20160806 - Vilna

posted 9 Aug 2016, 06:16 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

20160806 - Vilna

Vilnius, or Vilna as the Jews traditionally called it, had also become widely known as Yerushalayim de-Lita, the Jerusalem of Lithuania.
Since early 18th c. it became a world centre for the Torah study and rabbinical thought.
As a true Litvak, I try to get back to the roots at least once in awhile - ever since first coming here almost 35 years ago.

This is Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Kremer
(I was named after him. Tsss! Don't tell anyone).


A simple memorial granite plaque marks the place where his house once stood in the 18th c.


Introducing my family to the beauty of Lithuania is a huge bonus; the girls have never been here before.
Some 30 km west of Vilnius, lies the small town of Trakai. Besides a fairy-tale 700 year old castle,


it is home to one of the most prominent Karaite communities in the world. In the 14th c, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vitautas brought a sizeable group of Crimean Karaites with their families by a special invitation to serve as the Duke's elite guard in his military. Today, this tiny community that only counts about 60 remaining members, is the only live carrier of the Karaite language (it is of the Turko-Tatar origin).
The town has 3(!) Karaite restaurants, an Ethnographic Karaite museum, and an active Kenesa (like our Beit Knesset, it originates from the Hebrew word knesset, Assembly).


Outsiders are not allowed in the Kenesa. Securing an invitation to observe the services is quite a feat, and photography inside is definitely a no-no.
The customs include taking shoes off for the prayer (like the Islamic similar practice, it was most likely born out of necessity, having all the floors covered with carpets), and having a women's balcony, same as in the Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

Karaism (or even "Karaite Judaism") has most likely formed in Baghdad between the 7 and 9 c. There are multiple views, both in scholarly research and Jewish legends, as to how it came into existence. The most defining feature of Karaism is literal interpretation of the Torah and Prophets, and maintaining that no Oral Law was given to Moses by God. Thus, the Tanach is the only source of Halacha in Karaism.
While observant Karaites do not intermarry with Jews (and vice-versa), the Karaites are covered by the Israeli Law of Return. There are about 40,000 Karaites in Israel today (and only a couple hundred' left in Lithuania, with only a few hundred left in Crimea, and about the same number in Lithuania).

Bringing people on heritage tours here, we would seldom, if ever, need to apply our mobile kitchen. Kosher food is readily available in Lithuania, with Rishon kosher restaurant in Vilnius providing a pleasant introduction to the local cuisine.


Arielle is excited to learn the secrets of the trade; in 2 weeks, she will have a summer job in our kitchen in Norway.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Eli and Family