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Conversations of Zeal: Part 1

My younger brother Aaron is a zealot. :-) He's zealous for Torah, for Messiah, for the land of Israel. He has a deep understanding of the Scriptures that dwarfs my own knowledge and wisdom, but better still, he has a desire for yet more understanding.

This past sabbath, after a little Torah study, I had a conversation with him regarding Messiah, Judaism, Chabad Judaism, and the Pharisees -- the conversation was getting so deep, I stopped him in the middle and said, "I need to get a sound recorder and record this - this is good stuff!"

I didn't have a sound recorder handy, but we did decide to take this conversation online and post it publicly.

The result? The multi-part conversation below is a frank, unadulterated discussion and debate regarding belief in the God of Israel and role of Messiah in that faith. I hope you all find it challenging and thought-provoking; you'll hear things you won't hear in your church! Nor your synagogue for that matter. You might get offended! And you'll almost certainly disagree. Ready?

Without further ado, here is part 1, in which Aaron asserts Yeshua the Messiah was actually a Pharisee. We discuss how this could be and what the implications would be if Yeshua (Jesus) was indeed a Pharisee...

Yeshua the Pharisee?

So Judah... after some study of the religio-political atmosphere of the first century, I came to a conclusion that is far different than what most of Christianity and Messianism believes. And that conclusion is: Yeshua was a Pharisaic Rabbi. And in fact, he was a netzer (sprout) out of the House of Hillel. What say ye?

You said your conclusion of your studies was that Yeshua was a Pharisaic rabbi. I can already hear Christians cringing and quickly rushing to quote something from the gospels where Messiah rebuked the Pharisees -- why would he rebuke a Pharisee if he were one himself?

I think Yeshua was not a Pharisee by how the Western world defines a Pharisee. (That is, a corrupt, outward-only, legalistic teacher of Judaism.)

So here's the $64,000 question: how do you define a Pharisee? Before we can say whether Yeshua was a Pharisee, we must answer this question.

Good questions! I agree with you that Yeshua definitely was NOT the kind of Pharisee that is defined by the western Christians. And the problem itself is the misconception of the Pharisee.

As the House of Judah (the Jewish people) came back from Babylonian exile, only a very small fraction resettled in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Those who did were the ones who were most zealous for Torah.

These Jewish returnees who came out of Babylonian exile and settled in Eretz HaKodesh (the Holy Land) eventually became divided into 3 groups. One of those groups/sects of Judaism were the Pharisees.
The word Pharisee (Hebrew: P'rushi) comes from the Hebrew root word "parash" which means to be separated, to be distinguished, or to define. The Pharisees called themselves this because they separated from the many Hellenistic influences.

There arose two houses of Pharisaism headed by two opposing Rabbis. One was Hillel, the other Shammai.

Rabbi Shammai had much stricter halachot (ways in which to keep Torah). The House of Shammai had wealthier members than did the House of Hillel. In fact, the Talmud records that Rabbi Hillel was never wealthy - even when he had the opportunity to be. Rabbi Hillel, even after becoming a great Rabbi, decided to have very little.

Rabbi Hillel was also very lenient and accepting to the unlearned Jew and the gentile convert. There are many stories in the Talmud which show Rabbi Hillel's patience with people who came to him with questions and for help.

Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef lived a life that greatly paralleled Rabbi Hillel's (Rabbi Hillel died when Yeshua was young). It was a life of righteous humility (not self-loathe), a life of elevating others at one's own expense - the hallmark of a righteous Rabbi.

Now for the Scriptural evidence to back up what was said above...

In Yochanan (John) 1:27, Yochanan/John HaMatbeel (the Immerser), who was from the Essene community (the Essenes being another sect of Judaism in the first century which produced many believers in Yeshua) was being questioned by some Pharisees about who he was. Near the end of the questioning, Yochanan tells them, in verse 26 and 27, "standing among you... is the one coming after me (Yeshua)". As you can read in the next few verses, Yeshua was NOT literally physically standing among the Pharisees that day... Yeshua was of the Pharisees.

