Last year, I wrote a post calling into question the Karaite leader Nehemiah Gordon as a possible anti-missionary, someone who may be trying to convince Yeshua’s disciples to convert to the Karaite religion. I wrote the post in response to being contacted by 2 well-known Messianic leaders who each related to me that Gordon was leading people away from Messiah and towards the Karaite religion, and additionally, runs Light of Israel, an anti-missionary website.
This morning, Nehemiah Gordon responded to that post, and I want to be fair in highlighting it here.
For the uninitiated, Nehemiah Gordon is a Karaite Jew who dialogs regularly with Christians and Messianics. He’s made appearances on God’s Learning Channel on American television. He has toured the United States with Christian pastors. He’s written a book about Yeshua and another on the Lord’s Prayer.
The Karaite religion is, to be certain, outside of normative Judaism. Karaite Jews reject the Talmudic writings as binding, they believe in the supreme authority of the Tenakh (Old Testament) alone, they reject most rabbinic tradition and reject the authority of rabbis. They’ve made efforts towards restoring the Torah-based calendar. Where modern Orthodox Jews may be spiritual descendants of the ancient Pharisees, some have suggested Karaites may be modern descendants of the Sadducees. What Protestants are to the Catholic Church, Karaites are to Rabbinic Judaism.
In any event, many Christians and some Messianics sympathize with Gordon’s causes, particularly on the sola scriptura concept, the idea that Scripture contains everything necessary to live a holy life.
The implication, however, that Nehemiah Gordon may be convincing Christians to abandon hope in Yeshua and convert to the Karaite religion has made waves recently.
This morning’s response from Nehemiah addresses some of this criticism:
For the record, I do not run the "Light of Israel" website you linked to. It was the website of my friend Mordechai Alfandari and its maintenance fell to me after he passed away. However, I decided to take a different direction from Mordechai years ago as I explained in my post "The Good News of Passover" here:
Here is what I wrote there on this subject:
"Over the years I've met Jews of both the rabbinical and Karaite persuasions who do feel called to convince people to embrace the Jewish faith. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this approach but it is the exception to the rule. One such exception was an old Karaite man in Jerusalem named Mordechai Alfandari. He once told me how Christian missionaries used to harass him on the subway in New York when he was a boy. He spent a great deal of his energies over the next 60 years engaged in Jewish apologetics. I consider Mordechai my mentor as he is the one who opened my eyes to speaking the name of God, which incidentally he pronounced Yihweh. When Mordechai passed away in 1999 I felt like it was expected of me to follow in his footsteps as a counter-missionary but my heart was never in it. The more time I spent speaking with Christians, the more I found I had in common with them. It seemed to me to be a colossal waste of time and energy arguing with them when there was so much we could learn from one another. I realized you can always find differences with people if you want to. God knows there are plenty of differences between me and other Jews and even between me and other Karaites. I decided I would focus my energies on what I have in common with people rather than the differences."
I hope this helps clarify the issue.
My take: Nehemiah Gordon and Karaite Judaism have some things to teach us, but we should take caution in regards to those teachings. As Messianic apologist J.K. McKee stated,
I think we should always remain skeptical of those who teach about Yeshua, but do not acknowledge Him as Savior. This is true of a range of teachers, be they Nehemia Gordon or Bart Ehrman. But skepticism (or even strong skepticism) need not imply hostility.
What’s your take?