Over the years and even to this day, I’ve encountered a lot of people, while discussing the Bible, tending to disparage the Pharisees or discuss the “hypocrisy of the Pharisees” or, also, mention them as together with the Sadducees. This is all perfectly understandable, since this tends to occur plenty in the Gospels, which facilitates these ideas.
The problem I have, and many others have, however, is that the Pharisees are actually the spiritual antecedents to modern Judaism, and this talk of the “Pharisee hypocricy” laid the foundation for Christian arrogance as it applies to the Jewish religion – namely the tendency to engage debates about proper spiritual practice for Jews (http://www.jewsforjudaism.org or pretty much every discussion about Judaism on Amazon for more information), and so mentions of this can put attempts at rapproachment between Christians and Jews on very insecure footing before they even begin.
The second problem, here, is that the Pharisees and Sadducees were really not the same at all – as The Jewish Virtual Library notes, the Pharisees advocated a Judaism for everyone, not dependent on the Temple, while the Sadducees were still strong believers in a priestly caste, Biblical literalists, and did not agree with the Pharisees about the existence of an Oral Law passed to Moses (which, incidentally, later became the Talmud). Most curious, of course, was the Pharisaic belief in life after death, and a Messiah who would herald an era of world peace.
After the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70, the Sadducees pretty well died off, leaving the Pharisees the sole remaining “party” for the survival of Judaism, and their emphasis on communtarian Judaism in the synagogue, the Oral Torah (morphing into the Talmud some centuries later) and accompanying Responsa over the years, all Pharisaic innovations, have allowed Judaism to survive long after the focal point burnt down, never to be rebuilt.
While we can never really know just how similar at least Orthodox Judaism is to the Pharisaic ideal, the bottom line is phrases of “Pharisee hypocrisy” smell of Christian triumphalism and the attitude that Christians can instruct Jews on how to be Jews, and it may not be their fault they don’t know what the implication might be.
This concludes today’s lesson!