Karaism, founded in the Middle East around the 9th century CE, is a Jewish sect that rejects the authority of the Talmud and the rabbinic claim of an “Oral Torah” that can be traced back to Moses’ revelation at Sinai. While Karaites have their own distinctive laws and practices, and have maintained separate Jewish communities in Egypt, Eastern Europe, Crimea, and elsewhere, for most of their history they have also regularly interacted with “Rabbanites,” as they call non-Karaite communities. The Ukrainian-born scholar Simḥah Isaac Lutski (1716-1760) represented one of the high points of Karaite intellectual life, as Daniel Lasker writes:
Eastern Europe’s Great Karaite Thinker
At America’s Best Universities, Biblical Religion Is a Curiosity, if Not a Menace
At the time of Columbia University’s founding in 1784, notes Meir Soloviechik, the leader of the local synagogue, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was made a member of its board of regents. A Jewish student even gave a commencement address, composed by Seixas, in Hebrew. In the 20th century, Columbia attracted numerous Jews with the relaxation of quotas, and was the first secular university to create a chair in Jewish history. Barnard College, Columbia’s all-women’s school, was itself founded by a Jewish woman, and today has a large number of Orthodox Jewish students.