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The Pharisees:

From the Beginning to Modern Influence


Donna Morley

     The Pharisees, which mean “separate ones,” 1 (and who devoted considerable effort to separating themselves from others 2) were a major religious and political party in Palestine. They were a large group with an enormous influence over the masses. 3

          One may ask, if the Pharisees had such influence, why would they separate themselves from others? Very simply, the Pharisees felt that since other Jews, as well as Gentiles, were not careful enough about keeping God’s laws, they felt it was necessary to place limits on their contacts with them. For example, they could not eat in the home of a non-Pharisee, since they could not be sure that the food had been properly tithed and kept ritually pure.

         As to the Pharisees origin? That is debatable. Some scholars will point out that by the time of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC) the Pharisees “had a large, powerful, and dedicated following of people.” 4 Others will say that this couldn’t be so. They say the Pharisees origin started in the New Testament times. 5 Of course, with the writings of Josephus, we can certainly say that the Pharisees did originate prior to the first century A.D. Josephus clearly points out that during the time of Alexandra’s nine year reign, that the Pharisees assisted her in her government. 6 It is most certain that not only did the Pharisees originate prior to the first century A.D., but we have evidence that they first appear, by name, during the reign of Jonathan, (brother of Judah the Maccabbe, ca. 150 B.C.E.). 7 Many scholars have attempted to identify the Pharisees with, or to locate their origins in, the Hasidim who were allies of Judah in the Maccabean Revolt. Yet, according to Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, Lawrence Schiffman, this theory, cannot be substantiated. 8

         Rabbinic sources have also traced the Pharisees back to the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Some modern scholars have associated the Soferim ("scribes") with the "Men of the Great Assembly." 9 The Soferim would then be the forerunners of the Pharisaic movement. Unfortunately, the historical evidence doesn’t give us any definite conclusions. All that can be said is that the Pharisees could not have emerged suddenly in the Hasmonean period. Reason being, their theology would have been in formation sometime earlier. How much earlier? It’s hard to say. 10

        Most scholars believe that the Pharisees got their origin either during or after the destruction of Second Temple. 11 They believe that the Second Temple destruction marked the breakup of a monolithic Judaism, which brought about various new sects of Judaism. Clearly, the destruction of the Second Temple marked a major turning in the history of Judaism. Judaism not only saw the loss of the rebuilding of the Second Temple as a considerable consequence, but there was indeed devastation in the Jewish community. 12 But, Dr. William Varner, Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s College, would argue the point that this was the end of a monolithic Judaism. He tells us the Jewish community already had other sects already in existence prior to the destruction:

Although we cannot be sure of the exact number, there can be no doubt that at the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the Jewish community comprised numerous parties, sects and brotherhoods. Recent scholarship has questioned and effectively destroyed the concept of a monolithic “Judaism” that existed during the Second Temple (516 B.C. - 70 A.D.). Furthermore, Josephus’ famous listing of the standard divisions — Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the “Fourth Philosophy” (the Zealots) — is simply not adequate in conveying the mosaic of Second Temple Judaism. The new source material (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls) which has become available in recent years, as well as a reassessment of information from the known sources (e.g. the Pseudepigrapha) have indicated a number of “hidden streams” during the period prior to the fall of the Temple. 13

         In any case, the Pharisees appeared in Hasmonean times as part of the coalition with the Sadducees and other sects of society. They were a forceful group that ordered their way of life onto the Jewish people–how they should live and govern themselves. They were ready to criticize others for not keeping the laws, and they often looked down on “sinners” who showed no interest in God’s law (Mark 2:16; Luke 7:39; 15:2; 18:11).

         Under John Hyrcanus and Alexander Janneus, conditions gave them greater political power. As the Hasmoneans became increasingly Hellenized, the Pharisees expressed their opposition towards them. It would be under Hyrcanus, that the Hasmoneans would be swayed towards the Sadducees. And during the time of Janneus, the Pharisees were in open warfare with the king, who was consequently defeated by the Seleucid Demetrius III Eukairos (96-88 B.C.E.). 14 In 89 B.C.E. this led to a reconciliation between the king and the Pharisees. During the reign of Salome Alexandra the Pharisees had political clout and controlled the affairs of the nation (the Pharisees political clout may have been exaggerated by scholars and historians, just a tad 15 ).

Rabbinic Statements About The Pharisees

         In the rabbinic literature the Pharisees admitted (to themselves, at least) that some of their own regulations were like “mountains hanging by a hair” 16 of Scripture support, or even floating in the air with no support. But still they insisted on and fought for their observances being the official ones (rather than that of the Sadducees being official). This fits Josephus’ picture. The Pharisees depended on oral tradition, but the Sadducees sought to have support of Scripture for any regulations to be officially observed.

