See L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (3d ed., 2 vol., 1963); A. Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (1964); L. Baeck, Pharisees (1947, repr. 1966); J. Neusner, From Politics to Piety (1973) and The Pharisees (1985).
The Pharisees were one of at least four major schools of thought within the Jewish religion around the first century and were most prominently in opposition to the Sadducee sect. They were also one of several successor groups of the Hasidim (the "pious"), an anti-Hellenistic Jewish movement that formed in the time of the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes (175–163 BC). (This group is distinct from the Hasidism established in 18th century Europe.) The social standing and beliefs of the Pharisees changed over time, such that the role, significance, and meaning of the Pharisees evolved as political and social conditions in Judea changed. The sages of the Talmud see a direct link between themselves and the Pharisees, and historians generally consider Pharisaic Judaism to be the progenitor of Rabbinic Judaism, that is normative, mainstream Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple.
The first mention of the Pharisees is by the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus, in a description of the "four schools of thought" (that is, sects, social groups, or movements) into which the Jews were divided in the 1st century CE. The other schools were the Essenes, the revolutionaries, and the Sadducees. The Essenes were generally apolitical. The revolutionary groups, such as the Sicarii and the Zealots, emerged specifically to resist the Roman Empire. Other sects emerged at this time, such as the Christians in Judea and the Therapeutae in Egypt. The Pharisees and their opponents the Sadducees were two of the earliest sects to emerge in the Second Temple period, as political factions during the Hellenist Hasmonean rule. At no time did any of these sects constitute a majority; most Jews were non-sectarian. However, Josephus indicates that the Pharisees received the backing and good-will of the common people, apparently in contrast to the more elite Sadducees associated with the ruling classes. Nevertheless, these sects are emblematic of the different responses of Jews to the political, economic, and cultural forces that characterized the Second Temple era.
For most of their history, Pharisees considered themselves in opposition to the Sadducees. Conflicts between the Sadducees and the Pharisees took place in the context of much broader conflicts among Jews in the Second Temple era, which followed the Babylonian captivity of Judah. One conflict was class, between the wealthy and the poor. Another conflict was cultural, between those who favored hellenization and those who resisted it. A third was juridico-religious, between those who emphasized the importance of the Temple, and those who emphasized the importance of other Mosaic laws and prophetic values. A fourth, specifically religious, involved different interpretations of the Bible (or Tanakh), and how to apply the Torah to Jewish life, with the Sadducees recognizing only the written letter of the Tanakh or Torah and rejecting life after death, while the Pharisees held to Rabbinic interpretations additional to the written texts.
These conflicts, practically speaking, define the Second Temple Era, a time when the Temple had tremendous authority but questionable legitimacy, and a time when the sacred literature of the Torah, and Bible or Tanakh were being canonized. Fundamentally, Sadducees and Pharisees took clearly opposing positions concerning the third and fourth conflicts, but at different times were influenced by the other conflicts. In general, whereas the Sadducees were conservative, aristocratic monarchists, the Pharisees were eclectic, popular and more democratic. (Roth 1970: 84) The Pharisaic position is exemplified by the assertion that "A learned mamzer takes precedence over an ignorant High Priest." (A mamzer, according to the Pharasaic definition, is an outcast child born of a forbidden relationship, such as adultery or incest, in which marriage of the parents could not lawfully occur. The word is often, but incorrectly, translated as "illegitimate" or "bastard.")
Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic tenet of an oral Torah, and created new interpretations based on a literal understanding of verses. In their personal lives this often meant an excessively stringent lifestyle from a Jewish perspective, as they did away with the oral tradition, and in turn the Pharisaic Jewish understanding of the Torah. An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of, "an eye for an eye". The Pharisaic understanding was that the value of an eye was to be sought by the perpetrator rather than actually removing his eye too. In the Sadducees' view the law was to be taken literally. From the point of view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees wished to change the Jewish understanding of the Torah.
