Now, let’s go over this again because it is essential to our understanding of the Gospels and Epistles, and what Yeshua was saying to the Pharisees, Sadducees and the ruling class in his preaching. 20 BC is an important date to remember. Hillel was the Nasi of the Sanhedrin and Menachem was Av Beit Din. Menachem steps down to go on a “mission to the non-Jews.” He takes 160 talmidim (students/disciples) with him, 80 from Beit Hillel. Shammai takes over as Av Beit Din. The Nasi doesn’t vote in the Sanhedrin, but the Av Beit Din does. So, the Sanhedrin was emptied of those from Beit Hillel because some were murdered before the meeting at Hananiah’s house to vote on the 18 Edicts, and others left with Menachem after the murders.
All that were left were Sadducees and Beit Shammai and they joined together in their animosity towards the Romans and non-Jews. It was in this setting that the 18 Edicts of Beit Shammai were passed, restricting interaction between Jews and non-Jews. The Zealot Party was founded by Hananiah’s father Hezekiah Ben Gurion. In 6 AD, the Zealots became a formal party by Judas the Galilean (Acts 5.37), the uncle of Hananiah, and Zadok from Beit Shammai. Another example of the Beit Shammai/Zealot connection is Eleazar Ben Hananiah, a leading priest right before the Temple was destroyed. Eleazar refused any gifts or korbanot from any Roman or non-Jew and is quoted in the Melchita Exo 20.8 as agreeing with Beit Shammai on a ruling concerning preparations for the Sabbath. He was a Zealot also (Josephus, Wars, Book 2 Paragraph 409).
Josephus also records that the Zealots had no regard for the Sabbath when fighting, and even killed some surrendering Romans on the Sabbath (Josephus, Wars, Book 2, Paragraph 449-456). Permission to fight on the Sabbath is a ruling from Beit Shammai (Talmud, Shabbat 19a). As for Beit Hillel’s view of the Zealots, Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai sought to negotiate with the Romans despite Zealot objections. According to a the Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7.11, the Zealots sought to kill Ben Zakkai. Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder, grandson of Hillel and Paul’s teacher, is quoted in Acts 5.37 and is strongly critical of Judas the Galilean, founder of the Zealots. Gamaliel was from Beit Hillel, as was Paul.
One of the first debates between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai concerned the 18 Edicts which were introduced by Beit Shammai but opposed by Beit Hillel. We know some from Beit Hillel were killed before the vote on these measures and some say they were killed by Zealots, who were also at this meeting at Hananiah’s upper room (remember, Hananiah’s father founded the Zealots- Talmud, Shabbat 1.4; Shabbat 13b to 17a of the Babylonian Talmud). Many of Hillel’s students that were killed before this meeting are referred to in the Talmud as “prophets” (Sukkah 28a; Bava Batra 24a). Yeshua alludes to this in Matt 23.29-31 where he makes the statement about the “prophets” who were “murdered.” In the Mishnah, Shabbat 1,4 it says, “These are among the rulings which the Sages enjoined while in the upper room of Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion. When they went up to visit him they voted, and they of the School of Shammai outnumbered them of the School of Hillel; and eighteen things they did decree on that day.”
If you can understand all of the things we are bringing out here, then you will have a proper back-round to accurately interpret the Gospels and Epistles and you will also be able to answer the critics of the Pharisees, the Rabbis, the Sanhedrin and other things that are just misunderstood, leading to misinterpretations. You will be able to explain who is who, why certain things are being said and to bring out a proper understanding to those who do not have this back-round. There are many who have an anti-Semitic, anti-Rabbinical and anti-Pharisee attitude based on a misunderstanding of this back-round, misapplying what Yeshua, Paul and the writers of the Gospels and Epistles were saying. Once you see this, you will also see that Yeshua was saying the same things Beit Hillel was saying in their arguments with Beit Shammai; why Paul remained a Pharisee from Beit Hillel after he became a believer; what the major issue was in the first century, which was the status of the non-Jew and how Beit Shammai dealt with it and how Beit Hillel dealt with it. These issues are very important, so it is essential to study these things out.
