London (Jun. 20)
(By Our London Correspondent)
That a Jewish sect, the Karaites of Crimea, maintain what resembles a “matriarchal” system, is the assertion made by Mr. D. B. Benny, in an article published here, wherein he describes his impressions of a visit to the Karaites.
“Singular in their rigid and meticulous adhesion to what they have come to regard as Mosaic ordinances are those anti-rabbinical sectaries, the Karaites of the Krim — as the Crimean Peninsula should correctly be designated,” Mr. Benny declares. “Not merely in matters of religion do they carry their respect for Pentateuchal injunctions to an extreme; but in the ordinary concerns of life, in their everyday occupations and domestic affairs they show the same inflexibility, the same tenacity where Bible teaching is concerned.
“On Friday afternoon, the Karaite housewife cuts, ready for the coming Sabbath, every slice of bread that is to be eaten in the four-and-twenty hours of the weekly day of rest, so that its sanctity may not be infringed by the act of cutting. During the entire duration of the Sabbath, she and the several members of the household sit absolutely still in one place, never moving from it, so as not to violate the scriptural ordinance against going abroad on that day. Throughout the Sabbath, not a single light is allowed to burn, not a trace of fire is suffered in a Karaite dwelling so that the command ‘no fire shall be kindled’ may be rigorously complied with. It is no light thing to observe a Karaite Sabbath. In winter, when the days are short and the weather is cold — the Crimean frosts are intense — four-and-twenty hours in one place, cold and in darkness, is no pleasant experience.
“But singular as they are, in these and cognate matters, they are more singular still in their regard for the ‘Matriarchal’ rights of the women. Among them, women are the rulers of the community. They direct and manage everything, and their head is fully recognized by the men.
“This ‘matriarchal’ principle is, perhaps, a survival from very old Semite days. It was the recognized thing among the Arabs till the time of Mahomet and Islam, which, oddly enough, coincides with the first beginnings of Karaism. There are remains of the system of mother rule in Judaism. Descent is always reckoned through the mother, not through the father. There are traces of it in the Bible. Adoniyah — the rival of King Solomon — is termed ‘the son of Hagith’ his mother: and the famous Jewish captain Joab and his brothers, are always referred to as the ‘sons of Zeruyah.’ Zeruyah was their mother, not their father.
“For nearly eight centuries, the Karaite Jewess has been enjoying a privilege, a dignity and position superior to that which women in almost every part of the world are now struggling to attain. And their greater freedom, their dominance and the resultant sense of responsibility have reacted strongly in the formation of their character, just as the open-air and vigorous life they lead has affected their physique. It may here be pointed out that the Karaites, unlike all other Jews are not allowed to engage in trade or in commerce. They must keep to agriculture or some form of husbandry, wine-growing or tobacco-raising. They may market the product of their industry, but not do business of any kind apart from this.
“As a consequence the Karaite Jewess is largely the ‘farmer’s wife’ always busy out of doors directing, managing, controlling. Nothing can physically be better for her development. And nothing is more noteworthy than the contrast she presents to the small and undersized Jewish woman of Russia and Poland. The Karaite — whatever may be thought of their anti-Rabbinic doctrine — are a fine race, tall in statue and broad in build, and their women are fully their equals. Tall and well-proportioned, they are types of what a woman should be, assured and confident, their very gait proclaims their physical, their mental and moral freedom. They do no hard field-work such as falls to the lot of the women in the Jewish Agricultural colonies of Ekaterinoslav. The men do that, the women direct and control.”