The Rabbinic Age of Judaism

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The banishment and exile of Jews from the ancient Kingdom Judah to Babylon resulted in dramatic changes to Jewish culture and religion. This allowed the circumstances for the development of various sects, each of which claimed exclusive authority to represent "Judaism"; marriage with members of other sects is forbidden. Although priests controlled the rituals of the Temple, the scribes and sages, later called rabbis dominated the study of the Torah. These sages identified with the Prophets and developed and maintained an oral tradition that they believed had originated at Mount Sinai. The Pharisees had its origins in this new system. One of the factors that distinguished the Pharisees from other groups preceding the destruction of the Temple was their belief that all Jews had to observe the purity laws outside the Temple. The major difference, however, was the continued obedience of the Pharisees to the laws and traditions of the Jewish people in the face of assimilation. The Pharisees were considered the experts and accurate expositors of Jewish law. The sages of the Talmud see a direct link between themselves and the Pharisees, and historians generally consider Pharisaic Judaism to be the progenitor of Rabbinic Judaism. All mainstream forms of Judaism today consider themselves heirs of Rabbinic Judaism and, ultimately, the Pharisees. At first the values of the Pharisees developed through their sectarian debates with members of other Jewish groups; then they developed through internal, non-sectarian debates over the law as an adaptation to life without the Temple, and in exile. These shifts mark the transformation of Pharisaic to Rabbinic Judaism. One belief central to the Pharisees was shared by all Jews of the time: monotheism. This is evident in the practice of reciting the Shema. Pharisaic views were non-creedal and non-dogmatic, and heterogeneous. Not one piece of rabbinic text is devoted to theological issues; these texts are concerned primarily with interpretations of Jewish law, and anecdotes about the sages and their values. Fundamentally, the Pharisees continued a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple. They applied Jewish law to ordinary activities in order to sanctify the every-day world. This was a more participatory form of Judaism, in which rituals were not monopolized by an inherited priesthood but rather could be performed by all Jews individually, or collectively. The Pharisees believed a leader was not determined by birth but by scholarly achievement. In general, the Pharisees emphasized a commitment to social justice, belief in the brotherhood of mankind, a faith in the redemption of the Jewish nation and, ultimately, humanity. Moreover, they believed that these ends would be achieved through halakha, a body of laws derived from a close reading of sacred texts. This belief entailed both a commitment to relate religion to ordinary concerns and daily life, and a commitment to study and scholarly debate. In some cases, Pharisaic values led to an extension of the law. For example, the Torah requires priests to bathe themselves before entering the Temple. The Pharisees washed themselves before Sabbath and festival meals, and eventually before all meals. Although this seems burdensome compared to other practices, but in other cases, Pharisaic law was less strict. For example, Biblical law prohibits Jews from carrying objects from a private domain to a public domain on the Sabbath. This law could have prevented Jews from carrying cooked dishes to the homes of friends for Sabbath meals. The Pharisees created a rule that adjacent houses connected by lintels or fences could become connected by a legal procedure creating a partnership between both homes. This clarified the status of those common areas as a private domain relative to the members of the bond. In that manner people could carry objects from building to building. The Pharisees were innovators in that they enacted specific laws...
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