Jewish Encyclopedia: Pharisees

Party representing the religious views, practises, and hopes of the kernel of the Jewish people in the time of the Second Temple and in opposition to the priestly Sadducees. They were accordingly scrupulous observers of the Law as interpreted by the Soferim, or Scribes, in accordance with tradition. No true estimate of the character of the Pharisees can be obtained from the New Testament writings, which take a polemical attitude toward them (see New Testament), nor from Josephus, who, writing for Roman readers and in view of the Messianic expectations of the Pharisees, represents the latter as a philosophical sect. "Perisha" (the singular of "Perishaya") denotes "one who separates himself," or keeps away from persons or things impure, in order to attain the degree of holiness and righteousness required in those who would commune with God

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