I just met a real, live Karaite. He was sitting at the table next to mine at Tal's and we got to talking.
The animosity between Karaite and what they call "Rabbinite" Jews (which would be me) goes back thousands of years. I wouldn't call it a rivalry because basically the Rabbinites won that one a long time ago. Today, there are only 30,000 Karaites in the entire world. I already knew that they exist, but I've never met one in person.
So, part of me was thinking/feeling "oh, my God, I'm talking to a real, live, heretic! Should I be talking to him? Is this OK? This is so weird! It's so . . . Talmudic era . . . what century am I in?"
And the other part of me was thinking "wow! I'm talking to a real, live heretic! That's so cool. I wonder what they do at their Seders?" (Yes, I asked.)
We talked about how he became Karaite (he "converted" from secular Judaism), why he moved to Israel, who he dates, why he thinks that mainstream Jews are the true heretics (especially Reform - apparently the Karaite and Orthodox ideologies agree on something), and what cafes on Emek Refaim Street have the best internet connections.
Nice guy ( ... for a heretic?).
Such a weird feeling!
He said that usually he can't talk about his beliefs because it freaks people out. Seemed to be grateful that I didn't try to burn him at the stake.
First of all, stake-burning isn't so practical in the middle of Emek. :-)
Also, I'm not threatened. I know what I believe, and I know what I don't believe, and I know what I'm confused about, and I already know I'll be confused about many more things during my time on this earth. Thank God (and my parents, and teachers) I'm pretty educated about Talmud (for a woman, anyway), and nothing he said shook my religious foundations any more than the Talmud itself does. The Sages themselves had some pretty hefty ambivalence about their roles vis-a-vis the future of Judaism; that's not a secret. Confusion is cool. Guilt and confusion are part of the Jewish condition.
So, no Karaite can make me question things that I wasn't already questioning myself, or shake my love for things that have meaning for me.
It was just really interesting, and really weird!