Unless you’re well versed in Jewish history and Judaism, most people who hear the term Pharisee have the knee-jerk reaction to associate that label with “ hypocrite”. If that is the case for you, dear reader, I'll bet your notion of a Pharisee is from the New Testament. That definition is not compatible with the Jewish history version of their lives and legacy. New Testament doctrine demonized them because they refused to abandon the eternal covenant (testament) of Torah to worship a Hellenized man/god and assimilate into the Roman empire.
Their depiction in the New Testament is hardly flattering to say the least. I doubt that my information regarding the Pharisees will be taken seriously by Christians for whom their New Testament is believed to be infallible. The Christian Bible presents Jesus as having a great conflict with the Pharisees. I cannot assume that Jesus had such a problem with the Pharisees, especially since so many of this most popular "quotes" are the precise teachings of the Pharisees who came before him!
I think that it was the writers of the New Testament who had the problems with the Pharisees and their strict adherence to Torah’s commands to not add new deities and their refusal to assimilate into the Roman Empire. The Pharisees were also a political threat to the Romans because they promoted equality and literacy for all classes.
The Pharisees were the members of the sect of Judaism that promoted education and literacy for all classes, not just the wealthy or elite that were literate across the Roman Empire. They believed that Torah should be able to be read and understood by all people. The Pharisees also accepted converts as fully Jewish and some other sects did not. Ironically, the one sect so often mentioned as being one that Jesus perhaps had received training from, the Essenes, did not accept converts. The Pharisees were self-named because they wanted to keep Torah *separate* from pagan, foreign influence (Hellenized and Roman man/gods).
The name Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word perushim, the plural of פָּרוּשׁ the Hebrew word parush, meaning set apart or separate. They arose as a separate group of Jews during the Greek occupation; a time when the Greek rulers were working to assimilate the Jewish people by mixing their deities with Judaism. For some, their efforts worked. There were quite a few Hellenized Jews, so impressed with Greek philosophy and literature that they believed it superior to the ways of the conquered Israel. Greek philosophy still even managed to influence Judaism despite the Pharisees.
The legacy of the Pharisees writings and the Jewish history of their lives do not indicate they were hypocritical elitists the New Testament depicts, but Jews dedicated to keeping the covenant of Israel intact without corruption from idolatry. The Pharisees of the New Testament are depicted as people for whom observance of rote custom and ritual were all important. They were viewed as going through the physical motions and outward observances without emphasizing the ethics and justice underlying the reason for the customs or conveying the deep spiritual meanings or connection. The New Testament depicts them as being spiritually devoid.
It is in fact that Judaism the Pharisees sought to protect centers on the Torah's precepts that teach that each individual rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, connects to God directly without intermediary in a very real, living relationship. It is the Pharisees that taught that how we live toward one another and care for the world around us is a reflection of our connection to our faith. The Pharisees did not demonize other nations because they did not believe the same as they do, but they would speak out just as the Jews of today are obligated to do, the modern day actual Pharisees speak out when we are told that we must accept AS JEWISH, beliefs and practices that are directly forbidden by the eternal covenant of Israel.
Some Christian missionaries preach the libelous fallacy that the Pharisees and later the Rabbis who came from them corrupted Torah by adding to it.
It was not Pharisees who sought to either add to or take away from law. They rejected any and all attempts from any who would try to do such a thing. It is because they REFUSED to add and take away from the law of Torah that they were hated by first the Hellenists and Romans, and then the Christians whose concepts of Jesus as an incarnate manifestation of the Divine and of human sacrifice to atone for sin are also forbidden by the Torah to separate the Jew from the eternal covenant.
The Sadducees were the elitists and among whom were the greatest number of collaborators with Rome and whose followers included many of the most Hellenized Jews. The Pharisees were the group that included the common people and the convert. The Pharisees did not have the attitude of being separate from other Jews adherent to the covenant, or from the common people, but to be separate from FOREIGN (Hellenizing) influences.
The most egregiously mistaken notion promoted about the Pharisees and their purpose for SEPARATION is that they were elitist who held themselves above others, including other Jews!. The Pharisees taught that Torah put forth that God was not a distant deity that only spoke to emperors and kings or became one Himself ..but taught that our Creator is a personal deity that ALL can connect with directly. The very identity of the covenant nation was established when every man woman and child who left Egypt had a personal divine revelation at Sinai. “You have been shown in order to know that God, He is the Supreme Being. There is none besides Him. From heaven he let you hear His voice in order to teach you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words amid the fire.” (Deut. 4:32-36) That is just one of several passages in Torah that refer to this collective and personal Divine revelatory experience.
The Pharisees were demonized in the New Testament by the new religious sect that was created to try to replace Judaism. What do groups that try to justify replacement of another tend to do to the group they're trying to replace? They blame every ill of the world on the other and assign to them (projections) undesirable attributes that they themselves possess or that they know can evoke fear and loathing so that the demonized group will be viewed with disdain and their words not taken seriously.
Hellenized Jews and Romans believed the philosophy and wisdom of the Greeks could and should be combined with Torah. The Pharisees ..then and today.. reject this as it is forbidden to alter the covenant and its purpose.
"The conflict between the high priesthood and the people led to the split between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The elitist Sadducees (who generally controlled the high priesthood) were supported by the Hasmonean royal family and later by the Romans."
"The Pharisees. These were mainstream Jews who wanted nothing to do with the Romans, but they were pragmatic. They wanted Judaism to survive and short of giving up their religious principles were willing to make the best of the Roman domination. They disapproved of the other Jewish factions - those that tried to curry favor with the Romans and those that advocated open rebellion. " < this from http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48943421.html
"They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market" [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers](Berachot 17). ( This is the FIRST Pharisee to be given the title Rabbi)
"[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year …. and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace." (Shevi'it4,3)
'We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace." (Gitin 61a)
Paul is often brought up as an example of a Pharisee. Let's just see how that holds up to scrutiny.