         The rabbinic literature show great antagonism between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees, who by NT times, controlled the actual practices in the temple, 17 would go out of their way to spite the Sadducees. They would intentionally violate a Sadducean understanding of the law when this was not necessary. On one occasion, they made the high priest ritually unclean, so that by Sadducean law he would not be able carry out a certain ceremony, but he could by Pharisaic law. 18 They were probably the instigators of the incident over a century earlier in which the crowd of a festival threw fruit at the high priest because he poured out a drink offering in the Sadducean manner. 19 The Pharisees even debated among themselves as to whether the Sadducees should be treated as Israelites, Samaritans or Gentiles. 20

         While it’s obvious the Pharisees sought out to humiliate the Sadducees, in general, the Pharisees are treated quite favorably in rabbinic literature. There is one passage, out of many, that does list the Pharisees in an unfavorable light. This passage lists seven kinds of Pharisees who were considered plagues upon their reputation. These descriptions are brief and obscure. Apparently one kind of Pharisee receives circumcision for ulterior motives, another exaggerates his humility, a third is so preoccupied with obeying a commandment that he collides with a wall, a fourth always has his head buried in prayer, a fifth is forever looking for new commandments that he can obey, and the sixth and seventh types are Pharisees from love of reward and fear of punishment rather than from a real desire to please God. 21 

The Pharisees Beliefs and Daily Life

         According to contemporary, Flavius Josephus, the Pharisees believed in the immortality of the soul, 22 the existence of angels, 23 divine providence, 24 freedom of will, and judgement in the future with rewards and punishment. 25

         According to the New Testament, they believed in being circumcised on the eighth day of life (Philippians 3:5); they were concerned about strictly interpreting and keeping the law on all matters (Acts 25:5), including the Sabbath (Mark 2:24), resurrection, divorce (Mark 10:2), oaths (Matthew 23:16-22), the wearing of phylacteries and fringes (Matthew 23:5). They showed special zeal in insisting that laws of tithing (the scribes had expanded the items required to be tithed 26 ), ritual purity (Matthew 23:23-26; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 11:37-42; 18:12) and fasting. Fasting was kept twice a week (perhaps a Monday and Thursday, Luke 18:12; cf. Didache, 8:1).

         Basically, the Pharisees were to daily live according to what they considered to be the law of God. That law was to be interpreted and applied by the scribes (Lev. 10:8-11; Deut. 33:8-10). The way in which the Pharisees spelled out the meaning of the Mosaic Law, the ways in which they adapted the Law to suit the needs of their day, the time-honored customs they endorsed—all this became a part of the “tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). While these traditions were not put into writing, they were passed on from one scribe to another and from the scribes to the people. From this tradition, they claimed, the Jewish people could know the way God’s law should be observed.

         Along with abiding by the Law, the Pharisees naturally had Messianic expectations–the anointed king of Israel, the son of David. This Messianic concept that the Pharisees had, is why they were such critics of the Hasmonean dynasty, who were calling themselves “kings of Israel.” 27 Generations later, this question of early kingship would split the Pharisees when under Roman occupation the Zealot Judas and the Pharisee Zadok denied that the Jews should acknowledge other rulers beside God Himself. 28 Certainly both the Pharisees and the Sadducees could agree on that point. But, unlike the Sadducees, who were mostly rich landowners and powerful priests, many Pharisees were ordinary people. And even though other Jews could not be bothered with observing all the details of the Law, they respected the Pharisees for making the effort. Sadly, their effort was a ‘stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32) and they had “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2).

         The Pharisaic scribes sought to sanctify all of the Jewish people’s actions, even down to the most mundane things. It was expected that such matters as personal hygiene and dress would come under the halakhah (“the way things are done” 29) . The Jewish people were expected to begin their day by washing their hands, a practice that was meant to purify them from any impurities they might have contracted during sleep. Clothing was to be modest, especially in the case of women. Certain clothing and haircuts were excluded because of their pagan associations. Again, men were expected to have the biblically mandated fringes (called tsitsit) on their garments, as reminders of the obligation to observe the commandments. The Jewish men were to pray 3 times daily (Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Number 15:37-41) and the benedictions surrounding that prayer time was to be recited both morning and evening.  

Known Pharisees in the New Testament

         Paul the apostle was a known Pharisee, prior to becoming a committed follower of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:5). The Law was fundamental for Paul, in the specific Pharisaic sense, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:14).

         Simon, the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Simon supposedly had not, as of yet, formed an opinion of Jesus. Yet, by about verse 39, it does seem that Simon is beginning to form a negative opinion when noticing how kindly Jesus was treating an unnamed woman, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is....she is a sinner.”

         It may seem that Simon had heard some things about Jesus and wanted to form his own opinion about Jesus himself. He may have concluded, “Yes, Jesus was indeed a fraud.”

         Jesus does not condemn Simon, He tries to teach Simon, “Do you see this woman?

         Jesus shows all that the woman had done for Him—and all that Simon did not do. While the spiritual life is not about “works,” it is about the matters of the heart. Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been for given for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47).

         We are not told how Simon, the Pharisee responded. Did he repent? Did he inwardly mock Jesus? Or, did he like so many others, walk away? One main theme seems to run through the book of Luke is that of exalting the lowly person and bringing low the proud person, such as the Pharisee, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Luke 1:52).

         The infamous prayerful Pharisee, ‘God I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12). This Pharisee, like all Pharisees are what Luke described as “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).

         Nicodemus">, “a ruler of the Jews,” (John 3:1), may have been a secret follower because he first sought Jesus by night (John 3:1; 7:50; 19:39).

         Jairus, a synagogue official, came up to Jesus, fell at His feet and asked Jesus to heel His daughter. Clearly, the official, was desperate and wanted to put His faith in Christ (Mark 5:22-24,35-43).