One of the earliest of these competing sects, the Pharisees, had its origins in a relatively new group of authorities — scribes and sages. The end of the Babylonian Exile saw not only the construction of the Second Temple, but canonical selection of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, by the Sanhedrin. Critical biblical scholarship puts forth the claim that the Torah was also redacted during this period according to the documentary hypotheses.
Although the priests controlled the monarchy and the Temple, scribes and sages (who would later come to be addressed as rabbi, "my master") monopolized the study of the Torah, which was read publicly on market-days, a practice which was institutionalized after the return from the Babylonian exile as a replacement for the Biblical requirement of reading by the Monarch. These sages identified with the prophets (political and religious reformers active in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel), and developed and maintained an oral tradition, which they maintained originated at Mount Sinai alongside the Holy Writ. The rift between the priests and the sages developed during the Hellenistic period, when the Jews faced new political and cultural struggles.
The Near East had long been cosmopolitan, and was especially so during the Hellenistic period. Several languages were used, and the matter of the lingua franca is still subject of some debate. The Jews almost certainly spoke Aramaic among themselves. Greek was at least to some extent a trade language in the region, and indeed throughout the entire eastern portion of the Mediterranean. Thus, historian Shaye Cohen has observed that
There are significant distinctions in the manner in which Hellenism influenced factions within the Jewish world of that time. Some assimilated Greek language, dress and sciences. Others wholeheartedly incorporated Greek philosophy and culture, to the point where they assimilated their understanding of Judaism into a Hellenic idiom.
Judah liberated Jerusalem in 165 BCE and restored the Temple. Fighting continued, and Judah and his brother Jonathan were killed. In 141 BCE an assembly of priests and others affirmed Simon as high priest and leader, in effect establishing the Hasmonean dynasty. When Simon was killed in 135 BCE, his son John Hyrcanus took his place as high priest and king.
The Essenes may have emerged as a sect of dissident priests. They are believed to have rejected either the Seleucid appointed high priests, or the Hasmonean high priests, as illegitimate. Ultimately, they rejected the Second Temple, arguing that the Essene community was itself the new Temple, and that obedience to the law represented a new form of sacrifice.
The Pharisee ("separatist") party emerged largely out of the group of scribes and sages who harked back to Ezra and the Great Assembly. The meaning of the name is unclear; it may refer to their rejection of Hellenic culture or to their objection to the Hasmonean monopoly on power. It is difficult to state at what time the Pharisees, as a party, arose. Josephus first mentions them in connection with Jonathan, the successor of Judas Maccabeus ("Ant." xiii. 5, § 9). One of the factors that distinguished the Pharisees from other groups prior to the destruction of the Temple was their belief that all Jews had to observe the purity laws (which applied to the Temple service) outside the Temple. The major difference, however, was the continued adherence of the Pharisees to the laws and traditions of the Jewish people in the face of assimilation. As Josephus noted, the Pharisees were considered the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law.
During the Hasmonean period, the Sadducees and Pharisees functioned primarily as political parties. Although the Pharisees did not support the wars of expansion of the Hasmoneans and the forced conversions of the Idumeans, the political rift between them became wider when a Pharisee suggested that the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus choose between being king and being High Priest. In response, Alexander Jannai openly sided with the Sadducees by adopting their rites in the Temple. His actions caused a riot in the Temple and led to a brief civil war that ended with a bloody repression of the Pharisees, although at his deathbed the king called for a reconciliation between the two parties. Alexander was succeeded by his widow, Salome Alexandra, whose brother was Shimon ben Shetach, a leading Pharisee. Upon her death her elder son, Hyrcanus, sought Pharisee support, and her younger son, Aristobulus, sought the support of the Sadducees. The conflict between Hyrcanus and Aristobulus culminated in a civil war that ended when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE and inaugurated the Roman period of Jewish history.
Josephus attests that Salome Alexandra was very favorably inclined toward the Pharisees and that their political influence grew tremendously under her reign, especially in the institution known as the Sanhedrin. Later texts like the Mishnah and the Talmud record a host of rulings by Rabbis, some of whom are believed to be from among the Pharisees, concerning sacrifices and other ritual practices in the Temple, torts, criminal law, and governance. In their day, the influence of the Pharisees over the lives of the common people remained strong and their rulings on Jewish law were deemed authoritative by many.
