Karaites, Or Caraites (Heb. Karaim, readers, scripturists), a Jewish sect, existing in Russia (chiefly in the Crimea), Austria (Gali-cia), Turkey, and other countries of the East, whose distinguishing tenet is a strict adherence to the Biblical books, and the rejection, except as exegetical aids, of all oral traditions and Talmudical interpretations. They themselves retrace their origin to the time of Shalmaneser; and as that king of Assyria carried the ten tribes of Israel to the north, they hold that they must worship with the face turned toward the south. Non-Karaite historians, however, disregard their representations, and Maimoni-des and others have attempted to show that they were the same sect as that once known as Sadducees; but it seems that some of the doctrines of the latter were directly antagonistic to those of the Karaites. Others, especially Wolf, attribute their origin to a massacre among the Jewish doctors under Alexander Jannaeus, about 100 B. C. Others again, among them Steinschneider, regard Karaism as a literary and theological development of Judaism which had its origin in Babylonia about A. D. 760, and Anan ben David as the founder of the 'sect; but Firkovitch has endeavored to prove from archaeological and numismatic evidences that Karaites occupied the Crimea about the beginning of the 4th century.
The Karaites have produced a valuable literature, not only on Biblical interpretation, dogmatics, and other subjects connected with religion, but also on philosophy and mathematics, written partly in Hebrew or Arabic, partly in a mixture of Tartaric and Turkish which is a peculiar idiom of their own in the regions bordering on the Black sea, and partly in the languages of the several countries which they inhabit. Their literature is, however, little known to the occidental world. Several of their principal writings, such as Eshkol hakkopher, by Judah Iladasi (of the 12th century), and Mib'har, by Aaron ben Joseph (13th), have recently been published at Eupatoria, in the Crimea. - See Furst, Geschichte des Karaerthums (Leipsic, 1865), and Rule, " History of the Karaite Jews " (London, 1870).