         Gamaliel (Acts 5:34) a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people. Gamaliel was a respected rabbi who followed the liberal interpretations of Hillel, another rabbi who lived shortly before the time of Christ. Gamaliel’s popularity demanded that the Sanhedrin listen to him. Paul was a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). 30

         Jesus. Some scholars suggest that Jesus was a Pharisee. They say that he grew up in the synagogue, which was during Christ’s time, a Pharisaic institution. Matthew also reminds us that Jesus went throughout Galilee “teaching in their synagogues.” So, “taken as a whole, this evidence suggests that Jesus accepted the halakhah of the Pharisees as normative.” 31     

Pharisees Who Defended Christ & the Apostles

         While Christ and the apostles never lacked enemies, (including the Pharisees), we do see in the book of Acts, that there were some Pharisees that, at times, came to the apostles and Christ’s defense. Gamaliel intervened on behalf of Peter and the other apostles when the Sadducees were ready to kill them after telling other that Jesus had resurrected (Acts 5:31-33)

         Gamaliel told the entire Sadducean Council, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men....lf this plan or action should be of men it will be overthrown; but if it is of God you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 35, 28-29). The Sadducees listened to the great rabbi, and released apostles.

         A group of Pharisees intervened on Paul’s behalf. Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin because of his hope for the resurrection of the dead. (Acts 23:6-10). The Sadducees were against this belief (Acts 23:8). Suddenly, a “great uproar” evolved, and the Pharisees stood up and “argued heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:9).

         A Pharisaic scribe publically affirmed Christ. When some Sadducees were arguing with Jesus over the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27), a Pharisaic scribe came along and heard the “arguing” that occurring (Mark 12:28). So he asked Jesus the question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” (Mark 12:28). When Christ answered, the Pharisee was very impressed. Unlike the other Pharisees who challenged Jesus, this Pharisee, treated Jesus with respect. Jesus told Him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

What Jesus Said of the Pharisees

         Often in Christ’s public ministry, He was challenged by the Pharisees (and Sadducees). They questioned Him why He healed and forgave a paralytic (Mark 2:6); ate with “tax-gathers and sinners” (Matthew 9:11); questioned whether he was possessed by Beelzebub (Mark 3:22). They tested Him often, such as asking Him for a sign from Heaven (Matthew 16:1). They counseled together on how they could trap Him in what He said (Matthew 22:15) and destroy Him (Matthew 12:14). To Him, they accused His disciples of breaking the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2) and of violating the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:1-2; Mark 7:5).

         How does Christ respond? By confronting His attackers. For instance, in regards to the “tradition of the elders” Christ outranks their authorities (the elders) by citing “Moses,” (Mark 7:10). He also shows them that their emphasis has been on “tradition” rather than on the “Word of God” (Mark 7:13). Therefore, they have invalidated the Word of God (Mark 7:13).

         Christ also confronted the issue of the Pharisees authority. He told them, “all that they tell you do and observe” (Matthew 23:3). Some suggest that this command of Christ’s was simply “an exaggeration.” 32 But, is it really? Did the Pharisees have any authority over those who were now followers of Jesus Christ? In order to know if Jesus really meant that the disciples and others should do whatever the Pharisees say, we need to understand the “chair of Moses,” which the “scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves” (Matthew 23:2), and other realms of "authority."

Theories Regarding Authority & The Chair of Moses

         Some believe that it’s “impossible to determine what ‘the chair of Moses” means with any degree of certainty.” 33 Perhaps this may be true. But, I think we can get a pretty good idea. First let's start with the seat itself. Having personally been in Israel and seen with my own eyes not only the unearthed synagogues at Chorazin, and En Gedi, but the actual "chair of Moses" that Jesus refers to--there is no question what Jesus is talking about. They are actual seats upon which the Pharisees (and most likely Christ) sat on. These unearth seats, still in amazing condition, are made of white limestone. Those who sat on the seats (primarily the scribes) assumed themselves as the person of authority--teaching and reading the Torah and communicating the Law to the people.

         One theory is that when Jesus says that the scribes and Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses, He might not be referring to their role as teachers at all, but to their social position as people who control accessibility to the Torah. They are the ones who possess copies of the Torah and are able to read them. They are the ones who know and are able to tell others what Moses said. 34 Simple enough. Now, here's where the confusion begins. One writer wrote, “simply conceding their position of authority does not explain why Jesus then instructs his disciples to obey those whose authority he rejects. His command to do what the Pharisees teach invokes Deuteronomy 17:11, the very text upon which the authority of the Sanhedrin, the Sages, and later rabbis is based." 35

         Added to the above, several scholars take Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:2-3 to be ironic. Irony implies that a statement is fundamentally false or the opposite of what is true. Therefore, when Jesus says that the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses and he instructs his disciples to do what they say, he in fact means precisely the opposite. So, the question we can ask is, did Jesus affirm the Pharisees authority, or did he repudiate it? Jewish believer, Michael J. Cook believes that Jesus affirmed the Pharisees authority. In an article he wrote for the Hebrew Union College he writes, "the Gospel according to Matthew manifests a persistent anti-Jewish animus. Yet four passages (Matthew 10:5-6 and 15:24; 5:17ff.; 23:2) appear to reflect a pro-Jewish slant; accordingly, they are frequently enlisted in apologetic efforts which aim at establishing Jesus' loyalty to both the Jewish people and the Law, as well as his affirmation of the authority of the scribes and Pharisees." 36

         After reading Cook's lengthy article, I do not believe that Cook understood, clearly, what Christ was trying to communicate to the apostles (although I'm glad he believes that Christ was not "anti-Jewish").