After Herod's death in 4 BCE, various radical Jewish elements rose in revolt: Judas in the Galilee (or Judas of Galilee), whose followers tore down the Roman Eagle that had adorned the Temple; Simon in Perea, a former slave of Herod, who burned down the royal palace at Jericho, and Athronges in Judea, a shepherd who led a two-year rebellion. The Syrian legate Publius Quinctilius Varus took command of Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, and immediately put down the uprisings, killing thousands of Jews by crucifixion and selling many into slavery. Rome quickly re-established governance and divided Herod's kingdom among his sons: Archelaus received the southern part of the territory (Judea and Samaria), Herod Antipas became tetrarch of the Galilee and the southern Transjordan (Peraea), and Philip received the northern Transjordan (Batanaea).
Archelaus antagonized the Jews as his father had, and in 6 CE the emperor Augustus acceded to a delegation by placing Judea and Samaria under the indirect rule of a Roman procurator (or prefect), and the direct rule of a Roman-appointed high priest instead. During this period Judea and Galilee were effectively semi-autonomous client-states under Roman tribute. For the most part, Jews were willing to pay tribute, although they complained when it was excessive, and absolutely refused to allow a graven image in their Temple although some emperors considered imposing one. The primary tasks of the tetrarch and high priest were to collect tribute, convince the Romans not to interfere with the Temple, and ensure that the Jews not rebel.
In 57 BCE the Proconsul Cabineus established five regional synhedria (Sanhedrins, or councils) to regulate the internal affairs of the Jews. The Sanhedrinae was a legislative council of 71 elders chaired by the high priest, that interpreted Jewish law and adjudicated appeals, especially in ritual matters. Their specific composure and powers actually varied depending on Roman policy.
During this period serious theological differences emerged between the Sadducees and Pharisees. Although the Essene lack of concern for the Second Temple alienated them from the great mass of Jews, their notion that the sacred could exist outside of the Temple was shared and elevated by the Pharisees.
Many, including some scholars, have characterized the Sadducees as a sect that interpreted the Torah literally, and the Pharisees as interpreting the Torah liberally. R' Yitchak Isaac Halevi (who takes the above view) suggests that this was not, in fact, a matter of religion. He claims that as complete rejection of Judaism would not have been tolerated under the Hasmonean rule, Hellenists maintained that they were rejecting not Judaism but Rabbinic law. Thus, the Sadducees were in fact a political party not a religious sect (Dorot Ha'Rishonim).
According to Jacob Neusner (1998:40), this view is a distortion. He suggests that two things fundamentally distinguished the Pharisaic from the Sadducean approach to the Torah. First, Pharisees interpreted Exodus 19:3-6 literally:
The Pharisees believed that the idea that all of the children of Israel were to be like priests was expressed elsewhere in the Torah, for example, when the Law itself was transferred from the sphere of the priesthood to every man in Israel (Exodus 19: 29-24; Deuteronomy 6: 7, 11: 19; comp. 31: 9; Jeremiah 2: 8, 18:18). Moreover, the Torah already provided some ways for all Jews to lead a priestly life: the precepts concerning unclean meat were perhaps intended originally for the priests, but were extended to the whole people (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3-21); the prohibition of cutting the flesh in mourning for the dead (Deuteronomy 14: 1-2, Leviticus 19: 28; comp. Lev. 21: 5). The Pharisees believed that all Jews in their ordinary life, and not just the Temple priesthood or Jews visiting the Temple, should observe rules and rituals concerning purification.
