Judaism 101 Part 2 – The Pharisees

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!

Judaism 101 – A Beginning

Before I begin, I’d like to disclaim something – I’m really not an expert, by any means, and in the event that anyone can provide better evidence for/against a claim I make here I’ll gladly consider it.

Okay, so here’s something I’ve begun to notice in many places, both in the world at large and on the Internet – Judaism and its values frequently get lumped in with those of Christianity, when the truth is that they sometimes differ quite drastically in some very key ways, especially in the way mainstream Christianity has made a sharp turn towards the conservative end of the spectrum.

The first one I felt should be mentioned is Original Sin. To put things simply: original sin does not exist in Judaism, we don’t believe in it, and never have. A good resource to support this is here, where there are many Hebrew Scriptural passages in fact refuting this idea of Original Sin. Judaism has always taught that people are responsible for only their sins, and the sins of the father are most certainly not the sins of the son.

Why is this important? Original Sin, in the Augustinian tradition, has acted as a justification and basis for misogyny, self-hatred and also revulsion towards sex right from the very start – original sin was transmitted through sex, and the very act of birth served to bring even more sin into the world, so what does that say about women?

This is not a Jewish idea – while the justifications for these ideas may have come from Genesis, it seems that many people forget that God holds Adam just as culpable (in fact, the first such incident of male helplessness in recorded history – “I was helpless against her feminine wiles! I’m only a man!” as though he had no freewill and it’s totally all Eve’s fault), and that even if the idea was that women came into being after men, it also is said that women are, in fact, just as much in the image of God as man.

While it’s silly to deny sexism in Judaism against women (the longtime ban against teaching women the Torah that Rashi went against is just one instance), the fact is that conflating Christianity and Judaism and their values doesn’t serve to fight for equality and justice in either community if one can’t get a handle on what they’re fighting against. It’s like Frank Zappa says about music – by all means, one should break the rules but at least know which rules you don’t like and why.

I did, finally, link Frank Zappa and Jewish education, my two greatest loves!