         Personally, I believe Jesus was repudiating the Pharisees authority. They failed to know who Christ really was (Matthew 23:42). Thus, in His next breath, Christ says of the Pharisees, “all that they tell you, do and observe.” We cannot imagine Jesus is telling His followers to learn of the Pharisees, doctrinally. He warned his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:5). They are “blind guides of the blind” (Matthew 15:14). The famous theologian, John Lightfoot also took the “non-doctrinal” position. He said over 100 years ago that Jesus’ command refers to civil as opposed to doctrinal authority; “Christ here asserts the authority of the magistrate.” 37

         Christ tells the Pharisees “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). Along with Jesus showing that the Pharisees authority is illegitimate, He publically pronounces “Woes” upon them (see His entire sermon against them in Matthew 23:1-36): “Woe you Pharisees....you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men (23:13); you devour widow’s house (23:14); you have made a proselyte twice as much a son of hell as yourself (23:15); you tithe, yet you neglect the more important thing: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you’re full of robbery and self-indulgence “(23:25).

         While keeping God’s law was commendable, Jesus was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they could not discern “the more important matters of the law” 38 and who burden others with responsibilities they themselves do not want to carry. They also tend to put the emphasis on the wrong things. Minor details become a major preoccupation, and they simply forget the more important things, such as “justice and mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

         The Pharisees would “exemplify the temptations of religious leadership in every time and place–those who prefer outward show and the attention of others to true godliness and who set up elaborate casuistries to justify their self-centered attitudes and behavior.” 39 One author wrote the following, in regard to the Pharisees use of the Law:

The evidence from Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the rabbinic literature (and the NT itself) demonstrate the Pharisees cannot be drawn as one-dimensional characters. The picture that emerges of the Pharisees is one in which they sought to make the Law relevant and frequently succeeded. Unfortunately, however, that accomplishment was marred when they distorted the Law’s intent or when they used the Law to place burdens on the backs of others which they themselves were unwilling to bear. 40


         It’s for the above reasons that Jesus warned His disciples about the Pharisees “hypocrisy” (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). Some, such as Rabbi Jacob Neusner and Rudolf Meyer would disagree with Jesus. They believe that Pharisaism can not be characterized as “hypocritical.” 41 Yet, what Neusner and Meyer aren’t looking at is that Jesus was clearly pointing to the heart and the Pharisees wrongful motives. They wanted human praise; they wanted to be seen of men (Matthew 6:2, 5, 6, 16; 23:5-7). They had evil desires (Matthew 9:4) that were hidden by their pious show (Matthew 23:25-28). Their hearts simply didn’t match their outward appearance. Jesus gave the Pharisees a recommendation: “First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also (Matthew 23:26). Obviously, it would be hard for the Pharisees to do, for as Jesus told them, “you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful but the inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

         Since Christ’s suggestion that the Pharisees clean the inside of the cup, what has become of them? Many people believe the Pharisees died off as a group. Actually, there are Christians who will call lukewarm Christians “modern-day Pharisees” who are acting as “hypocrites.” While I guess these make good sermon illustrations, I cringe when I hear them. Perhaps it's because I expect that "it's coming," perhaps it's because these illustrations have gotten overused, and abused.

         I appreciate the scholars we have today who correctly state that Pharisaism is still alive and well. These historians have shown that Pharisaism has has become Rabbinic Judaism. 42 Jewish scholars Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner state that, Pharisaism continues with its “capacity to discern the paradigms of human existence, a systematic religious theory, based the Torah, to describe and explain the actualities of the whole human condition–those like Adam via Noah, those like Abraham via Isaac and Jacob, that is, the nations and Israel, idolaters and those who know God.” 43

         Scholar Lawrence H. Schiffman said that Pharisaism would indeed continue on and be the Rabbinic Judaism and “basis for all subsequent Jewish life and civilization.” 44 Indeed , “it was the Pharisaic approach’ which would “shape the later development of Rabbinic Judaism well as it medieval and modern reflections.” 45

         Rabbi Louis Finkelstein tells us that the ancient Pharisees have survived unaltered: “Pharisaism became Talmudism, Talmudism became Medieval Rabbinism, and Medieval Rabbinism became Modern Rabbinism. But throughout these changes of name ... the spirit of the ancient Pharisee survives unaltered.” 46

         Taking one step further, Pharisaim moved on from Rabbinic Judaism to Orthodox Judaism, as Dr. Varner confirms: “without apology, modern scholars affirm that Talmudic Judaism and modern Orthodox Judaism are essentially Pharisaism.” 46

Rabbinic Judaism—Orthodox Judaism

         As best as history can tell us, the Sadducees and Zealots, along with other sects disappeared forever after the Jewish revolt ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 A.D. The only true sect that remained were the Pharisees. 47 There are a few interesting opinions as to why the Pharisees are the only sect remaining. One reason is cited by Shaye Cohen: "According to the usual view, sectarianism ceased when the Pharisees, gathered at Yavneh, ejected all those who were not members of their own party. Functioning in a "crisis" atmosphere, the rabbis of yavneh were motivated by an exclusivitic ethnic; their goal was to define orthodoxy and to rid Judaism of all those who would not conform to it. In this interpretation the 'synod' of Yavneh becomes a prefiguration of the church council of Nicea (325 c.e.); one party triumphs and ousts its competitors. In addition, we are told, the Sadducees, Essences, and presumably, all other sects, conveniently rolled over and died, thereby facilitating Pharisaic victory. The Sadducees, bereft of the temple, were bereft of their livelihood and powerbase. The Essenes perished in the great war against the Sons of darkness." 48

