Conversations of Zeal: Part 2

In the first part of our conversation, Aaron makes the assertion that Yeshua was a rabbi according to the house of Hillel, many of whom were called Pharisees. We all know from the gospels Yeshua was a rabbi; Aaron theorizes further Yeshua was a Pharisaical rabbi of the House of Hillel.

We talked about what a Pharisee really was, as opposed to the modern definition of a Pharisee, one often held by many Christians: a legalistic, outward-only Judaism teacher.

We discussed some Scriptures and some bits from the Talmud that suggest Yeshua was a Pharisee.

We theorized how it could be that Messiah, let us suppose him for a moment to be a Pharisee, argued with Pharisees, and why rebuking certain Pharisees did not necessarily mean he was not a Pharisaical rabbi himself.

In the next part of the conversation, we'll try to answer some of the tough questions: was Messiah really influenced by Hillel? Why is it that their teachings align so much, given Hillel lived before Messiah (dying ~10 years after Messiah's birth), is it possible Messiah was influenced by the teachings of this righteous rabbi? We will also discuss some of the questions you fine blog readers have raised: we've proved there were some righteous Pharisees, but where is the proof that Messiah himself was one? We'll go over the evidence.

And what if Yeshua was a Pharisee, why didn't Paul teach others to become Pharisees? Why didn't the Pharisees chide Messiah for not following Pharisee rules? (Or did they?) We'll answer this as well.

You could definitely say that Hillel instead aligned with Yeshua, since Yeshua is the Living Torah, and Hillel's teaching often aligned righteously with Torah. But, Yeshua definitely seemed to grow up in a Hillel household, which would be common for one who was raised in the Galili (Gallilee). No wonder he reiterated so many of Hillel's teachings.

It's also interesting to note that modern Orthodox Judaism bases its halacha on that of Rabbi Hillel's.

Yeshua's teaching of loving your neighbor/fellow (Israelite) as yourself was also stressed by Hillel. It's no wonder when a Hillel Pharisee came to Yeshua and asked him what the greatest mitzvah is. Yeshua responds, and in the Mark account, the Pharisee actually finishes off Yeshua's response. Yeshua then replies to him, "you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven."
Why does this so greatly contrast other statements Yeshua made to other Pharisees? Because many in the Shammai sect were unrighteously strict with unlearned Jews and converts, showing their pride in their knowledge, and doing things for show rather than in sincerity.

A number of Yeshua's comments also indicate that he interacted with the discussion between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. For example, the statement about tithing mint and dill (Mt. 23:23) reflects one of the things included for tithing by Shammai, but not by Hillel (here, as also with divorce, Yeshua sided with Shammai; Maaserot 1.1 cf. 4.6; Eduyyot 5.3; Demai 1.3). Yeshua's reference to enlarging the tzitzit (tassle) and tefillin (phylacteries) for the sight of men (Matt. 23:5) was a reference to the House of Shammai who wanted to make their tzitziyot and tefillin larger than those of the followers of Hillel (Menahot 4).

Hillel's teachings may have influenced Yeshua, then? Interesting. How would you answer a Christian who asserts all Yeshua's teachings are straight from God and not influenced by men?

Can you sum up the arguments for Yeshua being a Pharisaic rabbi? A Christian commenter tells me the only thing we've discussed so far is how certain Pharisees were righteous. Can you restate the evidence that makes you believe Yeshua himself was a Hillel Pharisee?

(You must try to put yourself in the Christian mindset; while most of my readers are privy on the Jewishness of Messiah, still many Christians picture him not as the Jewish Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef, but as a peace-loving Gandhi-like figure named Jesus Christ who started a new religion. These same folks look at the Pharisees as the "bad guys" in the gospel. To these people, saying Jesus was a Pharisee is bound to make heads explode!)

Now I have another question. You mentioned how the Shammai were more strict than the Hillel sect of the Pharisees. It is the Hillel sect that "won", if you will; as you mention, Orthodox Judaism today is based on Hillel halacha. Here's my question: aren't the Orthodox (Hillel's descendants, if you will) unnecessarily strict today? It is difficult to imagine a religion more strict than Ultra Orthodox Judaism! Yet you say it is Shammai that was stricter yet? Has Hillel grown more stringent since Yeshua's day? They seem too strict today!

For example, a Jewish blogger acquaintance, who is perhaps not very religious, but believes in God, once told me she could never keep most of the Torah because she didn't have room in her apartment for 2 kitchens, 2 sets of dinnerware, etc. referring to the Orthodox practice of separating dairy and meat.