Nakdimon (AKA Nicodemus), who is recorded in the Brit Chadasha ("New Testament") as a believer in Yeshua, and the man who met Yeshua at night to speak with him. He is also recorded in the Talmud as being a very righteous Rabbi (of the Hillel sect of Pharisees)!

Also, after his supposed "conversion", Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus (AKA Paul) makes the following statement: "I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee"-Acts 23:6

It is a documented fact that the Netzarim (Nazarenes), who were a sect of Judaism that believed in Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef as Moshiach, were a coalition of Pharisees and Essenes. In fact, as you can read in the Talmud (which is a compilation of Pharisaic writings) and Essene writings that Rabbi Yeshua taught many Pharisaic and Essene principles and teachings - mostly Pharisaic, House of Hillel halacha and Essene spiritual teachings.

Also, after the destruction of the Temple, the only remaining sects of Judaism were the Netzarim and Pharisees. They lived in peace and harmony together, studied together, often times were literal blood brothers and sisters, and synonymous - all until the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, where a major split between them began to take place.

Hope that wasn't too long!


Interesting. So our modern definition of a Pharisee is a misconception -- not all Pharisees were the outward-only, legalistic teachers we often think of. As evidence of this, you state how Paul called himself a Pharisee, how Nakdimon (Nicodemus) was a righteous Pharisee, and how Messiah's teachings aligned with the Hillel sect of Pharisees. Here's another thing to munch on: before Yeshua made the famous statement about the 2 greatest commandments of Torah, that is, the Sh'ma and to love your neighbor as yourself, before any of that, Rabbi Hillel made the statement,
What you yourself hate, don't do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study.

This statement was uttered at least 20 years before Messiah's birth, yet Hillel and Yeshua align.

You also mention Rabbi Hillel embraced humility, embraced the poor, was lenient and patient in Torah. This is also a staple of Yeshua: always humble, embraced the poor and lowly rather than the rich and haughty.

These cases show yet more alignment between rabbis Hillel and Yeshua, and this is what leads you to believe Yeshua was a Pharisee.

Can we say Messiah was influenced by Rabbi Hillel, as many other Pharisees were? Or do we say no man can influence Messiah, and that the reason Messiah and Hillel aligned was because Rabbi Hillel's teachings were righteous and perfectly aligned with Torah?

In part 2, we'll hopefully get an answer to this question: since Hillel and Yeshua had such similar teachings and lived very much paralleled lives, is it possible Yeshua was influenced by a righteous rabbi of his day? And what about the differences between Yeshua and the Pharisees of his day - what a contrast! How does that fit? Looking forward to these answers myself!

If any of you fine blog readers have questions, or think we're dead wrong, or have a different view, please say so in the comments! All feedback is welcomed. We love discussion and debate and may address them as the conversation progresses.



  1. This does not so much appear to be an argument that Yeshua was a Pharisaic Rabbi, as an argument that Rabbi Hillel (and many of the Pharisies) was a good and righteous Rabbi.

  2. Hi Patrick.

    Thanks for the feedback. I wanted to first get a clear definition -- a proper definition -- of "Pharisee", and perhaps that led us off a bit.

    We'll clarify in part 2.

    Thanks man!

  3. Judah, I definitely wouldn't say my knowledge of the Scriptures dwarfs yours!


  4. Interesting post Judah...I will be looking forward to part 2. My first thoughts were along the lines on Patrick's. Like this bit:

    we'll hopefully get an answer to this question: since Hillel and Yeshua had such similar teachings and lived very much paralleled lives, is it possible Yeshua was influenced by a righteous rabbi of his day?

    The way Jesus lived His life and the things that He taught were a reflection of His Father's heart. In as much as any man, Rabbi or otherwise, has yielded his life to the Spirit of God, then his life will also be reflection of the Father's heart...albeit a much dimmer reflection :)

    The source of the teaching isn't a man or even Jesus Himself, it is God the Father.

    For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. John 12:49

    Will you talk about the significance of "Jesus the Pharisee?" I am not sure that it makes any difference to me if He was or wasn't...I'm not seeing any implications.