         Another thought as to why the Essense and Sadducees were completely eliminated may have to do with the fact that there had never really been any proselytizing. While there is evidence that there were periods of some proselytism in Judaism, 49 it remains very little. This is due to the fact that the Mishana (ca. 200 C.E) "contains no direct dedicated discussion of proselytism or conversion, suggesting that the topic was not of central concern." 50 Of course, ask any Jew and they'll tell you, "Judaism is not a proselytizing religion; we do not try to convert people to Judaism nor even the Ten Commandments. According to Judaism, only seven commandments are required for Gentiles. We have no religious need to teach the Ten Commandments to the world. 51 And, even within Judaism, each group now, should be concerned more for for one another---that none of them split. One Orthodox Jew put it this way, "When I was younger, I stormed against Conservative and Reform, but I no longer do so. We nowadays have so many external problems that we must try to keep every Jew within the fold. We should not rejoice when other movements such as the Conservatives have survival problems. Such an attitude will only result in a greater attrition of Judaism. It will not help us at all." 52

          Whatever the case, after the revolt, the Pharisees remained, and today, we have from that group, Orthodox Judaism. The Orthodox, still hold on (and actually make exclusive claims) to their Pharisaic sages--Hillel and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. These men were in the first century who were against the priestly Sadducees, who refused to accept any sacred law not recorded in Scripture.

         Basic to Rabbinic Judaism/Orthodox Judaism is the belief that the world was created by one God who had existed from eternity and will exist forever. This God is omnipotent and omniscient. He created the world and is in control of all of its affairs. He desires only that His creatures observe His Torah (the instruction that god revealed to Moses at Sinai/written law and oral law). The Toral is the only way people can enter into the world to come. Non-Jews can enter this world by observing a few of the commandments. Conversion to Judaism, is open to non-Jews who wish to identify themselves with the Jewish people and adopt their way of life.

          The halakhah seeks to identify the Jewish person’s entire life—his relations with both God and his fellow man. It’s through the halakhah that he will achieve perfection in both ritual matters, ethical and moral concerns. 53 One Jewish man by the name of Israel Shahak, former chemistry professor at Hebrew University, wrote several controversial books, one of which is called, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years. In this book, he believes he exposes many of Orthodox Judaism's views of halakhah of which he calls, "Laws Against Non-Jews" (can be found in Chapter 5).54

         He feels there are many offenses that the Pharisees had against non-Jews long ago, and they still exist today, not only in Orthodox Judaism (since they follow the halakhah) but also in the Israeli army; in the Israeli court system, in the Israeli government. Some laws are outright unjust such as not selling land to Gentiles, not protecting the lives of Gentiles in the same way as the Israeli lives are protected. One major offense Shahak mentioned was an attitude of scorn and hatred towards Gentiles. Shahak said it's seen in some of the common prayers. In one of the first sections of the daily morning prayer, every devout Orthodox Jew blesses God for not making him a Gentile. (This is followed by a blessing 'for not making me a slave'. Next, a male must add a blessing 'for not making me a woman', and a female 'for making me as He pleased'.)

         The concluding section of the daily prayer (which is also used in the most solemn part of the service on New Years' day and on Yom Kippur) opens with the statement: "We must praise the Lord of all ... for not making us like the nations of [all] lands ... for they bow down to vanity and nothingness and pray to a god that does not help.' 55

          The last clause was censored out of the prayer books, but in eastern Europe it was supplied orally, and has now been restored into many Israeli-printed prayer books. In the most important section of the weekday prayer - the 'eighteen blessings' - there is a special curse, originally directed against Christians, Jewish converts to Christianity and other Jewish heretics: 'And may the apostates' 56 have no hope, and all the Christians perish instantly'.

         Professor Shahak tells us that this formula dates from the end of the 1st century, when Christianity was still a small persecuted sect. Some time before the 14th century it was softened into: 'And may the apostates have no hope. and all the heretics 57 perish instantly', and after additional pressure into: 'And may the informers have no hope, and all the heretics perish instantly'. After the establishment of Israel. The process was reversed, and many newly printed prayer books reverted to the second formula, which was also prescribed by many teachers in religious Israeli schools. After 1967, several congregations close to Gush Emunim have restored the first version (so far only verbally, not in print) and now pray daily that the Christians may perish instantly'. 58

         Along with the halahkah, there is the belief system of Orthodox Judaism.

Orthodox Judaism's Belief System.

         The Orthodox believe that the study and the teaching of the law, and the passing down to the next generation is the most valuable thing they could do. It fulfills the Divine will. they become a link of an unbroken chain connecting themselves to the revelation at Sinai.

         Reward and punishment (both in this life and the next) is based upon the observance or nonobservance of the commandments (mitzvot). Although the wicked appear to propsper in this life, their success is only illusory. In the next life they will receive their just. 59

• Belief that the Torah (The Five Books of Moses , "instruction, teaching" 60) and it’s Laws are divine.


 • Belief that the Nevi'm (the books of the Prophets) are considered Divine and true.