Second, the Pharisees believed that there were two Torahs. In addition to the Torah recognized by both the Sadducees and Pharisees and believed to have been written by Moses, the Pharisees believed that there was another Torah. They referred to the five books of Moses as the “Written Torah,” and the corpus of oral laws and traditions as the “Oral Torah,” because it was not written down but was rather transmitted by God to Moses orally, and was then memorized and then passed down orally by Moses and his successors over the generations. In other words, they did not interpret the Written Torah literally; rather, they asserted that the sacred scriptures were not complete and could therefore not be understood on their own terms. The Oral Torah functioned to elaborate and explicate what was written; it is unclear whether or not the Pharisees and later rabbis believed they were interpreting the Torah. The sages of the Talmud believed that the Oral law was simultaneously revealed to Moses at Sinai, and the product of debates among rabbis. Thus, one may conceive of the "Oral Torah" not as a fixed text but as an ongoing process of analysis and argument; this is an ongoing process in which God is actively involved; it was this ongoing process that was revealed at Sinai, and by participating in this ongoing process rabbis and their students are actively participating in God's ongoing revelation. That is, "revelation" is not a single act, and "Torah" is not a single or fixed text. It is this ongoing process of analysis and argument that is itself the substance of God's revelation. As Jacob Neusner has explained, the schools of the Pharisees and rabbis were and are holy
Finally, unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead in a future, messianic age. The Pharisees believed in a literal resurrection of the body.
Of all the major Second Temple sects, only the Pharisees remained, poised with teachings directed to all Jews that could replace Temple worship. Such teachings extended beyond ritual practices. According to the classic midrash in Avot D'Rabbi Nathan (4:5):
Following the destruction of the Temple, Rome governed Judea through a Procurator at Caesarea and a Jewish Patriarch. Yohanan ben Zakkai, a leading Pharisee, was appointed the first Patriarch (the Hebrew word, Nasi, also means prince, or president), and he reestablished the Sanhedrin at Yavneh under Pharisee control. Instead of giving tithes to the priests and sacrificing offerings at the (now-destroyed) Temple, the rabbis instructed Jews to give money to charities. Moreover, they argued that all Jews should study in local synagogues, because Torah is "the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33: 4). After the destruction of the First Temple, Jews believed that God would forgive them and enable them to rebuild the Temple an event that actually occurred within three generations. Would this happen again? When the Emperor Hadrian threatened to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city dedicated to Jupiter, in 132, some of the leading sages of the Sanhedrin supported a rebellion led by Simon Bar Koziba, who established a short-lived independent state that was conquered by the Romans in 135. According to a midrash, in addition to Bar Kochba the Romans executed ten leading members of the Sanhedrin: the high priest, R. Ishmael; the president of the Sanhedrin, R. Shimon ben Gamaliel; R. Akiba; R. Hanania ben Teradion; the interpreter of the Sanhedrin, R. Huspith; R. Eliezer ben Shamua; R. Hanina ben Hakinai; the secretary of the Sanhedrin, R. Yeshevav; R. Yehuda ben Dama; and R. Yehuda ben Baba. The Rabbinic account describes agonizing tortures: R. Akiba was flayed, R. Ishmael had the skin of his head pulled off slowly, and R. Hanania was burned at a stake, with wet wool held by a Torah scroll wrapped around his body to prolong his death.
Romans forbade Jews to enter Jerusalem and forbade any plan to rebuild the Temple. Instead, it took over the Province of Judea directly, and renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina. Romans did eventually reconstitute the Sanhedrin under the leadership of Judah haNasi (who claimed to be a descendant of King David). They conferred the title of "Nasi" as hereditary, and Judah's sons served both as Patriarch and as heads of the Sanhedrin.
According to historian Shaye Cohen, by the time three generations had passed after the destruction of the Second Temple, most Jews concluded that the Temple would not be rebuilt during their lives, nor in the foreseeable future. Jews were now confronted with difficult and far-reaching questions:
Regardless of the importance they gave to the Temple, and despite their support of Bar Koseba’s revolt, the Pharisees’ vision of Jewish law as a means by which ordinary people could engage with the sacred in their daily lives provided them with a position from which to respond to all four challenges in a way meaningful to the vast majority of Jews. Their responses would constitute Rabbinic Judaism.