    In Christ,

  5. Judah,

    I have heard the argument many times over the years; that Yeshua was a Pharisee. But does this make sense?

    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 talmadim, not one of them a Pharisee. But since our records of the conversations that took place back then are quite small, perhaps there is a scriptural reference of His alignment with a human religious sect.

    No, there isn't, but there is this one insightful verse: John 2:24-25
    "But Yeshua, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."

    In other words, He would not make any commitment to man, because He knew what was in their hearts.

    Yeshua did not align Himself with any person or group. He certainly did not need their testimony regarding who He was, nor their support.

    Yeshua did not agree with Hillel, Hillel agreed with Torah, and Yeshua was Torah in the flesh.

    The implications of saying that Messiah Yeshua was a Pharisee is to bring Him down to the level of an ordinary man, born of the seed of man. If He was a Pharisee, then His children, born of the Spirit, are also Pharisees, for they are like Him.

    And really, 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 thay could be like their Messiah?

    Bottom line: Yeshua was not a Pharisee any more than Sha'ul was a rabbi. Scripture does not support those theories. It is no more correct to try and fit Messiah into cultural Jewish clothes than it is to try and dress Him up like a cultural Christian.

    Looking forward to the rest of the discussion.



  6. Aaron...

    You said: "Yeshua was a Pharisaic Rabbi. And in fact, he was a netzer (sprout) out of the House of Hillel."

    How can one speak of something as a "fact", (specifically) that Yeshua was of the House of Hillel, without any direct scriptural or historical evidence? Scriptures give no indication that he ever belonged to any political or religious party.

    Pharisees were the teachers of the Law. Yet Yeshua clearly wasn't one of their group and people could plainly see it. Let's look at Matthew 7:29:

    "He taught as One who had authority, and not as their teachers of the Law"

    For someone being part of their group, what a strange statement to make in Matthew 16:5:

    "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

    Earlier in the same chapter, one can see BOTH Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trap Yeshua. They ganged up on him - both of those warring groups joined forces against him. Indeed, Yeshua was not part of either group. Rather, he was a true Israelite and a Jew, he didn't need to be part of a certain religious group. Just like Yochonan the Immerser, Yeshua had his own group and followers.

    "As the House of Judah (the Jewish people)"...

    House of Israel - ISRAEL - and not just "Judah" partly returned from exile and partly stayed in Diaspora. Let's take off the "Two-Stick" glasses for a minute...and things will become much more clear.

    "Those who did were the ones who were most zealous for Torah."

    Really? I seem to remember reading in the Tanakh that many in fact returned intermarried with the women of the land, and the wealthy were economically abusing the poor Israelites. This doesn't sound like very "zealous for Torah", does it?. I would say that it was G-d who returned them, not of them being zealous for His Laws. Just like the masses of Jews of today who are returning to Israel (ex-Soviet Jews are not jealous for Torah) - solely by G-d's loving kindness.

    Yeshua made many statements, most of which can be traced directly back to Torah and Tanakh. If Rabbi Hillel made similar-sounding statements, it doesn't indicate them being connected somehow - they simply used common scriptures to make their points.

    "Can we say Messiah was influenced by Rabbi Hillel, as many other Pharisees were?"

    I don't think so. Yeshua was going about his Father's business. He didn't need another man to teach him about the things above - he knew it already and he even amazed people who knew him (Matthew 13:55). Everything he knew, said and did was because the Father directly taught him, sent him to say it and to do it.



  7. Hey guys, thanks for all the feedback. Absolutely wonderful.

    I must admit, I expected many to disagree, but I did not expect 2 Christians, a Messianic Jew, and a Messianic Israelite gentile to all disagree! Heheh. It's all good.

    @Gary, my thinking aloud shouldn't be confused with hard-set beliefs. In any case, we'll clarify more in part II. Great question -- if Yeshua was a Pharisee, why does it matter? What implications does that have? We'll discuss this in the next part.