• Belief that the Tanakh (The Old Testament) and the Talmud (The Oral Law) are the main holy books. The Oral Law is contained in the Mishnah, Tosefta, classical midrashim, and the two Talmuds.

• Belief that God made an unbreakable covenant with the Children of Israel, governed by the Torah.

• Belief that there is also an oral Law, embodied mainly in the Talmud and the Aggadah, (written lawof the Torah).

• Belief in a Jewish eschatology including a Jewish Messiah, a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, and a resurrection of the dead.

• Acceptance of codes, such as the Shulchan Aruch, (written and oral laws).

• Acceptance of Rabbis as authoritative interpreters and judges of Jewish law.

• Belief that every human being is bound by a universal Noachide Code, as defined by Torah law. "The earliest known text of the Noahide laws composed by the third century C.E. reads, 'The children of Noah were commanded concerning seven commandments; about adjudication; about idolatry; and about blasphemy; and about sexual immorality; and about murder; and about robbery; [and about eating a limb from a living animal]. 61

• Belief that each Jew must adhere to the Halakha (code/s of Jewish law).


• Belief in the thirteen Jewish principles of faith as stated by the Rambam (Maimonides). Below are those thirteen principles:

  1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, be He Blessed, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.

  2. The belief in G-d's absolute and unparalleled unity.

  3. The belief in G-d's noncorporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.

  4. The belief in G-d's eternity.


 5. The imperative to worship Him exclusively and no foreign false gods. 

6. The belief that G-d communicates with man through prophecy.

7. The belief that the prophecy of Moses our teacher has priority.

8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.

 9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah.

10. The belief in divine omniscience and providence.

11. The belief in divine reward and retribution.

12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.

13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead.


         As we can see, Orthodox Judaism, just as Pharisaism, is identical. It is based upon strict monothism, belief that God is One. The Hebrew Bible, and classical Rabbinic literature affirm theism and reject deism. Orthodox Jews believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient. The issue of "theodicy" (God being "all good") is a struggle for Jews, especally after the extreme horrors of the Holocaust. So, for obvious reasons, there may be some differences among Orthodox Jews and how the past Pharsees viewed God on this issue. In regard to God being personal, verses God as non-personal , Orthodox Jews do see God as caring for humanity. Orthodox Jews do not believe that mankind should pray to anyone other than God alone--there is no intermediary between God or man. They could never consider praying to Jesus Christ. Their theological play field is that "if Jesus is not literally "god" then worshipping Jesus (a man) is idolatry for a Jew (but not a Gentile). The penalty for such idolatry is 'koras," which means separation from God in the World to Come." 63

         The Orthodox Jews, believe that the prophecy of Moses is true; that he held to be the chief of all prophets, even those who came before and after him. Jesus knew the Pharisees held Moses in such high esteem. Once, when He wanted to get their attention, He replied, "For Moses said..." (Mark 7:10).

          They believe the soul is pure at birth; there is no such thing as original sin, humans are born morally pure--they will in life have a tendency to do good, or evil. In the end, God will reward those who observe His commandments and punish those who intentionally go against them. Before moving on, let's take a look at one more belief. Their view of forgiveness.

The Orthodox View of Forgiveness

         When Jesus was hanging on the cross He was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). As Christians, we look at Christ's words with awe, thinking it remarkable that He forgave His enemies, and believe that we too should forgive our enemies (no matter how difficult). Christ also commanded, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 23:33).

         The book of Leviticus told the Jews that "you shall not "hate your fellow countryman in your heart...not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:17-18).

         Any Jewish person can say to the Christian, "It's easy for you to talk about forgiveness, your people did not experience Hitler."

         I would beg to differ with them, in part. There were many Christians who risked their lives (and died) to rescue Jews from the Nazi's. So, in a small way, they have tasted the likes of Hitler. Regardless, we can all understand what the Jewish people are saying. For instance, currently, Jewish people who live in Israel have neighbors who hate them. Brigitte Gabriel, in a speech at Duke University said, "I was raised in Lebanon, where I was taught that the Jews were evil, Israel was the devil, and the only time we will have peace in the Middle East is when we kill all the Jews and drive them into the sea." 64 And, for thousands of years, there have been brutal dictators wanting to see Jews extinct---such as Hitler and the Nazi's--which takes us back to our story.

         There was an Orthodox Jew, by the name of Simon Wiesenthal, who tells the story of a Nazi prisoner who, at his death bed in a hospital , was searching out Jews...any Jew to confess to. He wanted forgiveness. He knew he had little time left and wanted to die in peace. He was filled with guilt, because of being responsible for the torture of hundreds of Jews. Wiesenthal was one of the Jews he grabbed to tell his story. Wiesenthal listened to the dying Nazi, while shooing away a fly from his dying body. In the end, Wiesenthal wouldn't grant forgivness to the Nazi. He now questions whether that was the right thing to do or not. His Jewish friends tell him that he was correct in not granting him forgiveness. A Jewish woman, who heard Wiesenthal's story wrote the following poem,


Let the SS man die unshriven

Let him go to hell

Sooner the fly to God than he. 65


         Jewish author, Meir Soloveichik who wrote in his article, "The Virtue of Hate" said that "Judaism believes that while forgiveness is often a virtue, hate can be virtuous when one is dealing with the frightfully wicked. Rather than forgive we can wish ill, rather than hope for repentance, we can instead hope that our enemies experience the wrath of God." 66

