From: The Karaite Encyclopedia by Nathan Schur (Frankfurt, 1995)
Karaites who had settled in Jerusalem, Egypt, Syria and Byzantium, were of similar ethnic stock as the Rabbanites there and spoke the same languages. In Poland the situation was different. The Rabbanites who settled there, since the thirteenth century, were of Ashkenazi stock and brought with them medieval German as their language. The Karaites arrived somewhat later, from the Crimea, were of a different stock and spoke a Tatar or Turkish dialect. They dwelt thus in a double Diaspora, which explains some of the peculiarities of their later National Movement, and their conduct under Nazi rule.
It has not been possible to prove that there are any Khazar roots to the later Karaite settlement in southeastern Poland. S. Szyszman has tried to show that Daniel, the prince of a Ruthanian duchy, brought the first Karaites in 1246 from the Crimea to Halicz. This has, however, not been generally accepted (M. Balaban, for instance, opposed it). Karaite tradition relates that Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania defeated the Tatars in 1392, and among the prisoners he carried away were 483 Karaites, most of whom he settled in Lithuania, but a minority in Halicz and Lutsk. The Karaites spread later to a few further towns of south-east Poland. They continued to speak their Tartar dialect, but after some time it became different from that used in the Crimea, and was called "Karaimsk", (Cumano-Karaimic dialect).
Some Karaites lived in Lvov, in "Red Russia" (or eastern Galicia). Their quarter was, till 1457, outside of the city walls. They had a synagogue of their own, but shared the cemetery with the Rabbanites.
The Polish king ordered in 1580 that the municipal taxes collected from the Rabbanites and Karaites should not exceed their proportionate share in t he population. Their representatives were allowed to attend the meetings of the city council of Lutsk, for instance, when the levying of taxes was being debated.
In Halicz the number of Karaites was larger than that of Rabbanites. In 1627 they owned 27 houses there. But by 1765 the number of Rabbanites had reached 258, against only 99 Karaites. Initially the Karaites of Halicz looked to the Crimea for their religious leaders. But when these links weakened, the community was left in the first half of the seventeenth century without anyone qualified to serve as Hakham or Hazzan. The situation improved when around 1640 David Hazzan arrived from Jerusalem. He was followed around 1670 by two brothers, Joseph ha-Mashbir and Joshua. Joseph's descendants served as religious leaders of the Karaite community of Halicz till the early nineteenth century.
Other Karaite communities in Volhynia and Galicia were at Sambor, Brzezany, Derashno, Zolkiew and Kukizov. A Polish verdict of 1501 mentions the Karaites of Lvov, showing that they enjoyed the same rights as the Rabbanites. The same was true for Halicz, as shown by the privileges granted in 1578. From Lutsk detailed population counts of the local Karaites, survive from the middle sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. They numbered usually about a hundred souls, but after the Chmielnicky massacres of 1646 their numbers decreased radically.
Some of the best known Karaite physicians in the history of Poland were Ezra Nisamowicz, who looked after the royal family, and Elie del Medico, the personal physician of the dukes of Radzivill, both in the seventeenth century. Between 1483 and 1487 students from Lutsk studied in Istanbul with Elijah Bashyazi. The close relationship with Istanbul caused the Karaites of Poland to accept most of the innovations of the Bashyazi clan, such as the lightening of Sabbath candles, the beginning of the annual cycle of Pentateuch readings in the month of Tishri, instead of Nisan, the arrangement of astronomical tables to assist in fixing the first day of the month and the year (calendation).
The Karaites of Poland profited from the Hebrew translations prepared in Byzantium. Their religious writings were first in Hebrew, but later in Karaimsk. They themselves were not called "Karaites", as this meant in Polish "black dog", but "Karainim", with a Hebrew ending. After the translations came original works, such as prayers, hymns and songs of mourning for departed leaders. Their spoken language remained similar to that of the Karaites of the Crimea, but their written language followed a separate path. A religious leader worth mentioning was Mordecai ben Nisan Kukizow, around 1700.
In 1648 the Karaites suffered horribly from the Chnmielnicky massacres. Other wars and revolts seem to have caused a reduction of the general population and of the Karaites. The community of Lutsk suffered in the eighteenth century from the Haidamack uprising. The worsening situation found its expression in 1764 in a blood libel case in Lutsk. As a result of the partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), Galicia passed under Austrian rule. The following Karaite communities existed there: Brzezany, Halicz, Kukizow, Sambor, Tysmenice and Zolkiew. But during the nineteenth century all of them disappeared and only Halicz remained. For developments in the nineteenth century see Russia, National Movement and Abraham Firkovich.