    @Efrayim, you said calling Yeshua a Pharisee brings him down to the level of ordinary man. I disagree, and here's the simple reason: many folks in the gospel called him "rabbi", yet that is not bringing him down. Paul calls him "priest", but that does not bring him down. Calling him Pharisee -- meaning separated and distinguished -- by no means brings him down. We'll discuss some of the things you said in part II, thanks for the feedback man.

    @Gene, regarding "fact", I suspect Aaron was using a the phrase "In fact" to refer to his own findings, rather than a fact that it exists that way. That's one thing I don't like about the internet, it's too easy to pick a single word and start picking apart entire arguments from that. The rest of your arguments pretty much align with Gary's -- we'll address those in the next post.

    Thanks for the input, guys! I'm having a blast doing this. Really learning some interesting things in the process, too.

  8. Oh, one last thing, Gene. Only the house of Judah returned from Babylon; Aaron was right.

    If you recall, the house of Israel was not taken to Babylon; the northern nation of Israel was taken to Assyria in about ~720 BCE, whereas the southern nation of Judah was taken to Babylon much later, in ~586 BCE. Only Judah (the Judahites, or "Jews") returned from Babylon.

  9. Gene,
    The evidence is in all the writings of the teachings and actions of Yeshua. Anyone who has studied Judaism, and especially the Talmud and the Judaism of the time of Yeshua can clearly realize this. No wonder its not uncommon for an Orthodox Jew to say Yeshua was a Pharisaic Rabbi. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is one of the more well known Orthodox Jews to make this accurate statement.

    Its not a surprise that students of Orthodox/Pharisaic Judaism realize Yeshua was a Pharisee, while many Christians who have believed the gentile, anti-Semitic fables that Judaism is evil, and the anti-Semite-breeding lies that the church has taught, have not recognized this. Nazism grew up right in the pews of the church, in both Catholicism and Protestantism. Adolph Hitler (yimach shemo) was fueled by Martin Luther's (yimach shemo) anti-Semitic writing.

    The reason you and others are so skeptical and rejecting of this are because of the following reasons:

    1. Christian anti-Semitism which has ignorantly labeled all Pharisees and Jews in the Bible as evil, prideful, legalists - it is this that has been used to breed Jew-hatred. If you're going to make these uneducated accusations, count me in, because I'm a Pharisee, a Jew, and a Levite.

    2. If infringes on the false Messiah of Christianity. In 2 Thess., the "antichrist" is defined as the "man of Lawlessness/Torahlessness". Look no further than your crucifix for this man. The Pope is a replica of this false Messiah as well.
    People want to continue to view Rabbi Yeshua HaMoshiach as the blond-haired, blue-eyed Norweigian sausage-sucker. But instead, he was a kosher-eating Jewish Rabbi who practiced a very Jewish form of Judaism and taught it to others as well. Rabbi Yeshua is not the same man as Jesus Christ - the Jesus of the Christians is a made up character modeled after the pagan sun-god (their birthdays are the same: Dec. 25th), and looks like a hippy peacenik.

    To the benefit of your knowledge, the Hillel Pharisees were among the commoners. Many of the Sadducees were Roman agents who gained control of the Temple through money - they were also very wealthy and lived aristocratic lives. Many Shammai Pharisees (although it varied from person to person) were the wealthier, stricter, upper-class, religious elitists. THEY are the Pharisees you read about the majority of the time whom Yeshua clashed with.
    However, not all Shammai Pharisees were like this, neither were all Hillel Pharisees like Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Yeshua.

    I've read in one of the books of the Maccabees how they mention the Torah and the traditions of their fathers for which they were fighting the Greeks. How then did HaShem let them be victorious if they fought for something evil? Instead, what they fought for was Yiddishkeit (Jewish heart; Judaism). And they slaughtered the Greeks who sought to impose Hellenization upon them. Blessed is HaShem who destroyed the armies of Greece.