         Soloveichik may be speaking for the majority of Jews, but there were Jews who did think differently. Rabbi Dr. David Weinstein of the Holocaust Memorial Council received former Nazi, Hilmar von Campe, twice. Von Campe said,

"I apologized to him for the suffering Germany had inflicted on the Jewish people. I told Rabbi Weinstein that the crimes of the Nazis were only possible because of the moral cowardice of so many of us non-Nazis. We...so-called good people, had a relative morality and only small personal goals. The opportunists outnumbered by far the men of the resistance who paid with their lives for opposing Hitler and his gang. Remembering the Holocaust the focus should be on the bystanders and the appeasers of evil who were silent when faced at the beginning of the process with discrimination and injustice committed against others. It was not God who let the Holocaust happen. It was us who rejected His Commandments. David Weinstein made me his friend." 67

         I'm sure to Soloveichik, Weinstein is a rare man. And, perhaps Soloveichik would make Weinstein a friend as well. But, he asks this question of the more hardened soul, "Is an utterly evil man--Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden--deserving of a theists love? 68 He rationalizes with this thought, "when we are facing those who seek nothing but our destruction, our hate reminds us who we are dealing with. When hate is appropriate, then it is not only virtuous, but essential for Jewish

well-being." 69

         It's with this Orthodox mindset that allows a Jew to believe he has the right not to forgive because of the horrors of such atrocities as the Holocaust. Scriptural examples the Orthodox most assuredly give are Samson, for example. The Philistines had seized him and gouged out his eyes. Samson asks the Lord that he may be avenged of the Philistines for his two eyes (rather than forgive). He ends up killing more Philistines at his death than he did in life (Judges 16:21-30). Other examples (although there are more), are Deborah asking the Lord for His enemies to perish (Judges 5:31); and Esther's plea that Haman be hanged (Esther 7:1-10).

         Soloveichik admits of the Jews, "Another danger inherent in our hate is that we may misdirect our odium at institutions in the present because of their past misdeeds. For instance, some of my coreligionists reservespecial abhorrence for anything German, even though Germany is currently one of the most pro-Israel countries in Europe. Similarily, after centuries of suffering, many Jews have, in my own experience, continuad to despise religious Christians, even thought it is secularists and Islamists who threaten them today, and Christians should really be seen as their natural allies. Many Jewish intellectuals and others of influence still take every assertion of the truth of Christianity as an anti-Semitic attack." 70

         The bottom line is, according to Soloveichik, "hate" goes back to the Talmud. He adds, "'hate is not always synonymous with the terribly sinful. While Moses commanded us not to hate our brother in our hearts, a man's immoral actions can serve to sever the bonds of brotherhood between himself and humanity. For example, if an Orthodox Jew (or really, any Jew) becomes a follower of Christ, and declares his committment to love and serve Christ, he becomes a trader to the Jewish people, and thus, "a hater of Jews." In the Jewish mindset the love of Christ cannot--absolutely cannot--be separated from hatred of Jews. 71 The Hebrew word, rasha, is a term for hopelessly wicked--the Talmud clearly states: mitzvah lisnoso--one is obligated to hate him." 72 This is why so many Orthodox Jews (and many other Jewish families) have funerals for their family members that become Christians.

         All that the Orthodox believe in regards to "hate;" and "forgiveness," Jesus addresses them, just as He did to the Pharisees. He says, "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like, it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:39-40).

         The Pharisees understood the "Love the Lord your God" commandment all too well. They wore such a command on their phylacteries (although, they didn't wear it in their hearts). The second command was a bit more of a stretch, especially when seasoned with loving one's enemy. Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44).

         While true love produces love, Jesus understood that the Pharisees were only too happy to take parts of the Law that they thought provided retaliation on one's enemy (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), while ignoring verses that showed kindness towards one's enemy (Exodus 23:4; Job 31:29). As we can see, it's still hard for the modern day Pharisees today. Why? I believe, in part, it's because of their view of Jesus. The Talmud (what the Orthodox believe to be the oral word of God) says some horrible things about Christ. To love one's enemy (in this case, Christ) would be just too repulsive for them to do.

Orthodox Judaism's View of Jesus 

         As we have seen earlier in this paper, the Pharisees challenged Christ regarding the Sabbath, and the Law, and were quite upset when He indeed challenged their authority. Today, it is no different. Take a look on the Orthodox Jewish Hasidic Lubavitc website (http://www.noahide.com/yeshu.htm 73 ). You will see an article titled, "Who Was Jesus? " Please read it. You will see that the Orthodox Jew believes that Jesus is a dangerous false prophet; that God commands Jews to kill this false prophet; that the false prophet would challenge the authority of the Sanhedrin--"revealing himself to be an evil man." This false prophet is described as a king. "This man known today as "Jesus" fulfilled these prophecies....He disregarded the infinite G-d in favor of a new "trinity" that included himself." 74

         The Orthodox also believe that Jesus repudiated the laws of kosher food; He repudiated the laws of honoring one's parents; He violated the Sabbath; and He brazenly defied and disobeyed the rabbis of the Sanhedrin. 75

         The Talmud (Babylonian edition) records other sins of Jesus the Nazarene:

1.      He and his disciples practiced sorcery and black magic, led Jews astray into idolatry, and were sponsored by foreign, gentile powers for the purpose of subverting Jewish worship (Sanhedrin 43a).

