclean vessels; 5. Prayers; 6. Calendar; 7. Messiah. 
All these points are seriatim discussed in the fragment. See also Poznanski, 
/. c.j p. 210, rem. 2. 

88 Shabbat, 151 b. 

89 nan DK SIX bw&, Mishnah Shabbat, XXXIII, 1 ; see also Nissi's 
extracts from the Mishnah. 

VOL. VIII. N 



174 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

to uncleanness the author refutes by alluding to the legend 
in the Talmud 40 concerning the differences of opinion 
between R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and the miracles which 
happened in support of the former. This is a disgrace to 
Rabbanites. Both Ananites and Karaites hold very strong 
opinions on the matter, and explain the rules of the un- 
cleanliness of vessels. As regards prayers^ the Bible lays 
down our duty in various places, especially Dan. 6. n, 
viz. three times every day, but the Rabbanites abolished 
part of it. Saadya's remarks on the calendar as in force 
from the time of the second Temple to our own time is 
quite useless, since no damage would accrue if we knew 
nothing about it. His further observations on the arrival 
of the Messiah, which, being based on rabbinical tradition, 
may be referred to the time of the kings, is a mere assertion, 
because this matter is so clear that no doubt exists about 
it. But it may be objected : Why do Christians and some 
Jews assert that the arrival of the Messiah has taken place 
already? This Christian doctrine is like the other of the 
Trinity and the abrogation of the Torah. Abu Isa 
Al Ispahani claimed to be a prophet, and Yudghan styled 
himself the Messiah — but with these matters the author 
promises to deal on another occasion, not on the basis of 
tradition but with the assistance of clear proofs taken from 
the Bible. The assurances given in the Bible which are to 
be fulfilled in the days of the Messiah are independent of 
any given years. Saadya's statement that the T5rah was 
written in the fortieth year, and that, when the Israelites 
were in the holy land, the king and the people guarded it 
carefully, especially during the period of the prophets, 
is exactly the same as we Karaites maintain. His further 
40 Bab. Mes. 59 b. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 175 

remarks about the development of the Mishnah and Talmud 
have been disproved in the twelfth chapter of the present 
book. He further maintains that laws promulgated by 
one person, such as that attributed to Elazar — which was, 
however, only connected with his name, but not contrived 
by him — have ceased to have any force. This shows that 
tradition has fallen to the ground. For the difference 
between various authorities of the Mishnah and Talmud 
Saadya gives three reasons — but here the fragment is 
interrupted. 

Our next task is to search for the possible author of the 
fragment. In the solution of this question we are assisted 
by the Karaite author Moses Bashyazi, who lived in the 
sixteenth century, and who in his work actually quotes 
a passage from our fragment, ascribing the work to 
Joseph Al Basir, who flourished in the beginning of the 
eleventh century. One of his works is a Book of Cotn- 
maridments (Kitab al-istibsar). 41 Now Dr. Poznariski, to 
whom we owe the extract from Moses Bashyazi's book, 
is of opinion that the latter mixed up Joseph Al Basir 
with Kirkisani, whom he considers to be the author of our 
fragment. He supports this theory by a second quotation 
from Moses Bashyazi, which is really to be found in 
Kirkisani's Book of Lights. The authorship of the latter 
quotation is, however, doubtful for the following reasons. 
Many of the items mentioned in the rejoinder to Saadya's 
attack are already contained in the first section 42 of 
Kirkisani's work, which is now known through Harkavy's 

41 For a fragment of this work (in Arabic characters throughout) see 
Cod. Brit. Mus. Or. 2576. 

42 Writing one or two letters, Harkavy, /. c, p. 288 ; sewing, p. 288 ; 
carrying spittle, ibid, ; cooking, p. 289 ; unclean vessels, ibid. 

N % 



176 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

edition. The author of our fragment refers the reader several 
times to more extensive discussion of points later on, but 
why should he not refer to expositions given in the earlier 
part of the work ? To this we may add the following : The 
author of our fragment states that Yudghan styled him- 
self Messiah, whilst Kirkisani says, at least in two places, 43 
that it was his disciples and adherents who gave him this 
title. Dr. Poznaiiski lays stress on the quotation of the 
talmudical legend of miracles performed for the sake of 
Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, but there is no reason to assume that 
this was not also known to Joseph al Basir. It is even 
probable that the latter copied it from Kirkisani, just as 
he borrowed the second quotation mentioned above, which 
is not only very short, but of so general a character that 
several Karaite authors may have used it. Their stock 
of arguments was so small that one repeated what another 
had said before him, and even without much fear of dis- 
covery, as each author only had a small circle of readers. 

