There has been an ongoing conflict between several groups in Judaism. One group is called ‘Karaism” (meaning “readers”) and the other group is called Rabbinic Judaism. This conflict has been going on for centuries. Basically, the Karaites accept what is written in the Tanak and the “Rabbanites” accept an Oral Law, along with what is written in the Tanak. At times, the Rabbanite view of the oral Law supersedes the words of Moses.
We would like to include an article that brings out some very interesting points on the subject of the Torah and the need for an Oral Law. The article can be found on the website called “The Karaite Korner” and the name of the article is called “Karaism versus Rabbanism in the writings of Salmon Ben Yeruham.” The article says, “The brilliant Karaite Bible commentator Salmon Ben Yeruham (10th century) wrote a devastating criticism of Rabbanite Judaism in his book ‘Sefer Milhamot Hashem’ (The Book of the Wars of Hashem). Salmon directed his polemic against Rabbanism in general and the Rabbanite leader Saadiah al-Fayyumi (known in Rabbinic circles as Rav Saadiah Gaon) in particular. In the three chapters presented below Salmon tears down the main pillars of Rabbanism and the “Oral Law.'”
“Saadiah Gaon was Salmon’s older contemporary and was notorious for his vicious writings against Karaism. Salmon
repeatedly rejects arguments of an unnamed foe with such formulas as “He says”, “You say”, etc. This unnamed opponent was none other that Saadiah Gaon who is also called by Salmon “The Fayyumite” (since Saadiah was from the Egyptian town of Fayyum), ‘The Black guard’, and “A man devoid of a good heart.’ Salmon had a detailed knowledge of Saadiah’s infamous anti-Karaite writings and towards the end of the third chapter he systematically refutes seven arguments presented in Saddiah’s ‘Commentary on Genesis.'”
‘The Book of the Wars of Hashem’ is written as a series of acrostic poems, opening with the letters of each stanza forming, in sequence, the Hebrew Alphabet (i.e. the first stanza opens with Aleph, the second stanza opens with Bet, etc). Salmon alternates between acrostics which start at the beginning of the Alphabet (Aleph) and work their way to the end (Tav) and those which start at the end of the Alphabet and work their way to the beginning. Salmon tells us that he wrote his work both in Hebrew and Arabic, although only the Hebrew version has survived.”
“To date only the first three chapters of ‘The Book of the Wars of Hashem’ have been translated into English. The rest of the book deals with various points of Rabbanite law, laying special emphasis on the corrupt Rabbanite calendrical practices and their blasphemous personification of God” (We are not going to include the Table of Contents in this article, but we will start with the following excerpts from the “Book of the Wars of Hashem” by Salmon Ben Yeruham). “The Book of the Wars of Hashem” remained in manuscript until it was published together with a commentary by Israel Davidson under the title “The Books of the Wars of the Lord”, New York 1934 (Hebrew). The present translation of the first three chapters of “The Book of the Wars of Hashem” were rendered into English by Leon Nemoy in his book “Karaite Anthology”, Yale University Press, 1952, pp 71-82.”
“Canto I: To you I call, O men-hearken to my explicit words, reinforced, clad, enveloped, and robed with proofs as solid as onyx and sapphire. When I was at the age of vanity, I did search for the right road for my course, that I might learn, as well as teach, in the midst of my Karaite congregation, and I sought to clear the stones from my path. I was a stranger in a foreign land, investigation and searching the ways of the Law. And I saw in the midst of the Jewish congregation a man (Saadiah) devoid of a good heart and straying away from justice.”
“He bent his bow to write complaints and to remonstrate in all languages, to tear up improved roads and to pervert with nonsense and trifles the highway of understanding. I understood his purpose and was overcome with apprehension, and my wrath was kindled like a burning fire; and I was seized with zeal for the sons of Judah, and for the Almighty, and for the Book of the Testimony. And I was afraid of the Day of Judgment and retribution, lest his wrath should burn with anger. Therefore I composed a double rejoinder against him, in the languages of Eber (Hebrew), and also in that of the sons of Dumah (Arabic). This is my consolation in my exile, that there are learned men to investigate my words fairly, who will know that I speak out of zeal for God, so that the men of my congregation might not be led astray.”
“He stated in him misleading discourse, and he did utter the assertion, that the Almighty chose to reveal himself to Moses at Mount Sinai, to give him two laws for his chosen people. The commandments of the one Law were set down in writing, while the commandments of the other were kept upon the tongue. Moreover, they were both to be, into everlasting eternity, an heirloom for the congregation of the seed of the perfect ones. My spirit advised me to reply to him in this matter, and to place my answer among my congregation in a written epistle, in order to remove the stumbling block, and to clear the path of stones, so that the flock of Israel would not go astray into the waterless desert of heresy. But rather that they would study it attentively, so that my congregation might not be seduced by what is hidden from them. And I hope that is my reward God Almighty will let me behold his good tidings in Zion.”
“We firmly believe that the Written Law was in truth given to Israel by the right hand of the Almighty, according to the testimony of the whole congregation of the Lily (The Children of Israel), who are scattered in every land. All of them, believers as well as unbelievers, divided as they are by language and tongue, all Israel, from the east to the westernmost ends of the world, testify to the sanctity of the written Law, all of them, the little and the great. This testimony has become firmly established in their midst, by their united and universal consent, without challenge. Likewise, the signs and the miracles which the Dweller of the heavenly abode has wrought are written therein and are explained for them who wish to understand.”
“Selah! They remember the splitting asunder of the Red Sea, and they do not deny the words spoken by the Almighty on Mount Sinai; and with their mouths they sing of the glory of the Law and the other miracles. Israel and all other nations peak of this as one. Now if Israel and Judah are all united concerning the validity of the oral Law which is, as they say, perfect, let them offer their testimony, and let their voices by heard; if not, then they Fayyumite’s (Saadiah’s) words are void and his tongue has been silenced.”
“I shall begin here with another argument, which I shall mention now, without delay, and I shall ask and demand a reply to it from everyone who holds to the oral Law and has given his preference to it. You say that the Rock (God) has given Israel two laws, one which is written, and one which is preserved in your mouths. If this is as you say, then indeed your deeds are but falsehood and rebellion against God. The Holy One has given you an oral Law, so that you could recite it orally, for, you say, he had deemed it, in his wisdom, a laudable command. Why, then, did you write it down in ornate script?”
“Had the Merciful One wished to write it down, he would have written it down by Moses. Now did he not give it to you to be studied orally, and had he not ordained it not to be inscribed in a book? Yet they altered God’s alleged words and wrote it down, and instead of studying it orally they transferred it into writing. How, then, can their words be believed, seeing that they have offended grievously? They wrote down both Laws, thus contemning the commandment of the Almighty. Where, then, is is the oral Law in which they place their trust? Their words have become void and meaningless, and out of their mouths have they testified that they have drawn God’s wrath upon themselves.”
In Part 30, we will pick up with Canto II and more excerpts from the “Book of the Wars of Hashem” by the Karaite Salmon Ben Yeruham in which he critiques the Rabbanites (Rabbinic Judaism) and their view of an oral Law.