Photo Credit: Auguste Raffet (1804 – 1860) via Wikimedia
Crimean Karaites

While Reform and Conservative organizations in Israel are petitioning High Court of Justice to compel Channel 20, Israel’s sanctioned heritage channel, to allow them representation in its broadcasts, now the World Karaite Association is demanding a similar representation, The Marker reported. In a letter sent to Channel 20, the director of the Karaite group inquired, “How do you plan to integrate representation of Karaite Judaism,” asking for a meeting to discuss the matter.

Israel’s Cable and Satellite Council has already fined Channel 20 $28,000 for failing to offer adequate representation to the Reform and Conservative. Meanwhile, both groups—which at most account for about 7% of Israeli Jews, but don’t show a blip on the Central Bureau of Statistics data—have also petitioned the High Court of Justice to revoke Channel 20’s prestigious franchise of operating the Knesset Channel, Israel’s equivalent of C-Span. The court is due to conduct its hearing on these petitions on October 25, following the ancient Jewish tradition of “after the holidays.”

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The Karaite demand is probably much more grounded in demographic reality that the more renowned and much richer US-based movements. Estimates of the Karaite community run between 25 and 40 thousand who live in Israel, and another 10 thousand abroad. Dating back to 8th century Iraq—although some date its conceptual, anti-Rabbinic roots to the second century—the Karaite sect follows a simple interpretation of Torah law, rejecting the Talmudic tradition.

The most famous dispute between Karaites and Rabbinic Jews had to do with Karaites refraining from using or deriving benefit from fire during Shabbat, and accordingly they do not light Shabbat candles nor light their homes Shabbat night (although modern Karaites have come up with creative, Rabbinic-like solutions to that one).

The quintessential Rabbinic enemy of the Karaites was Maimonides, who called them heretics and sought to cut them off from the Jewish nation, suggesting they were influential and dangerous in his time. They have since been downgraded to quaint and largely harmless – the most serious problem today’s Orthodox Judaism has with the Karaites is that they follow patrilineal descent, meaning a Jew is someone whose father, rather than mother, is Jewish. Israel’s Law of Return recognizes Karaites as Jews, which is why most of them are Israeli citizens.

The letter from Shlomo Gever, director general of the Karaite Association, to Avi Bar, the Channel 20 shareholder, mentions the cable council’s position on inclusiveness (he didn’t mention the fine), and notes that “Karaite Jewry has a distinguished heritage and rich history, which are an integral part of the identity of Israel, and whose presentation within the content of the channel will enrich its viewers of all denominations and communities.”

Channel 20 CEO Sachi Franz issued a statement expressing his frustration at the “absurd” situation in which a ratings-based, commercial channel is expected to offer screen time to every Tom, Dick and Shlomo who represent insignificant Jewish movements.

“The council’s decision on the Reform broke the dam, encouraging other organizations to demand time,” he wrote, adding “It’s impossible to deal with this. The enforcement against Channel 20 is selective, and the decisions regarding the Reform, the Conservative and now perhaps the Karaites have deviated from any framework of normative decisions that allow the management of a commercial television channel.”

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