There is yet another proof against Kirkisani's author- 
ship of the fragment, viz. the tone of the discussion. He 
never indulges in abuse, and Saadya in particular is alluded 
to with marks of respect. Remarks that Saadya * ought 
to have been ashamed of it ', and ' This is disgrace to 
Rabbanites ', do not agree with Kirkisani's style, but rather 
with a contemporary of Jepheth, who is frequently guilty 
of abusive expressions. If Dr. Poznaiiski places reliance in 
Moses Bashyazi in one instance, why not also in another? 

Some additional light is thrown on Joseph al-Basir's 
treatise by his famous contemporary Jepheth b. Ali. He, 
too, chafed under Saadya's denunciation of the kiyds. 
Without writing a special pamphlet in its defence, he 

43 Harkavy, /. c, p. 284, and my Arabic Chrestomathy, p. 121. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 177 

inserted a refutation of Saadya's criticism in his com- 
mentary on Exodus (21. 3~4), 44 stating that he could only 
deal with the matter briefly, because * this is a commentary '. 
He, too, quotes salient passages from Saadya's treatise, 
but he does so in his usual abusive manner. He divides 
Saadya's arguments into two classes, idle assertions and 
falsehoods. As little is to be gained from repeating his 
arguments in full, I refrained from reproducing them. They 
help us, however, to understand why this treatise of Saadya, 
as well as most of his polemical writings, are entirely or 
partially lost. More than ever am I convinced that they 
were destroyed by Karaites, who only preserved so much 
of them as they thought they could refute. In this way 
we owe to these two men the preservation of a few relics 
of an important work by the powerful opponent of Karaism. 

I 

Brit. Mus. Or. 5558 B. 13 x 11 cm. 
(1) Megillah I, 2. 

-ito!? nDin nispiDi Dra Foi. 371-0. 

mw onaa *B*Drn nvni? bh 

roin niapioi nn n imp mha 

ra^n any nvni> bn iro^ 

niTJh nMa.n wb ponpo onaa 

ova ia jmp noin mapioi rrfrn 

[m]Tyi D.naa na^a nvnb ?n 

(so) D^apiDi nwan wi> ponpo niSna 

[napjn -in&6 nvn5> ^n -incfr non 

[m]Tjn no^an di^ pdhpd onaa 

44 Cod. Brit. Mus. Or. 2468, fol. 6 sqq. 



178 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

[n]no$> rem nispioi ova ia pnip nih: 
tw 5>a nina n^y nvi irw n 
Fol -37vo. nr nn pans nina pafoa mpy na 

pinae «5n ponpo now itaa naa 

na*am axa njrcm mnan n?y for 5>a« 

••£> by bjk ponpo «5n pinwD 5>npm 

pnni» pinae ah pvipv neap 

pava«5> nun»ai n^ajmai ns£5 

PD333C DIPD TMD*K ."nin 1 * 21 1BK 

[pMao p«p mpo 5>a« wnai -opa] 

nriix panip p« ^ona n^i «apa xb 

ti&6 p^xnn m« pa pro wn nnxa 

nwnoi nbaon n«np k^k wn 

nbaaa xmpn '»w niabnai owaa^ 

inain h* nip t6 Dorian pa nainan 

nan *6 ib^a: nanta nma Npini 

nn»Na k(?)i n5> bai nnia 

(2) Rosh ha-Sh. I, 5. 
Foi. 3 8ro. napn P*n nnoa 

napn riN pi^no own w by neap nn 

p«*p pmta nnap n^n byi p^ by 

nwai nnjnon nx papno nnai nhiDb" 

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pai b^bya nxn:^ pa janpn ppn 

napn nx vby pbbn& b^bya n«na n$>p 

pbbn» p« b^bya nana dk din ">dv ••an 

ennn n« hnt *» napn nx vby 

nimn by vik pa^o nbnb bw law 

[nibp»] tnx pnpib nnb (so) nn* dm nti65 ib^Ni 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 179 

* • to [pja pnpi> npim itt nn^n dk 
[ij&ra on nW i5>no *>yp 
nn^n n« v5>y 
njno nta it? ennn nnyi> p*«n Foi. 3 8vo. 

