Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness

December 26, 2014

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 26, 2014.

Celebrating the Sabbath in Darkness

Now that the winter darkness descends early, it present problems for traditional Sabbath observers. Work needs to be completed by nightfall; food needs to have been cooked; even Shabbat candles need to have been lit. It’s harder to be ready for the Sabbath in the short dark winter days.

As hard as it is for observant Jews who follow the Rabbinic traditions, it is even harder for Karaites. The Karaites were a group of Jews who broke away from traditional Judaism in the 8th Century. They rejected Rabbinic Law & the Talmud 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 ofLithuania, 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 in the world are Ashdod, Israel, and Foster City, California!

Inside the Karaite Synagogue in California

Shabbat Shalom