During the Second Temple era, when Jews were divided into sects, the Pharisees were one sect among many, and partisan. Each sect claimed a monopoly on the truth, and discouraged marriage between members of different sects. Members of different sects did, however, argue with one another over the correctness of their respective interpretations, although there is no significant, reliable record of such debates between sects. After the destruction of the Second Temple, these sectarian divisions ended. The Rabbis avoided the term "Pharisee," perhaps because it was a term more often used by non-Pharisees, but also because the term was explicitly sectarian. The Rabbis claimed leadership over all Jews, and added to the Amidah the birkat haMinim, a prayer which in part exclaims, "Praised are You O Lord, who breaks enemies and defeats the arrogant," and which is understood as a rejection of sectarians and sectarianism. This shift by no means resolved conflicts over the interpretation of the Torah; rather, it relocated debates between sects to debates within Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisaic commitment to scholarly debate as a value in and of itself, rather than merely a byproduct of sectarianism, emerged as a defining feature of Rabbinic Judaism.
Thus, as the Pharisees argued that all Israel should act as priests, the Rabbis argued that all Israel should act as rabbis: "The rabbis furthermore want to transform the entire Jewish community into an academy where the whole Torah is studied and kept .... redemption depends on the "rabbinization" of all Israel, that is, upon the attainment of all Jewry of a full and complete embodiment of revelation or Torah, thus achieving a perfect replica of heaven" (Neusner 1998: 9).
The Rabbinic Era itself is divided into two periods. The first period was that of the Tannaim (from the Aramaic word for "repeat;" the Aramaic root TNY is equivalent to the Hebrew root SNY, which is the basis for "Mishnah." Thus, Tannaim are "Mishnah teachers"), the sages who repeated and thus passed down the Oral Torah. During this period rabbis finalized the canonization of the Tanakh, and in 200 Judah haNasi edited together Tannaitic judgements and traditions into the Mishna, considered by the rabbis to be the definitive expression of the Oral Torah (although some of the sages mentioned in the Mishnah are Pharisees who lived prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, or prior to the Bar Kozeba Revolt, most of the sages mentioned lived after the revolt).
The second period is that of the Amoraim (from the Aramaic word for "speaker") rabbis and their students who continued to debate legal matters and discuss the meaning of the books of the Bible. In Palestine, these discussions occurred at important academies at Tiberias, Caesarea, and Sepphoris. In Babylonia, these discussions largely occurred at important academies that had been established at Nehardea, Pumpeditha and Sura. This tradition of study and debate reached its fullest expression in the development of the Talmudim, elaborations of the Mishnah and records of Rabbinic debates, stories, and judgements, compiled around 400 in Palestine and around 500 in Babylon.
Rabbinic Judaism eventually emerged as normative Judaism and in fact many today refer to Rabbinic Judaism simply as "Judaism." Jacob Neusner, however, states that the Amoraim had no ultimate power in their communities. They lived at a time when Jews were subjects of either the Roman or Iranian (Parthian and Persian) empires. These empires left the day-to-day governance in the hands of the Jewish authorities: in Roman Palestine, through the hereditary office of Patriarch (simultaneously the head of the Sanhedrin); in Babylonia, through the hereditary office of the Reish Galuta, the "Head of the Exile" or "Exilarch" (who ratified the appointment of the heads of Rabbinical academies.) According to Professor Neusner:
In Neusner's view, the rabbinic project, as acted out in the Talmud, reflected not the world as it was but the world as rabbis dreamed it should be.
According to S. Baron however, there existed "a general willingness of the people to follow it's self imposed Rabbinic rulership". Although the Rabbis lacked authority to impose capital punishment "Flagellation and heavy fines, combined with an extensive system of excommunication were more than enough to uphold the authority of the courts." In fact, the Rabbis took over more and more power from the Reish Galuta until eventually R' Ashi assumed the title Rabbana, heretofore assumed by the exilarch, and appeared together with two other Rabbis as an official delegation "at the gate of King Yazdegard's court." The Amorah (and Tanna) Rav was a personal friend of the last Parthian king Artabenus and Shmuel was close to Shapur I King of Persia. Thus, the Rabbis had significant means of "coercion" and the people seem to have followed the Rabbinic rulership.
