It has often been posited on the web that we ought to be following Yeshua as our Rebbe. I absolutely agree. However, who exactly was Yeshua? Was he a Pharisee? Was he an Essene? Was he something else all together?
I seriously doubt Yeshua was a Pharisee.
Of course, just to make that statement is an anachronism–well, sort of. If Prof. David Flusser (of blessed memory) can be believed (and I think he can), there was no such thing as “Pharisees”; rather, the term was one of derision used by the adversaries of the Sages and their disciples. The one exception to this being that when writing in Greek, it seems that they did use the term “Pharisee” (witness, the writings of Josephus and Rav Shaul) to refer to themselves.
“This was the time [referring to the rise of the Karaites ] when the Rabbis began to identify with the Pharisees, without realizing that the word “Pharisees” never appears in the Talmudic sources as a general designation of the Sages (except when used by their opponents).” – Flusser, David. Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p 27.
In other words, in the 2nd Temple period there was no monolithic, codified halacha, nor a single homogeneous group that rendered authoritative halachic decisions. Yeshua was not a part of the political party who rose to dominance in the wake of Salome Alexandra and John Hyrcanus. However, it is reality that the Pharisees heavily influenced the Sanhedrin and the general populace. As a result, Yeshua would have practiced halacha that was at times so intertwined with so-called Pharasaic halacha as to be indistinguishable.
We must be very careful when attempting to re-construct who Yeshua “aligned with” not to project historical attempts at categorization into the reality that Yeshua actually lived, breathed, ate, slept and walked in. At the end of the day, the line between assuming present day orthodox halacha as a norm and what I am calling for is a very fine distinction. However, I’m unrelenting on this issue, because that fine line is such an important one to observe.
The difference will be a deciding factor in whether our movement slides into legalism. It will be a deciding factor in whether our movement imitates our Master or those who rejected Him. Are we beit Yeshua or beit ben Zakkai ?
This is why I’ve been emphasizing maturity. The temptation to slide into a norm unless it obviously contradicts Scripture is so strong, yet deceptively non-confrontational. But that mistake would lead us down a path we don’t want to follow, just as Christianity has gone down a path of compromise one slight acceptance at a time.
The process of weighing and creating our own halacha as we carefully attempt to interpret Yeshua’s way of walking is a difficult but enormously healthy practice. And that practice ought to be re-worked every generation or two, lest it become codified tradition that the then current generation doesn’t internalize nor truly comprehend.
Some may say, we just need to teach our children to study the halacha that we form. But that ignores basic human nature. Ask yourself what has driven your own passionate re-evaluation of Scripture, of Yeshua, of all things associated with “Christianity”, “Judaism” and the Bible. It was exactly the situation that resulted from generations of believers who didn’t know why the traditions that surrounded them existed.
Let’s commit ourselves to passionately pursuing the imitation of Yeshua and His talmidim. Let’s commit to becoming His talmidim in our own right. But let’s always remember that there is no unbroken chain of custody from His direct talmidim, and hold our decisions regarding what it looks like to follow him in an open hand. Let’s model for our children the process of constantly weighing what the truths of Scripture mean about walking in the dust that Yeshua is stirring up on today’s highways.
Let me also admit here and now that this post is an overly simplistic attempt to address this seriously complex issue. However, hopefully this post will at least prompt positive questions and discussion, because the issue itself needs several books engaged in an ongoing conversation.