The smallest Polish minority - The Karaims

Seminar Paper, 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 5 (Erasmus), which is escellent


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Ethnics in Poland

3. The Karaims
3.1. What are Karaims?
3.2. Karaims in Eastern Europe
3.3. Language of Karaims in Eastern Europe
3.4. Karaims and Religion

4. History of the Karaims

5. Karaims today

6. Appendix
6.1. Table of figures
6.2. Settlement area
6.3. Bibliography

1. Introduction

If one concerns oneself in Polands minorities and if one looks at the numbers of different minority groups, one group at the end of the list catches ones eye: The Karaim, or Karaites. This minority group exists, depending on the source, of only 40-50 people. Their name differ, in some sources they are called Karaim, in others Karaites. In the following chapters I will call them Karaim, as I found out during my research, that they call themselves Karaim or in Eastern Europe also Qaray. Moreover, Karaim is also closer to its origin, but more about this in one of the following chapters. Polands Karaims had since centuries disliked to be called Karaites, as it meant "black dog”.

In the very beginning of my work I wanted to concentrate on only the Polish Karaims, but as it is very hard to find enough material (and simply impossible to find enough material in the English language) about only the Polish community and their history, I switched to Eastern Europe Karaim, but tried to keep the main focus, if and where possible, on the Polish Karaims.

2. Ethnics in Poland

First, I would like to show the different minority groups of Poland:

Poland is a ethnically most homogenious state, which was not always so in Poland’ s history. Poles are with 99,3% the Majority. The different Minorities in Poland are, according to the 2002 census: Among ethnic groups Silesians and Germans are the largest minorities, 172.6 thousand of Polish citizens declare Silesian national identity and 147.1 thousand, German. The third and the fourth linguistic minorities are, respectively, Belorussians, 47.6 thousand, and Ukrainians, 27.2 thousand. The Gypsies appear in fifth position with 12.7 thousand. They are followed by the historical minorities which number from 5 to 10 thousand people: Ruthenians/Lemkos- 5.8 thousand, Lithuanians – 5.6 thousand, and Kashbus – 5.1 thousand. Next there are minor communities like Russians – 3.2 thousand, Slovaks (1.7 thousand), Jews (1.1 thousand), Tartars (0.5 thousand), Czechs (0.4 thousand), Armenians (0.3 thousand) and in last place the Karaim with only 50. At this point I must add, that other sources mention other numbers. Some only 40, others 150.[1]

The biggest groups of foreign citizens living in Poland are: Vietnamese, Greek and Armenian.

It should be remarked that in 2002, a significant portion of the total population declared themselves as Silesian. It was the first time in the history of Poland that Silesian, Lemkos and Kashubs were accounted as national identities, although the Polish legislation on minority rights does not consider them as such.[2]

3. The Karaims

3.1. What are Karaims?

Karaim Judaism is a Jewish denomination characterized by reliance on the Tanakh as the sole scripture, and rejection of the Oral Law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) as halakha (Legally Binding, i.e. required religious practice). The word Karaim comes from the Hebrew word קְרָאִים (Qəraim), meaning "Readers (of Scripture)". This name was chosen by the adherents of Karaim Judaism to distinguish themselves from the adherents of Rabbinic Judaism.

3.2. Karaims in Eastern Europe

The turk-rooted Karaims of Eastern Europe, which live in Lithunia, Poland and in the Ukraine, regard their belief as own, biblically self-contained religion. Their religious practices and the religious theory is characterized by Islamic influences. Moreover, a part of them has a self-conception as an own ethnic group, which has, in ethnic terms, no semitic-jewish roots. Many scholars agree that the Karaims are descendants of Khazarian ancestors, which tookover the jewish, but some also the Karaim religion. Today, they are seen as part of the Turk peoples.[3]

3.3. Language of the Karaims in Eastern Europe

The Eastern Europe Karaims call themselves Qaray (Plural Qarayları). Their Karaim language is a Turk language. Today it is splitted in different dialects and local languages and is threatened with extinction, or maybe it is not even spoken anymore. On Crimea, one can find trials to safe this language as cultural heritage and as a “sacral language”, similar to latinum for catholics. Other efforts can be found as well, for example the “Spoken Karaim Project”: This CD project was started in January 1998 under the auspices of the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Africa and Asia at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The project draws upon the materials collected by Eva Agnes Csato during a three year project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft at the University of Cologne. Its main goals are:

- support the Karaim community in its efforts to maintain its language and pass the language to the younger generation
- provide a companion sound resource for the forthcoming book Spoken Karaim which describes the Karaim language
- provide information about the Karaim language and community

The content of the CD will include stories spoken in Karaim, written texts, a dictionary, video clips, pictures, and Karaim music. These elements will be hyperlinked to allow the sounds, texts and dictionary to be used in many different ways. Because Karaim is an endangered language, a multimedia resource can offer several particular benefits: real sound recordings from noted community members, a variety of cultural artefacts including images and songs, in a medium that is attractive and motivating to the younger generation.[4]

3.4. Karaims and Religion

The Karaims do not accept the Rabbinic Oral Law as halakha because:

- They do not believe that the Oral Law is mentioned in the Tanakh.
- They believe that all the Torah was written down during the lifetime of Moses and Joshua, and that there is only one Torah.
- They believe the Oral Law "adds to" or "takes away from" the plain meaning of the text.
- They believe it to contradict the text at times.
- The Mishnah and Talmud record the opinions of Rabbis who disagree with each other. The Rabbis explain that whenever there are such disagreements, "both opinions are the words of the living God". Karaims maintain that it is unreasonable to believe that God would contradict Himself.
- The Tanach reports that the written Torah was lost and forgotten for over 50 years and only rediscovered by the Temple priests (2Ki 22:8, 2Chr 34:15). Karaims believe that it is inconceivable that an Oral Law could have been remembered when the written Law was forgotten.


[1] M. El-Kodsi claims that he found in the Year 1991 some 150 Karaim in Poland: 50 each in Warsaw, Gdansk and Varcelova and 4 in Pele. None were left in Cracow. Lvov and Halicz belong now to the Ukraine, but only some 15 Karaites were reported from the latter and none from the former.

[2] Moskal: 1-6

[3] Karaim Community

[4] Spoken Karaim: Projekt Description.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The smallest Polish minority - The Karaims
University of Wroclaw
Languages and Nations in East-Central Europe in the 21st Century
5 (Erasmus), which is escellent
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1278 KB
Die Karaim (oder Karaiten) sind eine spezielle Erscheinung als kleinste Minderheit in Polen und anderen osteuropäischen Staaten: Sie sind zwar türkischstämmig, gehören also zu den Turkvölkern, sind jedoch jüdischen Glaubens. In Polen leben heute schätzungsweise gerade mal noch zwischen 40 und 50 Karaiten, was sie zur kleinsten Minderheit macht. This Text is about the Karaim, the smallest minority in several countries of eastern Europe. Karaim are of turkisch descent but have jewish faith.
Polish, Karaims, Languages, Nations, East-Central, Europe, Century
Quote paper
Philipp Schär (Author), 2006, The smallest Polish minority - The Karaims, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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