ABSTRACT: Tracing the Frauds of Firkowicz (Review of D. Y. Shapira [ed.], The Tobstones of the Cemeteray of the Karaites in Çufut-Qal‘eh, Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2008)

Katharsis, 14 (2010), pp. 59-72  Meir Bar-Ilan


This is a real detective story where a modern historian is tracing the frauds of the suspected criminal after some 170 years of his activities. Shapira with his team are highly qualified to investigate the frauds done by Abraham Fircowicz (1787-1874). Fircowicz was a talented scholar, a Karaite Rabbi, who abused his knowledge to deceive the world, his brethren alike, about the antiquity of the Karaites in Crimea. His method was publishing the engraved tombstones from Crimea in an amalgam of true and fraud data and the modern detectives did their best to decipher his deeds.

Shapira is a polyglot who uses his vast knowledge, combined with interdisciplinary work: historiography, geography, epigraphy and other skills into a comprehensive work, something without precedent. Fircowicz’ work is analyzed diligently in detail in a way a police detective might learn from. Shapira and his colleagues moved every stone, literally, to understand Fircowicz art of forgery.

In a way one can take the book as a contra to pseudo scholars, or: post moderns, who invent the past by captivity in their ignorance combined with their political agenda. Shapira’s work is an example of the heights a scholar can come to and the only flaws in the work are the errata that marred the book almost every second page. These technical flaws should be taken not as Shapira’s sin, rather as conveying the low status of Judaic studies in contemporary money-making universities.