    The whole point here is something that I don't think really anyone here grasps... it is that Yeshua argued halachot, the ways in which to keep Torah, that had ONLY to do with the Pharisees and Essenes - and not the Sadducees/Karaites. PLUS, Yeshua argued this details of the Torah WITH Pharisees. Sometimes against some, sometimes for some. I am not saying my Rabbi was 100% Hillel - no he was not. Instead, he was a righteous balance. He taught the righteous, true halacha. Halacha is Pharisaic. That's what people need to get. Yeshua argued and taught Talmudic principles. The Talmud is of the Pharisees.

    We'll see many more Scriptures in part 2, we haven't even scratched the surface... :)

    Shalom alechem,

  10. Aaron...

    "No wonder its not uncommon for an Orthodox Jew to say Yeshua was a Pharisaic Rabbi."

    I think it's more common for OJs to say that Yeshua was a bastard born to Roman soldier than a Pharisee.

    "Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is one of the more well known Orthodox Jews to make this accurate statement."

    Please... I read the materials he puts out (and his regular articles on Pseudo-historical and humanistic drivel, combined with hatred for Christianity and Messianics... I am sorry, you shouldn't have brought him up as an example... that guy is no authority.

    You said: "Christian anti-Semitism which has ignorantly labeled all Pharisees and Jews in the Bible as evil, prideful, legalists - it is this that has been used to breed Jew-hatred."

    I am an Ukrainian Jew born to a Jewish father and mother with no Gentiles in the family line (that I know of). I do not get my views of Jewishness from Gentile Christians nor do I view unbelieving Jews through their eyes. I know that there were different types of Pharisees in the BH scriptures - both good, bad and indifferent. Some indeed were prideful and legalists, and Yeshua came against them (there's no doubt from scripture about this fact) - you don't have to pin this on Christian antisemitism. I do know that modern Judaism is a direct descendant of Phariseism.

    "If you're going to make these uneducated accusations, count me in, because I'm a Pharisee, a Jew, and a Levite."

    I communicated with your brother re: your family's Jewishness. The evidence is remote and your ancestry is greatly diluted (your great-great-grandfather was a Polish Jew?). You can claim to be a Pharisee by beliefs, but how in the world did you calculate your Levite status? I don't think your g-g-father's name was "Levy", was it or that you know much about him? Personal revelation from HaShem?

    "If infringes on the false Messiah of Christianity."

    Here we go... so, Gentile Christian believers in churches are really pagans who believe in a false Messiah? So much for the Good News being preached to all peoples of the world! Typical Two-Stick accusation.

    "Yeshua argued and taught Talmudic principles. The Talmud is of the Pharisees."

    I don't think so. You can say that Talmud argues (with great elaboration and additions of traditions of man) Torah and Tanakh principles, that's the only connection to Yeshua's taught principles.



  11. Judah,

    I was hoping this could be a good discussion, but it's going to be hard for me to listen to this sort of nonsense and not have it degrade into incivility and that is the farthest thing from my desire.

    Christian anti-Semitism which has ignorantly labeled all Pharisees and Jews in the Bible as evil, prideful, legalists

    If infringes on the false Messiah of Christianity...the Jesus of the Christians is a made up character modeled after the pagan sun-god (their birthdays are the same: Dec. 25th), and looks like a hippy peacenik.

    This sort of elitist, I'm right everyone else is wrong, stuff doesn't sit well with me.

    I have never pictured Jesus as anything other than "a kosher-eating Jewish Rabbi."


  12. P.S.

    I know you didn't write it, but I mentioned it to you as an illustration of what I was talking about the other day.

  13. Gene,

    I too am against Christianity and much of Messianism, at the very least the kind of Messianism that is nothing more than an offshoot of evangelical Christianity.

    As it says in a (non-'Messianic') Jewish prayer for Yom Kippur:
    "Torn away from us is Moshiach Tzikenu (Messiah our Righteousness)..."
    And so it has been for us for nearly 2 thousand years as Christianity has taken Yeshua away from us in dressed him up as a pagan. I could go into details about certain people you might not expect who believe in the real Yeshua, but that is a very long rabbit trail.