**No Jewish writings of the 1st or 2nd century so much as mention a renegade student of Gamaliel who had a faith altering vision. No mention of a star pupil of Gamaliel who became a heretic and urged his followers to disregard Torah's laws of diet and Sabbath observance. No mention of a former student who pronounced the Law and circumcision obsolete. Surely such a renegade could not have completely escaped the attention of the scribes? No writings attributed to Gamaliel or his later students refer to such a man.**(paraphrasing from an article I read by Kenneth Humphries)
A claim that such a thing was removed or hidden is unlikely since from the Torah onward, no Jewish writings have evaded the wrongdoers or those who stray or violate Torah as the Tanakh so clearly reveals.
An more unbiased view based on the evidence would more likely indicate that NT claim was a latter insertion to support Paul’s self proclaimed status.
The writings of Paul don't support that he was a master pupil of Gamaliel. Paul clearly had difficulty with the Hebrew language: all his scriptural references are taken from the Greek translation of Jewish scripture, the Septuagint. The only portion of what is now commonly called the Septuagint translated by “the 70” Jewish scribes was the Torah, the Prophets and Writing were translated over the course of several hundred years by unknown translators. The evidence of Paul's own writings reveal he was a Hellenized, apostate Jew.
"Nothing in his letters suggests that Paul had any official standing in his treatment of Christians ... Hence, in opposition to what Luke says, he could not have used arrest, torture or imprisonment as a means of forcing Christians to recognize that they had been misled." – Murphy O'Connor, Paul, His History, p19
The writings of the Pharisees that were handed down over the generations to us today reveal lives that are collectively the opposite of the nefarious depictions of them in the NT replacement theology.
The history of the Pharisees is the living legacy of the eternal Torah that they preserved by refusing to assimilate idolatrous concepts into Jewish practices.
Unfortunately, for millions of people who believe their New Testament to be inerrant, its fallacious demonization and depiction is also believed to be inerrant, no matter what evidence may exist to the contrary. The authors of the New Testament libeled the Pharisees in to discredit their rejection of introduction of Hellenized and Romanized god/man concepts that God forbids in the Torah.
I thank God that not all Christians have focused on the hundreds of demonizing passages in the New Testament and actually focus on the more Jewish (and Pharisee taught Hillel school of thought) teachings regarding teshuva. An example of that would be the Sermon on the Mount including the portion they call the Lord's prayer.
Are there people who fit the false New Testament depiction of the Pharisees today?
Examine the Hebrew Christian evangelicals that claim Jewish identity and who give all outward physical appearance of strict adherence to Torah. They’ll wear kippot and tallit and keep kashrut and other observances and claim to be "Torah observant" Messianic Jews, while forcing foreign and forbidden beliefs and contradictory meanings to the rituals and laws of Torah to violate core precepts of faith of Judaism. That fits the New Testament definition of Pharisee precisely to give lip service to observance while living in complete contradiction to the ethical precepts and faith of Judaism.
Those are people who claim to be righteous and claim to honor the customs and holidays of Judaism, yet in reality have only outward and superficial posturing appearance as Jews and go through altered forms of Jewish rituals without any spiritual connection to the Creator who commanded them when they do them in the name of a false incarnate god and rely upon human sacrifice instead of the Torah’s path for repentance.
It is utmost hypocrisy to claim Torah observance if your *observance* or acting out of a rituals is done to honor a contradictory belief to the precepts and ethics that the rituals and customs were commanded in Torah to honor for eternity, or even those that later arose through practice in Diaspora lands to honor Torah and God exclusively.
Imposing Jesus into any Jewish custom or Torah commanded holy observance is the antithesis of Torah observance, thus they are complete hypocrites and fit that common vernacular definition of "Pharisee" in their own religions usage.
A good place to get background on Pharisees and Sadducees.
http://www.jewfaq.org/movement.htm < another EXCELLENT page to help you
Judaism survived and Jews exist today primarily because the Pharisees refused to abandon Torah and dishonor God’s commands for the eternal covenant people.
A quote from the jewfaq site above:
"The Pharisaic school of thought is the only one that survived the destruction of the Temple. The Zealots were killed off during the war with Rome. The Sadducees could not survive without the Temple, which was the center of their religion. The Essenes, who were never very numerous, were apparently killed off by the Romans (they were easily recognizable in their isolated communities).
For many centuries after the destruction of the Temple, there was no large-scale, organized difference of opinion within Judaism. Judaism was Judaism, and it was basically the same as what we now know as Orthodox Judaism. There were some differences in practices and customs between the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe and the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Middle East, but these differences were not significant. See Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews"
Even though Christianity demonizes the Pharisees for its rejection of the replacement of the eternal covenant, Christianity is also *dependent* on a concept that was taught by the Pharisees. Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees from the Sadducees.
There is no mention of the Pharisees in the Tanakh and the reason being that the sect of the Pharisees, or separatists, did not yet exist. They originated in the third century BCE long after the last of the texts of Tanakh appeared. They were trying to keep the Torah "separate" from outside influence being imposed upon it by the Greek and later Roman conquerors who wanted the Jews to add their Emperor mangods and other deities into Jewish belief, after all, that‘s what other nations conquered by the Greeks and Romans did! Religion and rule were inseparable.
Modern day Pharisees continue to be a thorn in the side of those who want us to assimilate out of existence by abandoning our eternal covenant to take upon ourselves, beliefs and forms of worship forbidden by God's commandments in the Torah for the Jewish people.
I am proud to be of the legacy of the real Pharisees.
Am Yisrael Chai!