The Mishna in the beginning of Avot and (in more detail) Maimonides in his Introduction to Mishna Torah records a chain of tradition (mesorah) from Moses at Mt. Sinai down to R' Ashi redactor of the Talmud and last of the Amoraim.
This chain of tradition includes: 1. the interpretation of unclear statements in the Bible (e.g. that the "fruit of a beautiful tree" refers to a citron as opposed to any other fruit). 2. the methods of exegesis (see Wikipedia article on midrash). The disagreements recorded in the Mishna and Talmud generally focus on methods of exegesis. 3. Laws with Mosaic authority which however cannot be derived from the Biblical text. These include the measurements (e.g. what amount of an unkosher food must one eat to be liable), the amount and order of the scrolls to be placed in the phylacteries, etc.
The Pharisees were also innovators in that they enacted specific laws as they saw necessary according to the needs of the time. These include: 1. prohibitions to prevent an infringement of a biblical prohibition (e.g. one does not take a Lulav on the Shabbat "Lest one carry it in the public domain") called gezeirot.
The commandment to read the Megillah (Book of Esther) on Purim and to light the Menorah on Hannukah are Rabbinic innovations. Much of the legal system is based on "what the sages constructed via logical reasoning and from established practice". Also, the blessings before meals and the wording of the Amidah. These are known as Takanot. The Pharisees based their authority to innovate on the verses: ....accordinging to the word they tell you... according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left (Deuteronomy 17:10-11) (see Encyclopedia Talmudit entry "Divrei Soferim").
See also the Hebrew Calendar for a discussion on the Rabbinic enactment of the rule based calendar.
In an interesting twist, Abraham Geiger posits that the Sadducees were the more hidebound adherents to an ancient Halacha whereas the Pharisees were more willing to develop Halacha as the times required. See however, Bernard Revel's "Karaite Halacha" which rejects many of Geiger's proofs.
One belief central to the Pharisees was shared by all Jews of the time: monotheism. This is evident in the practice of reciting the Shema, select verses from the Torah, at the Temple and in synagogues. The Shema begins with the verses, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." According to the Mishna, these passages were recited in the Temple along with the twice-daily Tamid offering; Jews in the diaspora, who did not have access to the Temple, recited these passages in their houses of assembly (in Hebrew: "batei knesset"). According to the Mishnah and Talmud, the Men of the Great Assembly instituted that Jews both in Judea and in the diaspora were required to pray three times a day (morning, afternoon and evening), and include in their prayers a recitation of these passages in the morning ("Shacharit") and evening ("Ma'ariv") prayers.
The book 2 Maccabees was written by a Pharisee or someone sympathetic toward Pharisees. It includes several theological innovations: propitiatory prayer for the dead, judgment day, intercession of saints, and merits of the martyrs.
According to Josephus, whereas the Sadducees believed that people have total free will and the Essenes believed that all of a person's life is predestined, the Pharisees believed that people have free will but that God also has foreknowledge of human destiny. According to Josephus, Pharisees were further distinguished from the Sadducees in that Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead.
It is likely that Josephus highlighted these differences because he was writing for a Gentile audience, and questions concerning fate and a life after death were important in Hellenic philosophy. In fact, it is difficult, or impossible, to reconstruct a Second Temple Pharisaic theology, because Judaism itself is non-creedal; that is, there is no dogma or set of orthodox beliefs that Jews believed were required of Jews. Josephus himself emphasized laws rather than beliefs when he described the characteristics of an apostate (a Jew who does not follow traditional customs) and the requirements for conversion to Judaism (circumcision, and adherence to traditional customs). In fact, the most important divisions among different Jewish sects had to do with debates over three areas of law: marriage, the Sabbath and religious festivals, and the Temple and purity. Debates over these and other matters of law continue to define Judaism more than any particular dogma or creed.
