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Rabbinic and Non-Rabbinic Measures to Ensure a Minyan for Morning Prayers

Part III

Although Firkovich eventually acquired the collection, it appears from his personal correspondence that the Samaritans were quite unwilling to part with their manuscripts even in exchange for “much gold and silver.” Firkovich (in that same letter) expressed his hope that another tactic of his might actually work. Firkovich, no doubt, possessed an abundance of talent and charm, and his playing on the “common brotherly bond” between these two isolated and persecuted communities succeeded in clinching the deal.

Later Samaritan sources speak of this episode with a degree of disappointment and regret. For instance, the Samaritan high priest, Yaakov b Uzi (1889-1987), claimed that Firkovich pulled the wool over their eyes and paid less than what it was worth (he also mentions something that isn’t found in the documents here reproduced—namely that Firkovich proposed that Karaites would revere Mount Gerizim, in addition to Jerusalem, as a holy site. It is unclear if he asked the same of the Samaritans—the Samaritans having been known to disregard, and even shun, Jerusalem. It is also interesting to note that one of the great medieval Karaite personalities, Joseph al-Basir, or Joseph Haroeh, actually wrote a polemic against the Samaritan veneration of Mount Gerizim).

A more positive note is sounded in a Samaritan chronicle published in 1900; it speaks of a “wise man from the Karaite Jews in the Land of Russia who loved the Samaritans greatly.” That same chronicle also claims that a deal was reached between Firkovich and the Samaritan high priest at the time, to the effect that both communities “would follow solely the Five books of Moses alone.” This, of course, was complete bluff on Firkovich’s part, as he well knew that no Karaite would agree to that.

The eccentric writer and book-collector Ephraim Deinard in his scathing biography of Firkovich תולדות אבן רש”ף also claimed that Firkovich promised the Samaritans to bring Karaite maidens to Nablus in order to ease the severe shortage of females among the Samaritans (a problem that exists among them to this day).

For a detailed description of this visit see דן שפירא, ‏מן‘גלותנו‘ לשכם: אברהם פירקוביץ אצל השומרונים ,קתדרה 104, יוני 2002, עמ’ 94-85

which you can read at https://www.ybz.org.il/_Uploads/dbsAttachedFiles/Article_104.3.pdf.

A good book on the Samaritans is “The Samaritans” by Reinhard Pummer https://www.eerdmans.com/Products/6768/the-samaritans.aspx.

Firkovich Institutes “Minyan” in The Kenesa Of Trakai, Lithuania

In July 1870, six years after this bizarre incident in Shechem, Firkovich, now 82, was paying a visit to the Karaite community in Trakai, Lithuania. On Wednesday, the 6th of July, an agreement (taqnan) was proposed by him and was signed by 31 leading members of the Trakai congregation. The contract—three large pages written in Hebrew—consists of an introduction and 30 clauses by which Firkovich intended to reestablish religious customs and interpretations as well as to revive the spiritual life of that congregation (which apparently was at an all-time low).

The introduction states that Firkovich came on this mission by the authority of the Karaite council of Gozlova (Eupatoria) in Crimea. We may assume that this is mentioned in order to assure the readers that he had the support of the local chacham at that time, Nahamu Babovich.

(The minyan aspect is dealt with in clause 23.)

The contract:

בתפלת חובתנו-כשנשיג לומר היחוד- ובתחלתו נמצא:במקהלות ברכו אלהים: מן הראוי והחוב שתהיה תפלת צבור בלי שנוי בהמצא 10 אנשים הנקרא מניין, כי זולת זה- החזן בהתחייב שלא להתחיל התפילה יוכרח להתפלל בתפילת יחיד בזה תפלת הצבור תשאר מחמרה ושיהו חוששין כולם כאחד לבוא לעבודת השי”ת בכל זמנים בתנאי שיוגבל מחזן לשמש שיכריז את שעתה בקהל עם

עכ״פ אולי יהיה מן הצורך לקרוא לבה בימים ארוכים וקצרים בערבי שבתות ומועדים ובימי חול בקר וערב כדי שידעו הקהל זמן בואם לתפלה אבל אם תהיה סבה לעכוב את הקריאה מצד השמש מחמת עסקי זמנו המזדמנים להיות אזי לקריאת ב”ה חוב שלא להתרפה לו ושישלח נער ויקרא והנערים שישמעו אותו ויעשו את דברו

It is signed by 31 representatives of the Karaite community of Trakai:

Abraham b ha-hazzan Lavreckij

Simha b Abraham Kobeckij

Josef b Shelomo Firkovic

Shelomo b Abraham Kobeckij

Aharon ben Yosef Bizikovic

Simha ben Aharon

Mordechai ben Jacob hazaqen Lavreckij

Simha b Josef Zarnovskij

Joshiahu b Abraham Moskevic

Ahiezer ben Isaac Kavreckij

Shalom Simha Kobeckij

Mattatiah ben Shemuel

Azariah b Abraham Hazeqn Kobeckij

Shelomo Jedidiah ben Aharon

Zerah ben Shealtiel Horcenko

Nissan Jehonatan ben Simha Moskevic

Gedaliah Shemuel ben Avraham Hazaqen Pileckij

Nissan ben Mordechai Hazzaqen Firkovic

Simha ben Mordechai Hazzaqen Firkovic

Aharon ben Abraham Maleckij

Daniel ben Shealtiel Hazzaqen Horczenko

Efraim ben Mordechai Dubinsji

Eliab ben Juhuda Hamskil Jutkevic

Azariah Hashamash ben Sar Shalom Hashmash Vehazaqqen

Isaac ben Mordechai Malinovkij

Josef Jehiel ben Mordechai Spakovskij

Gedaliah Simha ben Nissim spakovskij

Joel ben Josef Hazzaqen Firkovic

Isaac ben Jacob Hamaskil

And here signed the hazzanim:

Moriel Jehoioda Hazzan bk”k Troki ben Hakham Kaplannovskij

Hananiah Abraham ben david Abkowic who, letter by letter, word for word, copied the document.

I’ll conclude with an oft-told anecdote that a rabbi (according to one version it was Sephardic Chief Rabbi Refael Meyuchas, according to another it was the famed Morrocan-born Rabbi Hayyim Ibn Atar) once visited the Karaite synagogue in Jerusalem and discovered that Maimonides’ writings were hidden under the floorboards. The story goes that the rabbi—in a fit of rage—cursed the Karaites that they should never have a minyan in Jerusalem. While I myself have witnessed more than a minyan at that synagogue on certain occasions, most Karaites nowadays are clustered in the south and center of Israel with indeed very few residing in or near the Old City of Jerusalem.

See also the late Shmuel Ashkenazi in his latest volume [אלפא ביתא תנייתא דשמואל זעירא] who discusses this story and its origins and versions.


The author is an author and an independent researcher of Jewish history and can be reached at [email protected].

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