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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Twenty-Seven


By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update February 26, 2015)

Other Important Influences of the Third Great Awakening

So far we've focussed mainly on the 'Fundamentalist' Protestant/Anglican Christians of this period. While significant, they were only part of the players active during this Awakening. This is one of the things that to me marks a clear separation between the Second and Third Great Awakenings as mentioned above. While reforms and 'times of refreshing' were happening in other groups during the previous Awakenings, these had little impact on American religious experience, which is our primary focus here. During the Third Great Awakening that changed.

Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism

The creation of movements (denominations) within Judaism began during this period. Previously during the modern era there were only two basic types of Jews, only one that most Americans were aware of:

Judaism has always been very diverse and yet the Jews, in part because of historic persecution, always managed to maintain cohesiveness as a people. Some Jews were more observant, some less, most embraced the Talmud, some did not, but "a Jew was a Jew, was a Jew." This began to change during the Russian Pogroms of the Third Great Awakening:
During the late 19th century, Russian authorities began to differentiate Karaites from Rabbanite Jews, freeing them from various anti-Semitic laws that affected Jews. The Tsarist governor of the Crimean area told the Karaite leaders that, even though the Tsarist government liked the idea that the Karaites did not accept the Talmud (which the church taught was the reason the Jews did not accept Jesus), they were still Jews and responsible for the death of Jesus and subject to the new anti-Semitic laws. The [Karaite] leaders, hearing that, devised a ruse by which they could be freed of the oppressive laws and told him that the Karaites had already settled in the Crimea before the death of Jesus. The Tsarist government then said that, if they could prove it, they would be free of the oppressive laws. The community leaders charged Avraham Firkovich (1786-1874) with gathering anything that could help "prove" that Karaites were not in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, and thus not responsible for the crucifixion. Through his work, Firkovich helped establish the idea among the Tsarist authorities that the Karaites, as descendants of the exiled northern kingdom of Israel, had already gone into exile centuries before the death of Jesus and thus had no responsibility for it. Firkovich referenced tombstones in Crimea (altering the dates) and gathered thousands of Karaite, Rabbanite, and Samaritan manuscripts, including one Rabbanite document from the southern Caucasus that claims that the Jews there were descendants of the exiles from the northern Kingdom of Israel -- Source.
Today the Karaites maintain little connection with Rabbinic Jewish society. There are a few critical differences in beliefs and practices (like rejection of the Talmud, Hillel's calendar re-calculations, paternal lineage rather maternal for determining Jewish identity, etc.).

It was Rabbinic Judaism that became "American Judaism." Most Americans have never met a Karaite Jew. During the Third Great Awakening Jewish cohesiveness began to fragment.

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