Not one tractate of the key Rabbinic texts, the Mishnah and the Talmud, is devoted to theological issues; these texts are concerned primarily with interpretations of Jewish law. Only one chapter of the Mishnah deals with theological issues; it asserts that three kinds of people will have no share in "the world to come:" those who deny the resurrection of the dead, those who deny the divinity of the Torah, and Epicureans (who deny divine supervision of human affairs). Another passage suggests a different set of core principles: normally, a Jew may violate any law to save a life, but in Sanhedrin 74a, a ruling orders Jews to accept martyrdom rather than violate the laws against idolatry, murder, or adultery. (Judah haNasi, however, said that Jews must "be meticulous in small religious duties as well as large ones, because you do not know what sort of reward is coming for any of the religious duties," suggesting that all laws are of equal importance). In comparison with Christianity, the Rabbis were not especially concerned with the messiah or claims about the messiah.
Fundamentally, the Pharisees continued a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple, applying Jewish law to mundane activities in order to sanctify the every-day world. This was a more participatory (or "democratic") form of Judaism, in which rituals were not monopolized by an inherited priesthood but rather could be performed by all adult Jews individually or collectively; whose leaders were not determined by birth but by scholarly achievement. In general, the Pharisees emphasized a commitment to social justice, belief in the brotherhood of mankind, and a faith in the redemption of the Jewish nation and, ultimately, humanity. Moreover, they believed that these ends would be achieved through halakha ("the way," or "the way things are done"), a corpus of laws derived from a close reading of sacred texts. This belief entailed both a commitment to relate religion to ordinary concerns and daily life, and a commitment to study and scholarly debate.
The commitment to relate religion to daily life through the law has led some to infer that the Pharisees were more legalistic than other sects in the Second Temple Era. This is not true — the Sadducees were committed to obeying the commandments of the Torah, and the Essenes governed themselves through elaborate rules and regulations (Josephus does claim that the Pharisees were the "strictest" observers of the law, but he likely meant "most accurate"). It is more accurate to say they were legalistic in a different way. In some cases Pharisaic values led to an extension of the law — for example, the Torah requires priests to bathe themselves before entering the Temple. The Pharisees washed themselves before Sabbath and festival meals (in effect, making these holidays "temples in time"), and, eventually, before all meals. Although this seems burdensome compared to the practices of other sects, in other cases, Pharisaic law was less strict. For example, Biblical law prohibits Jews from carrying objects from a private domain ("reshut ha-yachid") to a public domain ("reshut ha-rabim") on the Sabbath. This law could have prevented Jews from carrying cooked dishes to the homes of friends for Sabbath meals. The Pharisees ruled that adjacent houses connected by lintels or fences could become connected by a legal procedure creating a partnership among homeowners; thereby, clarifying the status of those common areas as a private domain relative to the members of the partnership. In that manner people could carry objects from building to building.
Just as important as (if not more important than) any particular law was the value the rabbis placed on legal study and debate. The sages of the Talmud believed that when they taught the Oral Torah to their students, they were imitating Moses, who taught the law to the children of Israel. Moreover, the rabbis believed that "the heavenly court studies Torah precisely as does the earthly one, even arguing about the same questions" (Neusner 1998: 8). Thus, in debating and disagreeing over the meaning of the Torah or how best to put it into practice, no rabbi felt that he (or his opponent) were in some way rejecting God or threatening Judaism; on the contrary, it was precisely through such arguments that the rabbis imitated and honored God.
One sign of the Pharisaic emphasis on debate and differences of opinion is that the Mishnah and Talmud mark different generations of scholars in terms of different pairs of contending schools. Around the time the Romans conquered Judea, for example, the two major Pharisaic schools were those of Hillel and Shammai. After Hillel died in 20, Shammai assumed the office of president of the Sanhedrin until he died in 30. Followers of these two sages dominated scholarly debate over the following decades (although the Talmud records the arguments and positions of the school of Shammai, the teachings of the school of Hillel were ultimately taken as authoritative).