    Of course there are Jews who say those things about Yeshua's birth parents. Of course there is ignorance there too. But were talking about Yeshua being a Pharisaic Rabbi.
    Rabbi Shmuley Boteach believes Jews should take Yeshua back as one of our own. That is exactly what is needed, because Christian missionaries will only make Jews Hellenistic and Christian and take away their Torah observance.

    Lets remember that the loyal son in the parable of the prodigal son was Judah, the Jewish people. We have been loyal in keeping Torah.

    I was aware of your Jewishness, as your last name is obviously Jewish.
    Both my parents are halachicly Jewish (even though this is the case, I do not fully agree with the halacha here; it should be counted through either mother or father). Each through their mother's side. As Kalev was grafted into Judah, I am grafted into Levi.

    Celebrating Xmas, Easter, congregating on the false Sabbath day (Sunday, in honor of the sun god), etc - this is not pagan?
    What does that have to do with spreading the good news (of repentance to Torah) to the goyim? The goyim all have an opportunity to become part of Israel through Yeshua and Torah. So it is my fault for telling the truth that Christianity hates and forsakes Torah, and now people cannot have this salvation and good news? On the contrary, those who teach these fallacies are to blame.

    It is not nonsense, it is not elitist. Its taking Yeshua back from galus/exile in Rome. Because of what has been done, there needs to be separation from the Hellenization of my Rabbi, HaMoshiach. It is not elitism because you can take the step any time to accept the real Yeshua and accept that which is inseparable from him and part of him: the Torah.
    Judaism is not a racist religion because anyone can join themselves to Israel. And they will be grafted into the tribe they fit.
    Do you know what tribal gate you will be entering the New Yerushalayim (Rev. 21:10-14)?


  14. Aaron,

    Maybe I chose the wrong word. On retrospection I think a better word would be "insulting."

    I believe that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi not some Greek God looking man.

    I don't believe that all Pharisee's were evil, especially since the Bible clearly depicts some that were not.

    I believe that Jesus was a Rabbi...Bible clearly says that as well.

    But even if I didn't, what good does if do to insult the ones you are trying to convince. It seems that you would state what you believe and why you believe it and leave it at that.

    And I think I will leave it at that.

    In Christ,

  15. Gary,

    While I definitely do not think every Christian is consciously anti-Semitic, in fact, many are not, and many are very pro-Israel and supportive of the Jewish people, rather it is the doctrines of Christianity which are anti-Semitic. Such things as replacement theology, the dispensation, etc. The whole idea that the Christian is the "completed Jew", that Jews are inferior for keeping the Torah. That is found in one degree or another in Christian doctrine.

    I'm glad you believe all those things, it is good. If I insulted you personally, I'm sorry.


  16. Aaron,

    No problem, I have been known to over-react :)

    Surely you can see that people that believe nonsense like replacement theology and "completed jew" are the exception, not the rule. I think that there is a way that you can speak out against those false doctrines without alienating those who agree with you...those who support Israel and know that their place in God's plan hasen't changed since before the foundation of the world. Stating that Christians (which I read as all not just some) are worshipping a false Messiah probably ain't the way to do it.

    There are things that you and I disagree about and that will probably not change, but I do think that there are things I can learn from you and Judah. I would hope that the things we will disagree about will be handled gracefully.

    Sausage Eater, eh...that did give me a chuckle.

    In Christ,

  17. Just wanted to chime in and say...

    Regarding the Christian anti-semitism Aaron referred to, I know where you Christian folks are coming from and how some of you feel insulted by that statement.

    A good friend, Derek Leman, had something quite profound to say about this; I hope it clarifies some things. Here's a little snippet, but please read the whole thing if you can find the time:

    "When those of us who love Israel and who call Christians back to the Jewish origins of our common Jesus-faith make statements like the above [that is, the sad history of the Christian religion], I know that some people feel as though something they love deeply is being insulted. It is insulting to think that Christianity has strong roots in a kind of theological racism.

    This is not to denigrate the beauty and grace brought to the world through Christian teaching, writing, and action. Absolutely there is beauty.

    But there is far more to repent for than to rejoice about in Christian history."


Appending "You might like" to each post.