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A Turkic Language written in Hebrew Script

A few words about Karaim Biblical texts

There are over 140 Karaim Biblical manuscripts and printed editions in existence. They are kept in various holdings, the most important being Polish and Lithuanian private archives, the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (Vilnius), the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Saint Petersburg), and the Russian State Library (Moscow). Further manuscripts are stored in other libraries, such as the John Rylands Library (Manchester), the Cambridge University Library, and the Edinburgh University Library.

Given that, historically speaking, the first script that was used by Karaims was Hebrew script, most of the religious, liturgical and ritual texts were translations from Hebrew and were recorded in that script. The Biblical manuscripts are, obviously, not an exception. It shall be even mentioned that almost all Karaim translations of the Hebrew Bible are available to us in the form of sources written in various types and styles of Hebrew script — except those publications in which these texts are shared with the reader in scholarly transcription. Hebrew script was, in fact, used by Karaims way until the 40's of 20th century, but it is since the turn of the 20th century when it started to be gradually replaced by Cyrylic and Latin script.

Illustration 1. The beginning of the Torah in South-Western Karaim, Halych, 19th century, Courtesy of the owner


Illustration 2An Eastern Karaim Biblical manuscript, Crimea, after 1648, before 1687, Courtesy of the owner


Illustration 3A North-Western Karaim Biblical manuscript from Kukizów, 1720, Courtesy of the owner