Pharisaic wisdom was compiled in one book of the Mishna, Pirke Avot. The Pharisaic attitude is perhaps best exemplified by a story about Hillel the Elder, who lived at the end of the 1st century BCE. A man once challenged the sage to explain the law while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."
Outside of Jewish history and writings, the Pharisees have been made notable by references in the Christian Bible to conflicts between them and Jesus. Christian traditions have been a cause of widespread awareness of the Pharisees among the world's roughly 2 billion Christians.
Because of the New Testament's frequent depictions of Pharisees as self-righteous rule-followers, the word "pharisee" (and its derivatives: "pharisaical", etc.) has changed in meaning and has come into semi-common usage in English to describe a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of the law above its spirit. Jews today (who subscribe to Pharisaic Judaism) typically find this insulting if not anti-Semitic.
An important binary in the New Testament is the opposition between law and love. Accordingly, the New Testament presents the Pharisees as obsessed with man-made rules (especially concerning purity) whereas Jesus is more concerned with God’s love; the Pharisees scorn sinners whereas Jesus seeks them out. Many non-Christians object that the four Gospels, which were canonized after Christianity had separated from Judaism (and after Pharisaism emerged as the dominant form of Judaism), are likely a very biased source concerning the conduct of the Pharisees. Some have argued that Jesus was himself a Pharisee and that his arguments with Pharisees is a sign of inclusion rather than fundamental conflict (disputation being the dominant narrative mode employed in the Talmud as a search for truth, and not necessarily a sign of opposition).
Jesus' emphasis on loving one's neighbor, for example, echoes the teaching of the school of Hillel (Jesus' views of divorce, however, are closer to those of the school of Shammai, another Pharisee). Others have argued that the portrait of the Pharisees in the New Testament is an anachronistic caricature.
For example, when Jesus declares the sins of a paralytic man forgiven, the New Testament has the Pharisees criticizing Jesus' blasphemy. But Jewish sources from the time commonly associate illness with sin and healing with forgiveness, and there is no actual Rabbinic source that questions or criticizes this practice. Thus, the proposition that Jesus' healing was criticized by Pharisees is sharply at odds with the teachings of the Pharisees independently preserved. There may be no conflict in the Christian account and historical records if the reactions recorded in the New Testament are from a few individual Pharisees, uncharacteristic of mainstream thinking.
Similarly, according to the New Testament, Pharisees wanted to punish Jesus for healing a man's withered hand on the Sabbath, but there is no Rabbinic rule found historically according to which Jesus had violated the Sabbath. Again, the objection may have been the misguided complaint of a few uninformed individuals, not representative of Pharisees in general.
Although the New Testament presents the Pharisees as obsessed with avoiding impurity, Rabbinic texts reveal that the Pharisees were concerned merely with offering means for removing impurities, so that a person could again participate in the community.
According to the New Testament the Pharisees objected to Jesus's mission to outcast groups such as beggars and tax-collectors, but Rabbinic texts actually emphasize the availability of forgiveness to all. Indeed, much of Jesus' teaching, for example the Sermon on the Mount, is consistent with that of the Pharisees.
Some scholars believe that those passages of the New Testament that are most hostile to the Pharisees were written sometime after the destruction of Herod's Temple in 70 , at a time when it had become clear that most Jews did not consider Jesus to be the messiah, see also Rejection of Jesus. At this time Christians sought most new converts from among the gentiles, and needed to explain why converts should listen to them rather than the Jews, concerning the Hebrew Bible. They thus would have presented a story of Jesus that was more sympathetic to Romans than to Jews. It was only after 70 that Phariseeism emerged as the dominant form of Judaism.
In the event known as the Council of Jerusalem, Paul argued strenuously that the ritual requirements of Judaism do not fully apply to Gentile Christians (Acts 15:1-29), for the parallel in Judaism see Noachide law. In his writings to the church in Philippi, Paul referred to his strict Jewish credentials as a cause for boasting (Philippians 3:4-6), but then stated his belief in Christ Jesus was more glorious.