Their Practices

The Pharisees - Jewish Leaders in the First Century AD.

The Practices of the Pharisees

Unlike the Sadducees who were chosen almost exclusively from among the aristocracy, the Pharisees were mainly members of the middle class. They were like the businessmen merchants and the tradesmen of their day. This might account for the large number of Talmudic references dealing with the intricacies of commercialism.

The Pharisees were deeply concerned with following after the law and had thus separated themselves from the great mass of the populace (the so called "people of the land" Heb. "am ha-aretz") by their strict adherence to the minutia of their legal tradition.

The average Pharisee had no formal education in the interpretation of the law and accordingly had resorted to the professional scholar, the scribe (of which class the majority were Pharisees), in legal matters.

The vast majority of the Pharisees were laymen, yet a small number of the Pharisees were also Priests and Levites, who had committed to the Pharisaic ideals in order to help make pure more of the common people.

The Pharisees, like the Essenes, were very separated and had organized themselves into distinct and closed communities. The "haburah," (community) referred to in the Talmudic materials was most likely a Pharisaic community, and the "haber," (companion) was a member of the community, a Pharisee.

Apparently several of these "holy communities" existed within Jerusalem, where they could be seen by the masses and thus made their influence much more effective. Admission into these communities was strictly regulated. A candidate must first agree to a vow of obedience to all of the detailed legislation of the Pharisaic tradition including: tithing, ceremonial laws and dietary purity. He then entered a period of probation (one month to one year) during which he was carefully observed with respect to his vow of obedience. Successful completion of this probation entitled the candidate to full membership in the community.

Each community was under the leadership of a scribe, who served as the professional authority in the interpretation of the law and other less important officers. All members were carefully scrutinized, criticized when they fell short and highly praised when they observed accurately.

There were regularly scheduled meetings for worship (usually on the eve of the Sabbath). They studied the Torah and had community meals. Most likely the pseudepigraphon known as the Psalms of Solomon was used liturgically in their worship services.

The synagogue was also a place for the Pharisees to show their piety. Pharisaism influenced a large number of the masses, many of whom inclined toward the views of the Pharisees without taking upon themselves full membership in the community.

It is amazing how close the closed communities of the Pharisees were to the Essene separatist groups, known today particularly from the Damascus Document, and also, to a lesser extent, known through the Qumran Manual of Discipline. The Pharisees and the Essenes no doubt had much in common, in goals and methodologies as well as in the common environment that constituted the motivating force of both movements.