Isn't that an unnecessarily strict practice of Orthodox Judaism, and by extension, Hillel's halacha? Are some of the rabbinic rulings -- even from Hillel's followers -- a burden or even unrighteously strict, as were some of Shammai's halacha?

Yeshua upheld many of Hillel's teachings, because they were righteous. Yeshua had a problem with certain customs which somehow annulled the commandments, and with people equating them as equal status to Torah. Notice in the Mark account, that some of Yeshua's talmidim/students didn't wash their hands according to the custom. That means some did. The custom was not evil, but the certain Pharisees who upheld it as equal to a mitzvah/command of Torah were wrong.

So where is the evidence of Yeshua being a Pharisee? In Yochanan 1:26,27 Yochanan indicates that "among you (the Pharisees)... is the one coming after me (Yeshua)". As I stated, Yeshua wasn't physically there that day which is made clear in the next few verses. Instead, Yeshua was among the Pharisees - he was a Pharisee.
Also, Nakdimon, who is recorded as a righteous Rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, came to Yeshua and told him "we know you are a Rabbi from HaShem..." in Yochanan/John 3.

Do you ever wonder why Yeshua never interacted with the Sadducees much, instead he mostly dealt with the Pharisees, because this was his sect. And in his interaction with Pharisees, they discussed mostly Talmudic issues like issues of cutsom, tradition, halachot, etc, not clear cut unarguable issues of Torah. The things they argued about would be comparable to two Christian pastors arguing about the right way to baptize someone, or something to that effect.

It was to the Pharisees that Yeshua said they do not need a physician, because they are well (because they kept Torah; Matt. 9, Mark 2). Yeshua said he was there for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, both the dispersed Ephraimites who became goyim and the unlearned, non-Torah-observant, and/or Hellenistic Jew. Yeshua shunned mostly the Shammai Pharisees for being so strict and hard on new converts and the unlearned Jew - for loading upon them heavy loads they could not lift. Yet Yeshua himself performed Rabbinic customs, but it was because he was learned and capable...

-Yochanan/John 1:26,27 (as explained above) indicates Yeshua was a Pharisee.

-Yochanan/John 3:1-2 (as explained above) shows that a high-standing Pharisee believed in Yeshua, and said "we", i.e. at least some of the Pharisees, knew Yeshua was a "Rabbi from HaShem". (Also, Yochanan/John 19:38-40 tells of Nakdimon and Yosef burying their Moshiach/Messiah according to the Rabbinic custom)

-Luke 2:39-52 indicates Yeshua being brought up in the faith and traditions of his ancestors.

-Mark 6:41; 8:6 indicates Yeshua performing the Rabbinic custom of saying a bracha (blessing) over food.

-Mark 14:22-23,26 indicated Yeshua and his talmidim/students performing the custom of singing the Hallel after the Passover seder.

-In the Encyclopedia Judaica (vol.10, p.14) it says: "the gospels provide sufficient evidence to the effect that Jesus did not oppose any prescription of the Written or Oral Mosaic Law.

Many of Yeshua's teachings can be found in the Talmud as well. For example:
"He who is merciful toward others will receive mercy from Heaven". This is found in the Talmud (Shabbat 151b) and in the Brit Chadasha (Matt. 5:7).
"Do they say, 'take the splinter out of your eye?' He will retort, 'remove the beam out of your eye'" is found in the Talmud (Baba bathra 15b) and in the Brit Chadasha (Matt. 7:3).
"Let your yes be yes and your no be no" is found in the Talmud (Baba metzia 49a) and in the Brit Chadasha (Matt. 53:7).

One final point, although there are many more examples I could get into.
When Yeshua stood before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:55-56), no fault could be found with Yeshua. No fault means the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin could find nothing wrong with Yeshua - meaning he lived flawlessly both to the Written Torah and to the customs.

An Orthodox scholar and Rabbi, Pinchas Lapide, wrote the following:
"Jesus never and nowhere broke the Law of Moses, nor did he in any way provoke its infringement - it is entirely false to say that he did...In this respect you must believe me, for I know the Talmud more or less...This Jesus was as faithful to the Law as I would hope to be. But I suspect Jesus was more faithful to the Law than I am - and I am an Orthodox Jew."
Good recap.

We've got several comments from first part of our conversation that I'd like to openly discuss. Let's take them one at a time to make it more readable.

A Messianic Israelite, Efrayim, asks,

"If Yeshua was a Pharisee, why would Sha'ul count being one as worthless, if his entire life's goal was to be as his Master? Wouldn't he have taught the Greeks to be Pharisees so they could be like their Messiah?

