Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness

December 20, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, December 20, 2013. 

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness

The Karaites were a group of Jews who broke away from traditional Judaism in the 7th Century. They rejected Rabbinic Law and claimed that the written Torah was to be interpreted strictly without the commentaries or interpretations of the rabbis. One example is the way they understood Exodus 35:3 – “You shall not burn any fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath Day.” The common traditional understanding of that commandment is that you are forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath, but if you light a fire before sundown on Friday night, it can burn indefinitely. (In traditional homes, the Sabbath candles are lit before sundown, after all.) The Karaites, however, believed that the commandment meant that no fire was to be left burning on the Sabbath, so... they extinguished all fires before sundown on Friday nights! This was particularly inconvenient in the cold winters of Lithuania, which was a large center of Karaite life before WWII. There, they were known by their neighbors as “The People Who Celebrate their Sabbath in Darkness.”

There are still about 30,000 Karaites in the world. The two largest centers of Karaite life are Ashdod, Israel, and Foster City, California!

Karaite Synagogue in Ashdod

Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem

Shabbat Shalom!