Anan ben David and his Descendants, Part I
NOTE: This post is unfinished. There is much more material to be added, but this should suffice for now.
Anan ben David is generally regarded as one of the most important (if not the most important) figure in the Karaite movement. Although he is often mistakenly referred to as the founder of it, he was in fact not. Nonetheless, he was, and continues to be, highly venerated by most Karaite communities- especially those of the Near East. This veneration stemmed from the fact that he was the first of the non-Rabbanites to supply a Halakhic manual for the movement (called ספר המצוות The Book of Precepts) and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) he was from the line of the exilarchs-direct descendants of the Royal house of Judah and of the seed of King David.
At the close of the 19th century, Most near eastern Karaites found themselves in 2 locations: Cairo and Istanbul. Apparently through a dual process of intimidation and wanting to be close to a Karaite community, the ancient Karaite communities of Persia, Syria, and most of Iraq (except for a tiny community that remained on the shores of the Euphrates, in Al-Hit) beacame empty of its inhabitants. The Karaites of Crimea and Eastern Europe (referred to in Hebrew as קראי קדר) were facing their own challenges, as their leaders sought it best to completely disassociate themselves from their Jewish co-religionists to avoid anti-semitic persecution. Undoubetedly at the close of the 19th century, the center of Karaite Jewish life was in Egypt. There too one can find the descendants of Anan ben David. In the genealogical scroll preserved by members of his family, it appears that most of them migrated to Egypt from Babylonia. Anan himself is said to have immigrated (fled?)to the Land of Israel and founded a Synagogue in Jerusalem that bears his name to this day, although there is no proof of that. The original Karaite Synagogue was also not originally founded in its current location.
Of Anan's descendants, a scant few made their mark on the movement. His son Saul, appears to have been very active in spreading Karaitism. A grandson Boaz wrote a small treatise on consanguineous marriages (known in Hebrew as 'shitat harikuv') which is quoted by other Karaite scholars. His son David b. Boaz wrote some commentaries on the scriptures ,of which fragments are extant. It is worth mentioning that Rabbanite families of high standing had no compunctions marrying the children of the Karaite exilarchs. Some even intermarried into Geonic (Heads of Babylonian Yeshibhot) families. The lines between Karaites and Rabbanites were very much not delineated until much later.
The pedigree chart pictured (bottom) is housed in the Karaite Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem and was copied from an earlier scroll (top), that was originally (apparently) composed in the year 1616. That chart was later transcribed (as is written in the colophon on the bottom), by one Moshe Yehuda Mizrahi of Jerusalem in honor of Abraham Firkovich, perhaps during the latter's visit there in the 1830s.
The newer copy was commissioned for the occasion of the circumcision ceremony in a Cairo Synagogue, of Shlomo the son of Eliyahu Hanassi, known as 'liato' in 1948- the same year the State of Israel was born.
The family is still known to this day by their surname Al-Nassi, some of whom, upon their immigration from Egypt, settled in the Karaite Moshav Mazliah near the city of Ramla in Central Israel.
Picante anecdote: a close friend of mine from Mazliah related to me that one of his pupils in his early years as a teacher in the Moshav was a member of this family. Upon me asking him, what kind of student he was, he smiled as he recalled the young lad's smug sense of self, "listen", the kid would say "I am a direct descendant of King David, I will remember you as not too bad of a teacher and nothing more"....
A possible order of Karaite Rashei Galuta that I found on the net (I haven't checked if it corresponds to the scroll):
- Anan ben David.................................760-c. 800
- Anan was the acknowledged heir of Isaac Iskoy I but was passed over (possibly because of his unorthodox beliefs) in favor of his brother Hananiah. He declared himself Exilarch and eventually had his sect recognized by the Caliphate as a separate religious community (though neither the Karaites nor the Ananites claimed that they were not Jews).
- Saul ben Anan...............................c. 800-early 800's
- Josiah ben Saul
- Jehoshaphat ben Josiah
- Boaz ben Jehoshaphat...........................mid-late 900's
- Abu Sa'id David ben Boaz.......................993-early 1000's
- Solomon ben David
- Hezekiah ben Solomon
- Hasdai ben Hezekiah
- Solomon ben Hasdai.............................fl. c. 1200 ?
- In the 1000's the Karaites reached the peak of their influence, and to some it seemed that Karaism was about to supplant Rabbinic Judaism as the dominant sect within world Jewry. The sect began to decline, however, particularly after the Crusades when many communities were destroyed. Scattered remnants of the kehilla (community) continued to exist, primarily in Egypt, the Holy Land, western Anatolia, the Crimea, and parts of Lithuania. Today there are only a few thousand Karaites in the entire world, most of them living in Israel.