If He were really a Pharisee of the school of Hillel, wouldn't He be recognized as one by those very Pharisees? The answer comes from the Pharisees themselves. Not once did they ask Him why He was not keeping the teachings of the Pharisees (either school), nor did they complain about His choice of talmidim, not one of them a Pharisee."

It is interesting to note that Yeshua most certainly was deemed a rabbi in his day; we have evidence from the gospel of many folks calling him "rabbi", as well as him teaching in the Temple (acting as a rabbi, if you will). I'd also contend that Efrayim is wrong on one point: the Pharisees actually did ask Yeshua why he and his talmidim (followers) were not keeping the teachings of the Pharisees, for example, regarding the ritual washing of hands.

What do you say to Efrayim?

It is interesting that Encyclopedia Judaica states Yeshua never broke either the Torah of Moses or the Torah of the rabbis (Oral Torah). While this distinction is often lost on Christians today, to us it seems like an absurd statement; Yeshua most certainly broke some of the Oral Torah, did he not? The picking of grain on Sabbath, or rejecting the tradition washing of the hands prior to the meal, for instance. What do you say?
Rabbi Shaul didn't say being a Pharisee was worthless. He taught that (da'at) knowledge is nothing without cochmah and binah (wisdom and understanding), that is why the Chassidic sect of Judaism called Chabad has their name, which is an acronym for CHochmah, Binah, and Da'at (CHaBaD), wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

In other words, Shaul's knowledge of the Torah would be useless if he did not hearken to the wisdom of HaShem - which is found in the Torah itself, but is cannot be gained if one does not keep the Torah with sincerity of heart - which is what Yeshua taught (the "letter" and "spirit" of the Torah go hand in hand).

Is it no wonder everyone called Yeshua a Rabbi? Is it no wonder why a very notable Pharisaic Rabbi and Sanhedrin member confessed that THEY KNEW Yeshua was a Rabbi from HaShem? How can someone argue this? What more evidence do they need? It seems to me people are choosing not to believe this, because everything points directly at Yeshua being a Rabbi - heck, we even have a Rabbi, Pharisee, and Sanhedrin member of Yeshua's time who is even spoken of in the Talmud telling Yeshua that they know Yeshua is a Rabbi from HaShem. Do I have to reiterate it again!? What more could people ask for in evidence?

As for Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus... he was an admitted Pharisee after believing in Yeshua (Acts 26:3), and he was a Rabbi trained under Gamaliel II. I don't see how someone could really argue this.

Another fact to note is that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, which Yeshua taught and even Christians today believe too (although they believe a different version of it, of course).

-Shaul tells us that there is only one true faith (the Faith of Israel which has become known as Judaism), in Eph. 4:3-6. Yehudah (Jude) tells us that this one true Faith was delivered to the tzadikim once and for all, in Jude 1:3.

-2 Maccabees 2:21 tells us that all the Jews who fought the Greeks were "those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism."

-Shaul himself uses the term Judaism in Galatians 1:13 to describe his own faith (see Acts 23:6 for proof that he is comparing his old life in Judaism to his new life in Judaism).

-I would like to say to the Christians what Yeshua said to the Samaritan woman in Yoch./John 4:22-23.

-In the 4th Century, a "church father" named Epiphanius writes (Panarion 29):
"But these sectarians do not call themselves Christians, but "Nazarenes"... however they are simple complete Jews... They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the law proclaims it - and in the Jewish fashion..."

Now, about Yeshua "breaking" Rabbinic/Pharisaic customs...
Here is one good example. One day, on Shabbat, Yeshua spat in dirt to make mud in order to heal someone. This was a violation of the Shabbat by some Pharisees' standards. Notice Yeshua's argument is not that he didn't break Shabbat - but instead he used a Rabbinic argument method called kal vachomer (the light and the heavy), which Rabbi Hillel was famous for using.

Yeshua made the argument that what was of greater important (heavier, if you will) was the healing of a human being...

And he took it further, follow this.

With Matt. 12:33b in mind: in Hoshea 6:6, it is stated that HaShem desires mercy over sacrifices. The High Priest, who performed the sacrifices were commanded by HaShem to perform them even on Shabbat - so that they broke Shabbat by doing these sacrifices, yet it was of greater importance to HaShem for them to do this. EVEN STILL, mercy is of greater importance that even the Sacrifices, which Hos. 6:6 tells us. So therefore, the mercy Yeshua had on a man as he healed him on Shabbat was of greater importance than keeping Shabbat in every detail.

