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By Robert Michaels
In Jewish History there has always been divergent opinions. These
differences have caused many factions and groups. In the short
period of time preceding the destruction of the Temple, roughly
200 to 100 B.C.E., such a splinter occurred. This division had
a impact not only on Jewish life but also on Christian belief.
During this period, the Jewish people had divided into three groups,
the Sadduccees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.
The Sadduccees, which in Hebrew means "righteous", were
one group. They were characterized by their novel interpretations
of the Torah. Although they did not accept the tradition of the
"oral" Torah, that is the verbal traditions, they were
very active in upholding the Torah in it's strict literal sense.
In many ways, they were bigger religious zealots than the Pharisees
or Essenes. As an example, the Torah states that no fire must
be carried in the house on the Sabbath. They understood this simply
as a total prohibition of use of fire through out the Sabbath
day, therefore they did not allow the use of fire during the Sabbath.
Another example was that they would wear their tephilin on the
back of their hand since it states in the Torah, "and you
shall tie them on your hands...:"
In opposition to the Sadduccees, the Pharisees taught that the
proper interpretation of the Torah was based on the verbal tradition.
Therefore, even though it is written, "and you shall tie
them on your hands...:" the traditional interpretation is
not on the back of the hand, but on the biceps. The Pharisees
gained much power during this period and took command of the order
of the Temple services, excluding the participation of the Sadduccees.
The third group, the Essenes, were an ascetic group. They rejected
both the Pharisees and the Sadduccees as not being acceptable.
Although the Essenes were closer in philosophy and tradition to
the Pharisees than to the Sadduccees, still the Pharisees were
considered corrupt, since their lives were much more worldly and
therefore seemingly less intense in the religious observance than
the Essenes. The priests, who conducted the services in the Temple
according to the ways of the Pharisees, were also deemed evil.
The Essenes retreated from the controversy between the Pharisees
and the Sadduccees and sought out a more purified life style in
the tranquility of a hermit type existence. Although they lived
through out the land of Israel, their masses centered upon the
Northwestern shore of the Dead sea an area desolate and given
over to a quiet and thoughtful life style.
They formed a "brotherhood" which was almost monastic
in form. Marriage was permitted, but due to the doctrine of holiness
which they espoused, many men refrained from marriage in order
to dedicate themselves to the service of G-d and spiritualism.
Their lives were that of austerity, hard work, communal living
and much introspection. They took upon themselves an oath which
was to dedicate their lives to the most demanding rituals which
would bring them closer to God. They worked hard for their common
community and lived together in strict observance to their specific
structured life as dictated by the "elders" of the community.
Although the Essenes followed many of the same traditional teaching
that the Pharisees accepted, there were many additional rules
that they instituted and some differences in other laws. Since
the discovery of the famed "Dead Sea Scrolls" in the
caves at Qumram, just north of Jericho, which included many various
writings by the Essenes, much is known of their lives and thoughts.
One of the differences between the Essenes and the Pharisees was
in the calendar. The Jewish people today follow the calendar of
the Pharisees. This calendar is based on the moon. The month will
have either 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon.
Since a lunar year is 29.5 days times 12 months equaling 354 days.
A solar year is 364.25 days, therefore the lunar year is short
by 10.25 days from the solar year. The rabbis therefore had to
add extra month every three years to make up this difference,
otherwise the holidays, (such as Pesach would not be celebrated
in the beginning of the summer) would rotate around the year.
To the Essenes, this calendar was an abomination. Their calendar
was a solar calendar. Each month had 30 days. One month in three
had 31 days, hence each season (three months ) had 91 days. Each
year had 364 days. The holidays began on the same day of the week
each year (as opposed to our calendar where the New Year varies
from year to year on which day of the week it falls).
Practically speaking this caused a big rift in relations between
the Essenes and the other two groups. When the Pharisees and Sadduccees
celebrated the holidays, the Essenes worked. Conversely, when
the Essenes celebrated the holidays, the other two groups worked.
Although no known record of conflict is recorded, we can deduce
that due to the reclusive nature of the Essenes, conflict was
Historians have long pointed to the Essenes as the forerunner
to the Christians. It is known that early Christians took much
from the Essenes and their doctrine of asceticism. Their abhorrence
of the Temple service and view of the evil priests is well documented.
Since the early Christian religion began protest group and as
an extension of Judaism, it has been speculated that the early
Christian leaders circulated amongst the Essenes. Much of the
changes and reforms set in motion by the Essenes gave impetus
to the early Christians to make further changes. However since
they changed too many of the main tenets of the Jewish religion,
they were not successful in attracting Jewish followers.
Today, all Judaism is based on the Pharisees. The calendar is
universally accepted in the Jewish world. Though Jews may disagree
on many things, be it politics or religion, still the roots for
today's Judaism is in the Pharisees.
from the October 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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