Jesus as part of the Pharisaic thought of HillelJesus was closest to the Pharisees of the school of Hillel, who preached love, and he led the way to unconditional love.
- Exceptionally strict observance is voluntary and meant for Zaddikim only
- On the matter of washing hands and plucking heads of grain, it was the disciples, not the master, who were less strict in their observance of the law. [They still observed the law but followed the most lenient rulings.] (footnote: A similar situation is described about Rabban Gamaliel who instructed his disciples in a more lenient understanding of a matter of law while he himself maintained a more strict practice for himself. When [Gamaliel's] disciples challenged him to set aside his more strict understanding of the precept for his wedding night, he responded, "I will not heed you to cancel for myself the kingdom of heaven even for one our."] When [Jesus'] disciples' negligence was pointed out, he not only came to their defense, but replied with far more force than it would seem the case merits. Jesus seized the opportunity to elucidate an important point.
- Keeping kosher
- Jesus: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matt 15.11). This dictum is completely compatible with the Jewish [halakhic] legal position. A person's BODY does not become ritually impure even when one has eaten animals forbidden by the Law of Moses! What Jesus said, thus, has nothing to do with a supposed abrogation of Judaic law.
- Healing on Sabbath
- Jesus performed a miracle of healing on the Sabbath. To understand the situation properly, we must keep in mind that [according to Jewish law] if there was even a slight suspicion of danger to life, any form of healing was permitted [including medical techniques that would normally violate Sabbath rest]. According to the Gospels, Jesus adhered to these restrictions in all of his healings. (Footnote: See J. N. Epstein, Prolegomena ad litteras Tannaiticas (Jerusalem, 1957), p 280-281 in Hebrew.) We have noted that Jesus had no desire to oppose the Law of Moses. He only wanted to expose the [loveless] rigidity of the bigots, using this case as an example. "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a person or to let him perish?" (Luke 6:6-11). Jesus's assertion that it is lawful to save a person and not to let him perish was surely not foreign to many of his hearers. Jesus alluded to a well-known classical expression of the Jewish humane approach to the other, as it is contained in the important rabbinical saying: "Therefore but a single man was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single soul to perish Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish; and if any man saves alive a single soul Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved alive a whole world" (M Sanhedrin 4.5). Is Jesus going to heal this man? Yes! But in a manner consistent with Sabbath observance. By this deed, and by what he said he showed the true meaning of the Sabbath.
- Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for not living up to their own Pharisaic standards
- Jesus identified the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in the discrepancy between their doctrine and their deed, "for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt 23.3). It is worth noting that this same anti-Pharisaic polemic also occurs in rabbinic literature, which is an expression of true Pharisaism. The talmudic list of the seven kinds of Pharisee is a variation on the theme of hypocrisy (bTalmud Sotah 22b, jTalmud Berakhot 13b.) The first type [of a flawed Pharisee] in the talmudic list the "'Shoulder-Pharisee' who lays commandments upon men's shoulders" (jTalmud Berakhot 14b). Jesus likewise says that the Pharisees "bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger" (Matt 23.4). Nevertheless, Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt 23.2-3). In the Pharisees, Jesus saw the contemporary heirs of Moses, and said that men should model their lives upon their teaching. Jesus was basically rooted in universal non-sectarian Judaism. The philosophy and practice of this Judaism was that of the Pharisees.
- The Pharisees are friends of Jesus's followers. The Chief Priests are enemies.
- The Pharisees, so often mentioned in the Gospels as Jesus's [debating] opponents, do NOT appear in any of the synoptic accounts of the trial. Recall the role of the Pharisees in the first decades of the Christian Church. When the apostles were persecuted by the Sadducean High Priest, [a Pharisee] Rabban Gamaliel took their side and saved them (Acts 5.17f). When Paul was taken before the high council in Jerusalem, he found sympathy among his hearers by appealing to the Pharisees (Acts 22.3f). When in 62 AD, the Lord's brother James, and apparently other Christians, were illegally put to death by the Sadducean High Priest, the Pharisees appealed to the king, and the High Priest was deposed (Josephus Ant. 20.200f). The Pharisees regarded the Sadducean hierocracy's persecution of the early Christians as manifestly unjust cruelty. This explains the Pharisees' apparently consistent opposition to the persecution of the Christians by the Sadducean high priests. The Pharisees regarded the handing over of Jesus to the Romans as a repulsive act of sacerdotal despotism. Moreover, the handing over of a Jew to the foreign power was generally considered a crime. The Pharisees do not figure as accusers of Jesus at his trial in the first three Gospel accounts because at that time people knew that the Pharisees had not agreed to hand Jesus over to the Romans.
- Anti-Torah sentiment comes from non-Jews, not from Jesus
- As early as the second century, Christians of Jewish origin who continued to follow the Law of Moses, were being marginalized (Justin martyr, Trypho chap 47). Later all Christians were FORBIDDEN to keep the precepts of the old covenant, even though Jesus had said, "For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5.18f). The abrogation of the Jewish laws within the early centuries of the Church is connected with the fact that already at an early stage Christianity was turning into a religion of non-Jews.
Robert Ariel Greener CCPE,NB.Phc.A.FLTC, Founder & International Director
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