So Yeshua's argument was: "Yes, I am breaking Shabbat by breaking this halacha which says making anything, even mud out of spit and dirt, is a violation of Shabbat (he agrees with this halacha), but it is for the MUCH GREATER purpose of mercy, since I healed this man of blindness. Therefore, because I have done the thing that is of greater importance to my Father in Heaven, I have been righteous and have not broken Shabbat."

Now, shortly, with regard to the hand washing. The answer is simple. It is a custom, not halacha of any Torah commandment. Therefore it is entirely optional to do this. Some Pharisees were setting this up as a mitzvah, which it is not.

In the next conversation, we'll discuss more about this breaking of a small commandment to do a greater commandment; many times I've heard from Christians, "Well, Paul didn't circumcise Titus, so he wasn't keeping the Torah. Therefore, we do not keep the Torah." Did this "light and heavy" play a role in Paul decision to circumcise Timothy, but not Titus? I'd like to discuss a little more this kal vachomer idea; I've never heard of this in Christian circles, and I suspect it is a point lost on the gentile world, if not an explanation for some of the "double standards" of Paul.

One thing that's really eating at me is this Shaul (Paul) stuff -- how can we say he was a rabbi and an observant Jew when he deliberately refused to circumcise Titus? On the other end of the spectrum, Christians will tell you Paul was "nailing the Law to the cross" and refusing to be "under it" -- but how does that reconcile with Paul's taking a Nazirite vow from Torah, or his circumcision of Timothy? And what does "under the Law" mean, anyways? Was Yeshua "under the Law"?

Before this post reaches its end, I must admit we've offend a lot of you, as I predicted before we began. I don't have regrets about that -- we throw around ideas and beliefs and theories in an attempt to better understand the Scriptures.

But one thing I've done that I must apologize for, something Gary Kirkham brought to light, is that too often I have mocked Christians; certainly in the past, if not in this conversation. The tongue is powerful and mocking is not from God; I apologize and repent for that. I will learn to more carefully watch my words. Thank you, Gary, for making that known in the soft-spoken way you always do, your behavior in these matters is from Messiah.


  1. Judah & Aaron,

    I'm not going to try to answer every point made, but I will address at least two:

    The first is the quote from Yochanan 1:24-27,

    "Some of those who had been sent were P'rushim. They asked him (Yochanan), "If you are neither the Messiah nor Eliyahu nor the 'the prophet,' then why are you immersing people?" To them Yochanan replied, "I am immersing people in water, but among you is standing someone whom you do not know. He is the one coming after me - I'm not good enough even to untie His sandal!"

    I think it is clear that Yochanan was not saying that the coming Messiah was one of the P'rushim, only that He was among the people there and that they did not know who He was.

    Also keep in mind that the only people who could recognize Him were able to do so only by the Ruach HaKodesh, and by no other means.

    Yeshua was not sent here to join with anyone, group or individual. Instead, we are to join ourselves to Him. Which brings me to the quote from Philippians:

    "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Messiah Yeshua, and have no confidence in the flesh;
    though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Yisra'el, of the tribe of Binyamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the law, a Parush;concerning zeal, persecuting the assembly; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.
    However, what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Messiah. Yes most assuredly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Messiah and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which is from God by faith;"

    Do you see anything in there about keeping his earthly credentials intact rather than letting them go in favor of knowing Messiah?

    I don't. In fact, it would seem logical that Sha'ul was making the point that the two were incompatible, our earthly values and associations compared with heavenly values and associations.

    As set-apart and righteous as the P'rushim may have been, Sha'ul recognized that it was not enough. And he was willing to put all that behind him for the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua.

    Keep in mind that prior to the coming of Messiah, people would align themselves with various religious groups, whichever they preferred, and who would accept them. After Messiah, those who put their trust in Him would align themselves only with Him and not with anyone else. This fact is clear in Acts and some of the letters.

    In chapter 15 of Acts it was the P'rushim who argued with the emissaries about having their rules imposed on the new believers. While none of the emissaries argued against the keeping of Torah, they did not see any advantage to adding the entire weight of Torah to the backs of the new converts all at once. Rather, they would be encouraged to learn about Torah over time.

    Let's do the math - if Yeshua was a Parush and His talmadim were also constrained by Him to be as well, then those two facts would equal the wholesale conversion of Asia minor to being P'rushim.

    Didn't happen. Because it wasn't supposed to. The good news of salvation had to be spread throughout the known world. In a relatively short amount of time. Can you see that happening if it got bogged down in Yerushalayim by trying to make everyone a Parush?