Rosh ha-Sh. II, 8. 

pn rva pan 'a enp <*npo rw 

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pai won nftni^ pn enipo anipo 
nry^K nn in« panpo won fi&ni xbv 
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nw no ^ no& ^ 
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D3DT3 pn DDK iKnpH nt?K BHp Wipo 

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myi»a nna lanpn n^a oai 

pi>apo m runwtna now n^ao mi 

irfritw nna nya orn bi &nnn nny 

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nraon p iaa dm nruon ny xbx 

dwi b irna pjra r£yo^ 

(so) ownp uyr »np nnoh enp Foi. 39 vo. 



l8o THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

dj pnnon papna n^nnn *ptn 

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ropn pan no spoa roy*pn 

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a^a awa np£p ypim 

.TIN - ) 

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(3) Shabbat XVI, 6. 
Foi. 40 vo. naj now napn nj nuyai 

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karaite critics of the mishnah — hirschfeld l8l 

-iidn ^kib» 

Hai p '•na nam din bxv 

s tihn )b iw *bw nabi p^ 

dni [nnaa nmaro] fre*K pi 

iS>*a wta rvfo wbkd wk 

pi nasyn nn«^ patm icy rrenjn FoL 41 ro. 

naca niv6 W d^to dtids) any 

nBnjn inoa dn i?aiNi i^n wta rroo 

aia dv nnKi> pa^n icy 

(4) Hullin IV, 3. 

ri^ty na nvdi reran na arwn 

HNOt: kbdd row rofexn navi k>sj 

a&»n nto hnod n^i n^aix 

n$> bin D*feia dneb kbdb n^y 

nfiSpo nawp .t^ mbaj dndid 

nWd nhin jb*d n^a^a ni]DN 

maa&n renaa n^iin po na 

n^J? f\53fy&* rtbw n^am Foi. 41 vo. 

nnw pnaip pa napn owpioai 

fSb nrna p^m pro tfari rfenfia 

now ibw •moNft ^m ^ao 

mn? jpdp *ai preiN n^am two *an nan 

Hullin IV, 8. 

'bin nw pyoB> 'an] imreo ion n^n^ 
iok totip mea tnin nm mp bwi p i^sn 



182 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

45 [imnoo 

naan nw[m] nv^am rrtam 

mow rmnro n*nn n^K 

nonan jo mo 11 *ai 

^«n pa nwn * * * * D^nn nai 

mmn nv^am noaom rr^Kn 

man 

(5) Niddah III, 6. 

Foi. 36 ro. -by§ ntwin ni^S qwn dv n^bSft 

m& 4C na?i> apn nriNi D^ans nvi> 

napjh na?i> ot nnw d'odp dv 

n^an^ n&j narw ^ mAi 

nn^i d^iob^ napa nron 

nnw na? mna nnK now ttoam 

nn& D^ana^ nn nr napj rvna 

Niddah IV, 6. 

napj bv mob> Tina ffe^on 
ny onino nan ww own ^a 
kd&o nry^K uni i^ln K*np 
i£aa ttswn ^a ne« ibw 

ww ^ n^K niar 
jreno bvb rMn p nw 
^y» nen 
Foi. 36 vo. wa Knai jrpnrre> want? nrM 

mnm rnxni Tana wyj nmwom 

45 Added by a later hand between the lines. 

46 Omitted narb a^n nnw d^jotn dv nowfoyDB* an mJ?\ napjh. 



KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 183 



no[en] nvrfc nura? mi? W 

omoa py *ibn i^[?n] nin 

? ? i roiD *[bx nS noa ;kt *6 

?a nnxre naiom yaw dvd noan 

noan nv»r6 nunar nnaSi ••ya^ b* 

wabi Shah iron n^nn^ ona naioni 

trnpm Snjn na^n ^atrn dv 



II 
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184 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 



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KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — H1RSCHFELD 185 



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47 Overlined in the manuscript, and to be omitted. 



l86 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 



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KARAITE CRITICS OF THE MISHNAH — HIRSCHFELD 187 
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l88 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

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