Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The strange and (ultimately) tragic case of a Rabbanite-Karaite couple in Holocaust-era Latvia.

In December of 1930, Samuel Abramovich Maikapar-the scion of a prominent Crimean Karaite family of tobacco merchants (see here) residing in Riga, submitted a request to the Chief Karaite Hakham, Seraya Shapshal, to allow his daughter Inna to marry her Rabbanite fiancee, the attorney Horacio Bernhardt (his real surname, however, seems to have been "Blumenthal").

While in general very much opposed to such marriages, Shapshal initially relented but asked that the Maikapars officially adopt their prospective son-in-law and thereby give the couple and their offspring their Karaite surname.

When some Karaites from Trakai received word of this, they created such a clamor that Shapshal was forced to pull back and retract his blessing for the union.

The wedding went ahead anyway on the 28th of December, 1930, after which Horacio took on the double surname of Bernhardt-Maikapar, while Inna also took on her husband's surname, Blumenthal.

They were were both murdered when their hiding place was betrayed by locals who coveted their fortune. Horacio and Inna were shot along with their children, Sergey and Juris, by the Nazis in 1941, see their entry at Yad Vashem


1. Horacio obviously did not care about getting Rabbanite approval (which would have been impossible as Ashkenazic Rabbis had prohibited intermarriage with Crimean and Eastern European Karaites for hundreds of years).

The exact circumstances of Blumenthal's romance with the Karaite maiden, Inna Maikapar seems unclear (it should be pointed out that another Karaite-owned Tobacco company Szyszman and Duruncza-this one in Vilna was the only Karaite company that hired Rabanite assistants, additionally they were the only Karaites who greeted Theodore Herzl on occasion of his visit to the city), but be it as it may, they were determined to get married and she (unlike him) wanted her father's blessing.

The patriarch Maikapar did what any good Eastern European Karaite would do, seek the blessing of the Chief Karaite Hakham of that time.

Now the Karaite hakhamim of Crimea and Eastern Europe had long opposed intermarriage with Rabbanites (for the same reason that the Rabbanites opposed unions with them, namely "hashash mamzerut", literally suspected faulty lineage, as Rabanite and Karaite laws of incest differ. This is expressed succinctly in Mordecai ben Nisan's apologetic work Levush Malkhut or Royal Attire-now available in a new elegant edition, with an English translation at The Karaite Press)

 It would seem that Shapshal, who was usually very much opposed to such unions, made an exception in this case (perhaps Maikapar's prominent standing played a role). However as we can see, other Karaites haven gotten wind of this rare dispensation, did not like it one bit and he was forced to retract.

The marriage went ahead anyway. Whether the ceremony was conducted by a renegade Karaite hakham or by a city clerk is not clear, however the fact that all of them perished makes me suspect that they were not officially on the Karaite community rolls, since members of the community were not targeted by the Nazis.

2. another branch of the Maikapar family achieved fame in the field of music see here

*Much of this information was culled from
Mikhail Kizilov's breathtaking work Sons of Scipture, p. 202

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