2.      He was sexually immoral, worshipped statues of stone (a brick is mentioned), was cut off from the Jewish people for his wickedness, and refused to repent (Sanhedrin 107b; Sotah 47a).

3.      He learned witchcraft in Egypt and, to perform miracles, used procedures that involved cutting his flesh—which is also explicitly banned in the Bible (Shabbos 104b).

         The Orthodox believe that "the false, rebellious message of Jesus has been thoroughly rejected by the vast majority of the Jewish people, as G-d commanded. Unfortunately, however, this same message has brought a terrible darkness upon the world; today, over 1.5 billion gentiles believe in Jesus. These lost souls mistakenly think they have found salvation in Jesus; tragically, they are in for a rude awakening. Truth and eternal life are found directly from G-d, through performing His Law. Any "mediator" only separates man from G-d....". 76

         The Orthodox simply believe that Jesus had an "evil agenda." 77 With the hope of staying objective, I'm sure it's accurate to say that not all Jews will be as "hard-core" on the facts about Christ from the Talmud. The Karaites, for instance, are a Jewish sect that "does not recognize the authority of the post-Biblical tradition incorporated in the Talmud and in the latter Rabbinic works."' 78

         Other Jewish sects believe that there might not be a connection between the Jesus Christ of the New Testament and the Yeshua of the Talmud. Their thinking is that the Talmud story just might be portraying a different person. 79 Yet, when it comes to the Orthodox Jew, they do indeed believe that the Yeshua of the Talmud is the Jesus of the New Testament. In this Talmud, Jesus' mother was Miriam who was betrothed to a carpenter. This is fact. So too, is the following: that Miriam was either raped by or voluntarily slept with a Greek or Roman soldier named Pandeira. 80

         Just as mentioned above, the Talmud describes Yeshua as a heretic who dabbled in sorcery and led the people astray. Later, the Sanhedrin (the Jewish "Supreme Court") ordered Yeshua stoned to death and his dead body was hung from a tree until nightfall after his death, in accordance with the ancient Jewish punishment for heretics.

         Sadly, the Talmud keeps the Orthodox Jews so far away from seeking the truth of Jesus Christ. Just as in the days of the Pharisees, the Orthodox still see Christ as threatening. And, along with seeing Jesus as threatening (as written in their Talmud), there are three major teachings of Christ that Orthodox Judaism currently opposes--(which you can find on various Orthodox websites 81):

         1. The Orthodox oppose the fact that Jesus forgives all sins: "The Son of man has the authority on earth to forgive sins" (Matthew 9:6). Judaism doesn't believe that Jesus is God. Judaism believes that only God Himself can forgive sins committed against Him.

         2. The Orthodox oppose Jesus' attitude toward evil people: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-40). And, "Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors" (Matthew 5:44).

         The Orthodox Jew believe that the Torah (the Jewish Bible) communicates the opposite. They believe it commands that one offer the wicked man powerful resistance: "you shall purge the evil from your midst" (Deuteronomy 17:7). The Orthodox Jew will tell you that the only reason why America survived the Second World War was became almost all American Christians rejected Jesus' advice to "resist not evil." 82

         3. The Orthodox oppose the fact that Jesus is the Way--No One Comes to the Father except Through Him. The Orthodox Jew denies Jesus' statement that "all things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matthew 11:24). They instead believe, instead, that anyone can come to God because the Psalmist says "God is near to all who call unto Him" (Psalm 145:18).

         Yet, the question the Jews must ask is, which God are the people calling upon? They can't all be calling upon the God of Heaven. So, could it be, Allah? Is it, Buddah? Is it the Jehovah's Witness god, or perhaps one of the Mormon gods? Jesus says that we can only go through Him---only He reveals the true God to us (Matthew 11:27). He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6).

         As mentioned earlier, Jesus was constantly questioned by the Pharisees. All questions stopped after Jesus posed them with this one question: “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” (Matthew 22:45-46; cf. Psalm 110:1). Jesus was clearly showing them that He wasn't just the Son of David, but too, He was the Lord of David (Ps. 110:1). 83

         The influence of the Orthodox (especially the rabbis) is no different today than it was in the days of the Pharisees. Just as the Pharisees didn't recognize Christ as the Messiah, so too, the Orthodox do not. The Pharisees did not realize that it was prophesied in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that their Messiah would be crucified for the sins of the people (Isaiah 53). Today, the Orthodox do not realize it either--at least they deny it vehemently (many rabbis will not even recognize Isaiah 53. They also deny the Suffering Servant). As well, the Pharisees did not realize that their own scriptures prophesied when the Messiah would come (Daniel 9:24-26); where He would be born (Micah 5:2); even exactly when his death would occur (before the destruction of the Second Temple). Today, it's no different, the Orthodox Jews still do not have any understanding of the prophesies. It's clear, the rabbis still shut off the kingdom of heaven from men (Matthew 23:13), and as a result their '"followers" deny the prophesies of Christ given to them in their Scriptures. Because of these denials, they will one day be weeping and mourning something horribly (Zechariah 12:10). As a whole, they will come to the reality that they've been denying, for over 2,000 years, who Jesus Christ is--- the Messiah!

...God highly exalted Him,

and bestowed on Him

the name which is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

of those who are in heaven,

and on earth, and under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father

(Philippians 2:10-11).


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