Karaite Tefillah

Tefillah >> Karaite Tefillah

Tefillah (prayer) is a communal responsibility according to the Karaite teachings but tefillah can be said individually in any tahor (clean) place where there are no images. Tefillah is mandatory twice daily as temporary replacements of the twice-daily sacrificial offerings of the Beit HaMikdash. Additional voluntary tefillah may be said at any time by an individual and do not need to follow a prescribed formula. Tefillah is not only a temporary substitute for the offerings of the Beit HaMikdash but they are also a means of communicating with יהוה and a way of understanding our relationship to יהוה.

The Karaite siddur that we use today is a text that comes from the Byzantine community and was redacted in the thirteenth-century by Aharon ben-Yosef. It contains elements mostly of the older Yerushalayim-based Karaite liturgy with various additions added over the years. Liturgy was also taken freely from the Tanakh – especially from Tehillim (Psalms) and Eichah (Lamentations).1

Even though early liturgy for tefillah was less structured there were still standards of tefillah within the Karaite communities. According to Yefet ben-Eli HaLevi there are twelve mandatory elements in Karaite tefillah.1

Mentioning creation and its arrangement
Mentioning יהוה’s excellence and beneficence
Mentioning יהוה’s wonders, miracles, and signs
Mentioning the disobedience of our ancestors
Mentioning the punishment of our ancestors
Mentioning the return of the repentant
Mentioning the repentant ones’ request to יהוה for knowledge of Tanakh
Mentioning the repentant ones’ request for salvation from his/her enemies
Mentioning the repentant ones’ request for יהוה’s fulfillment of His promises for redemption
Mentioning the conversion of the Nations to the true belief in יהוה
Mentioning universal and perpetual peace among the Nations
Mentioning the obedience of the Nations to יהוה’s people and the Moshiach

Any prayer service (whether communal or individually) begins with the proper brachah (blessing) and then the putting on of the tallit (prayer shawl). Services are led by a chazzan (prayer leader). The chazzan will read a line or portion of a line from the siddur and the congregation will respond with either the next line or the completion of the unfinished line. All services include various positions that are mentioned in the Tanakh.1

Qimah (standing up) – Nechemiah 9:5
Hishtachavayah (bowing down) – Tehillim 5:8
Keri’ah and Berikhah (kneeling down and kneeling) – Tehillim 95:6
Nefilat Apayim (falling on the face) – Bereshit 17:3
Nesi’at ‘Einayim (lifting up the eyes) – Tehillim 123:1
Perisat Yadayim (stretching forth the hands) – Tehillim 143:6
Hizdaqfut (standing up straight) – Tehillim 145:14, 146:8
Nesi’at Yadayim (lifting up the hands) – Tehillim 28:2
Se’aqah and Qeri’ah (crying out and calling out) – Eichah 3:55; Tehillim 34:18

Just like the ancient Karaites had requirements for each formal, mandatory tefillah modern Karaites also have certain requirements for mandatory tefillah. There are seven elements pluse five Qeddushot which are to be included in each tefillah service.1

Brachah (blessing) – Tehillim 34:2
Shevah (praise) – Tehillim 117:1
Rememut (exalting) – Tehillim 145:1
Hoda’ah (acknowledgment) – Devarim 6:4
Widui (confession) – Ezra 9:10
Baqqashah (entreaty) – Dani’el 9:19
Tehinah (supplication) – Dani’el 9:18
Qeddushot (sanctifications) – Tehillim 22:4; Yeshayahu 47:4, 6:3; Yechezkiel 3:12; Devarim 6:1

In addition to these twice-daily mandatory tefillah, Karaites also offer brachot (blessings) for food and drink based upon Devarim 6:10-12 and Devarim 8:7-10.

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1al-Qirqisani Center. An Introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom. Troy, NY: al-Qirqisani Center for the Promotion of Karaite Studies, 2003.