    So what is the advantage of thinking that Yeshua was a Parush? And of a particular school at that? I understand the feelings of those who want to "reclaim" their Jewish Messiah. He certainly has been misrepresented by the Christian community. But it was not done maliciously, just in ignorance. A condition we have all suffered from at some point in our lives.

    We would do well if we do not confuse finding out who we are in Him with who He is.



  2. Efrayim,

    "...among you is standing someone whom you do not know. He is the one coming after me (Yeshua)..."

    The above is a reference to Yeshua being a Pharisee, because as I've explained before, Yeshua was not literally there. If you read a few verses after, in verse 29, it says:

    "The next day Yochanan saw Yeshua coming to him and he said, 'Behold, the Lamb of Eloah who takes away the sins of the world!'"

    The main purpose of this discussion about Rabbi Yeshua being a Pharisee is to break the misconceptions and lack of understanding about the Phraisees and the modern offspring of Pharisaic Judaism, Orthodox Judaism. Is everything within it perfect? No, not so, and every Rabbi who has disagreed with another Rabbi (every Rabbi disagrees with another Rabbi in some, usually many ways) would agree - otherwise they would not have argued with other Rabbis.

    Yeshua's Judaism was perfect, this we know, because Yeshua made no mistakes. Therefore, looking at Yeshua's teachings and paralleling and contrasting them to other teachings in Judaism can show which teachings were right and wrong. Hillel Pharisaism and Essene Judaism (especially the spiritual teachings of the Essenes) are very close to Yeshua's teachings more than any other sect of Judaism, or any other branch of a sect.

    People could also know Yeshua by the Torah (which is like the Ruach HaKodesh written on a scroll), like Nakdimon and Yosef did - as well as many, many others undoubtedly. Can one really draw much of a difference at all between the Ruach HaKodesh and the Torah?

    You're right, Yeshua's purpose was not to be part of any group of Jews - but he was. Whether or not that was his purpose means nothing. Whether or not he could be is a different argument. And definitely, he could be. If he had to be a Jew, it wouldn't be a surprise that he would be raised in one of the most righteous sects of Judaism of his day. Clearly, he was raised in Pharisaism - as clearly as Yochanan was raised in the Essene community. Otherwise, why would Yeshua be called a Rabbi (a Pharisaic title), teach in a Pharisaic/Rabbinic manner, and use teachings and teaching methods so identical to those of Rabbi Hillel?

    As for Rabbi Shaul, he was also a Pharisee of the School of Hillel. Gamaliel II, whom Shaul studied under, was Hillel's grandson.
    The truth to Shaul's claim that he was a Pharisee is his extensive use of Hillelian Hermeneutics, for example, the first rule of Hillel (kal v'chomer/light and heavy).

    It is because of Rabbi Shaul's "earthly" credentials that he was chosen by HaShem to minister Torah to the goyim. That which is of the Torah is not of the earth, it is of Heaven. The righteousness that is of the Torah goes hand in hand with the righteousness that is of the Spirit, since they are not at odds, are not separated from each other, yet are each manifestations of Eloah himself. Shaul's point is that, as he wrote Kabbalistically without the "da'at of Yeshua", the point, not the abolition of the Torah, it would be pointless.

    In Ephesians 2, Shaul tells us that Yeshua is the one who would make the goyim, who Shaul describes as those "afar", those "alien to the customs of Israel", and those "estranged to the covenant of the promise", as one with "those near", i.e. the Jewish people.
    "And he has reconciled the two of them (Jew and goy; Judah and Ephraim) in one body with Eloah."

    So what was it that the goyim didn't have? The Torah, the customs, and hope. But when they accept Yeshua, they are made one with the Jewish people, and have become Israelites. They are to be brought to Torah, the customs, and have hope.

    As you mentioned, in Acts 15 there were certain Netzarim who wanted to impose all of the Torah and halacha upon gentile converts to Judaism. Instead, it was said that they should learn Torah according to the custom of reading the Torah every Shabbos in the synagogues (synagogues being a Pharisaic/Rabbinic invention).

    So let's see... follow the Pharisaic customs to learn the Torah over time. That is actually exactly what modern Judaism teaches - they don't impose everything on you at once. And also on another issue like this, modern Judaism agrees with Rabbi Shaul that a convert should not be circumcised until he learns enough Torah to know what he's getting into.

    Following in Yeshua's footsteps and teachings, one would come out to be what the original Netzarim were, followers of Yeshua who kept the "law, and in the Jewish fashion" (Epiphaneus, Panarion 29). No wonder the Netzarim coexisted with the Pharisees so well for so long, and were often times synonymous with them.