Morris Marzuk Shoots Nurses Over Karaite Rights Battle

This week in Haaretz, 1967.

In April 1968, Morris Marzuk stormed into the Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin and charged toward the nurses' dormitory. Nurse Miriam Peretz was in her room with two colleagues when Marzuk appeared at her door with a gun.

Peretz had met Marzuk while caring for him at the hospital; they dated a few times, but Peretz eventually rejected Marzuk's advances. They parted over the telephone about an hour before Marzuk showed up at her dorm room wielding a gun. He shot Peretz and wounded all three women.

Marzuk, then a 28-year-old resident of Ashdod, was already well-known in the legal system and media - not as a criminal, but as a member of the Karaite sect, whose petition to the High Court had brought public attention to the Karaites' unclear legal status in Israel.

"There is no doubt that the Karaites are Jews," Abraham Rivlin wrote in an article published in Haaretz in 1961.

"In 765," the article explained, "the 'chief in exile' of the Bustanai family died in Babylon without an heir. Two candidates to replace him appeared: the brothers Annan and Yoshiyahu, descended from David, the king of Israel. Although Annan was the older of the two and had a higher status, the heads of the yeshivas chose his younger brother, known for his piety, to be the new chief in exile."

"Annan and his supporters did not want to recognize the younger brother as chief," Rivlin wrote, "and although the caliph Al-Mansour had authorized the decision in favor of Yoshiyahu, they declared that Annan was the chief in exile."

Annan's supporters opposed the caliph, who threw Annan into prison in 767, and a sharp break in Judaism tore through the land. When Annan was released from jail, he declared his hatred of the Talmud, holding that its commandments were not unquestioned law. At the end of the 9th century, the Karaites moved to Jerusalem, where friction continued to divide the Karaites and the rest of the Jews.

Both groups were expelled from Jerusalem when the Seljuks conquered the city in the 11th century. About a thousand years passed, and the state of Israel was founded.

The Karaites, who lived mainly in Egypt and Iraq, returned to the area by right of the Law of Return, and they settled primarily in the south.

Yet the rabbinical split continued even then. During a stormy Knesset session in 1956, in the wake of a rabbinical ban on marriage between a Karaite man and a Jewish woman, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion warned that without a solution to the centuries-old conflict, "it is inevitable that there will be a majority [vote] to change marriage and divorce laws to grant sole authority to the rabbinical courts in these matters."

One year later, Morris Marzuk - a cousin of Dr. Moshe Marzuk, who was executed by the Egyptians on charges of spying for Israel - immigrated to Israel from Egypt. In the 1960s, after a rabbinical court refused to allow him to marry his partner Sara, he wrote his own marriage certificate. The two separated six months later, and a Karaite rabbinical court issued a divorce certificate in his absence; Marzuk was registered in the Interior Ministry as divorced.

In 1966, through his attorney Uri Huppert, Marzuk filed a petition to the High Court claiming that the Karaite court had no authority in Israel - a fact that was confirmed by the religious affairs minister. The divorce was annulled, but in May 1967, when Marzuk sought a divorce in a Jewish rabbinical court - and sought to change his status from divorced to single - his request was refused.

This situation, Haaretz noted, "shows the confusion that reigns in government offices when it comes to the status of Karaites in Israel."

A public committee headed by Prof. Moshe Zilberg was appointed to examine the status of Karaites. On September 13, 1967, it concluded that the Karaites are, for all intents and purposes, Jews, and that "the gates of the rabbinical court [should be opened] to bring them back into the nation's fold."

The committee also recommended "the ordination of Karaite authorities to decide personal matters for members of the community."

Years later, the committee's recommendations still had not been implemented.

"There is something characteristically tragic about Morris Marzuk's Kafaesque situation," Mati Golan wrote in Haaretz in 1970, while Marzuk was serving 12 years in prison for the shootings. "Outdated laws, an inability to decide, and a controversy that has become irrelevant brought him to prison. Aside from this, nothing has changed. The wheels of bureaucracy, and religious and ethnic intolerance, ground Morris Marzuk down, and those wheels continue to turn."

The Karaite court was not granted judicial authority until 1995. (Lital Levin)