After World War I Poland became again an independent state and also the Lithuanian towns of Troki and Vilna were added to it. In Halicz lived some 130 Karaites, who kept up their old traditions. In Lutsk lived some 70-80 Karaites, but communal life was at a standstill. The Polish Karaites were mostly farmers and were characterized by T. Kowalski, in the 1920's, as "easily satisfied and somewhat sluggish". Most of them were conservative in their religious customs. They requested in 1920 to be granted a similar autonomous status to the one they had enjoyed under the Tsars. In 1936 their request was granted by the Polish diet, which declared that "The Karaims Religious Union in the Polish Republic is autonomous and independent of any foreign authorities, either spiritual or secular". They were headed since 1927 by Seraya M. Szapszal, who influenced them in the spirit of Karaite extremism, tried to strengthen their use of Karaimsk, as their national language, and to weaken their ties to Judaism.
For the events of World War II, see under Holocaust. The Karaites survived it, while most Jews did not. Some years after the war took place an exchange of population between Russia and Poland, and some 200 Karaites moved to Poland, where they settled in Warsaw, Cracow and Gdansk. In spite of their small numbers the Karaites of Poland requested the Communist authorities to recognize their special status as it had existed before World War II. This was granted in May 1974, a "Great Karaim Religious Board" was set up and a first congress of Karaite delegates met in Podkowa Lesna. This board was designed to serve as supreme Karaite authority, and not just as a consultative organ. It received some financial support from the government.
In 1991 M. El-Kodsi found some 150 Karaites in Poland: 50 each in Warsaw, Gdansk and Varcelova and 4 in Pele. None were left in Cracow. Lvov and Halicz belonged now to the Ukraine,but only some 15 Karaites were reported from the latter and none from the former.
Polish Cities with Karaim Settlers
Some Karaites lived there before World War II, others, coming from Russia, joined them after the war. Some of them were well educated and held fairly senior governmental positions. M. ElKodsi found there in 1991 50 Karaites, mostly over fifty years of age. They did not have a synagogue, but did have a cemetery.
Town in southern Poland, after which Galicia was named. According to Mordecai Sultansky, King Jagiello settled there in 1246 380 Karaite families from the Crimea. This date and event were later copied by A. Firkovich, I.M. Jost, J. Fürst and many others, down to J. Elgamil in 1981. But actually King Ladislas Jagiello ruled 13771434 and Sultansky's date and whole story is thus very doubtful. Another version, speaking of 1392, is also of rather legendary character. The first document to mention Karaites there, dates from 1488. R. Fahn assumes that they were brought there either by the lively trade between east and west, or by the Ottoman conquest. They did come from the Crimea and brought their special dialect with them. Another one of Sultansky's stories concerns a 1477 Cossak uprising, which, he claimed, laid Halicz waste and caused the massacre of most of the local Jews and Karaites. But this event, too, is not mentioned in any local document, nor does Ukrainian history record any Cossaks that far west at that time.
In 1506 the Karaites were given a remission of taxes. In 1578 they were granted by the Polish monarchy the same rights as the Rabbanites. In 1627 they owned 24 houses, many more than the Rabbanites. They continued to be the majority till nearly 1765, when they numbered 99 souls as against 258 Rabbanites. In 1774 only 19 Karaite households are reported and by 1817 they had increased to over 20.
Initially the Karaites looked to the Crimea for their religious leaders. When these links weakened, the community was left in the first half of the seventeenth century without anyone qualified to serve as Hakham or Hazzan. The situation improved, when in 1640 David Hazzan arrived from Jerusalem. He was followed around 1670 by two brothers, Joseph and Joshua. Joseph haMashbir (the provider) served as Hakham and composed liturgical poems. His descendants served as religious leaders of the community of Halicz till the early nineteenth century. After the partition of Poland Halicz came under Austrian rule and the autonomy of the Karaites there was recognized by the Empress Maria Theresa. Early in the nineteenth century such neighbouring communities as Kukizow, Sambor and Zolkiew were abandoned by the Karaites, who moved to Halicz. Only there survived a Karaite congregation in Galicia. They lived mainly from agriculture and trading in horses and salt. A few were labourers. For detailed statistics from the nineteenth century see Demography.
Abraham Leonovich served as Hakham of Halicz in the middle of the nineteenth century and was influenced by the Haskalah movement. Many Karaites tended to assimilate among the local population and the local Rabbanites. Still, some 130 are mentioned in the 1920's. They lived in the "Karaite street" and in a nearby village named Zalukiev. One of them was the Hebrew author and historian R. Fahn. During World War II their lives were spared by the Nazis. In 1991 there were still 15 Karaites there. Their synagogue had been destroyed by the Soviets, but they still owned their old cemetery.
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