Now, with all these facts we can see that Yeshua’s great “attack” on the Pharisees and their teachings in Matt 23 was directed at those from Beit Shammai, who were in control of the Rabbinic community at the time. Yeshua accuses them of “shutting off the Kingdom of Heaven” (23.13) but traveling to the ends of the earth to make one proselyte (23.15). This is hypocritical. The first accusation in v 13 refers to Beit Shammai’s position that non-Jews merits a share in the Olam Haba, even those who observe the Noahide Covenant (R Eleazar, Talmud, Sanhedrin 105a. At the same time Beit Shammai discouraged the acceptance of proselytes to Judaism (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). This explains Yeshua’s second charge in v 15. By maintaining such views, Beit Shammai made it virtually impossible for even the most sincere non-Jew to find salvation and a place in the Kingdom of Heaven (Olam Haba). The Great Commission of Yeshua in Matt 28 would have been impossible under Beit Shammai, but not under Beit Hillel. This is why Yeshua calls them “hypocrites” in v 15. They discouraged proselytes, but acted like they would go anywhere to make one. He also criticized Beit Shammai’s treatment of proselytes. There was a case where Eleazar almost caused a scholarly convert named Aquilla to revert back to paganism because of Beit Shammai’s position.
We have already discussed how Yeshua introduced a serious charge in v 29-31. He quotes them as saying “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” This refers to the debate over the 18 Edicts, when some of Hillel’s talmidim (called “prophets” in the Talmud) were killed. This was about 50 years before Yeshua. The members of Beit Shammai present at these murders would have been the fathers of the Pharisee’s Yeshua was now attacking. These Pharisee’s are claiming they would not have participated in what was done by their fathers. Some have said it was not Beit Shammai themselves that did it, but their allies the Zealots, who probably did the killings. However, he continues that it was “your fathers” that did the killing because they just admitted it by saying “we would not have been partners with them (our fathers-v 30). By saying that, Yeshua says, “You bear witness against yourselves” that their fathers from Beit Shammai did it, making them “sons” of those who murdered the “prophets” (v 31).
Rabbi Zadok of Beit Shammai joined forces with Judas the Galilean (a Zealot) in 6 AD, proving that those Yeshua was talking to were following in the father’s footsteps by aligning themselves with murder’s and assassins. As we can see, Matt 23 is a scathing indictment against the Pharisee’s from Beit Shammai, not all Pharisee’s at large. It will be members of Beit Shammai who will conspire with the Chief Priests to kill Yeshua, along with Zealots members of the Sanhedrin. But his “trial” was not an official act of the Sanhedrin, as we have already shown.
Josephus and the Talmud identify the Zealots as “murderer’s” and also called the Sicarii “assassins” or “dagger men.” Beit Shammai was allied with them because of their aversion to non-Jews. We have a problem with changing the way different groups are referred to. Basically, we call Beit Shammai “Pharisees” and Beit Hillel “Pharisees”, lumping them all together and that is where we get mixed up. After the destruction of the Temple, everybody called a Pharisee will be from Beit Hillel for the most part. Beit Shammai is in decline and the Talmud will use the term Pharisee at times, but it refers to Beit Hillel, but it wasn’t always like that. From the time of Hillel and Shammai they seem to call those from Beit Hillel “Chasidim” (pious ones) and they used the term “Pharisee” for Beit Shammai. The Essenes were also called “Chasidim” who may have originally been a part of the “Chasidim.” Remember, Menachem was Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin, and something drastic happened, and he left with 160 talmidim, and his “sect” became known as the Essenes. So, we can definitely see how this could have happened considering the connection. In the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), their comments about the Pharisee’s was directed toward and referencing Beit Shammai. Their comments about the priesthood will parallel what Beit Hillel said. Here is the difference between the DSS and Rabbinic writings (Mishnah; Talmud’ Tosefta), the DSS scrolls predated them all. At the very least, there was an alliance of some sort between the Essenes and Beit Hillel. Hillel believed that Torah was for everyone, so did the Essenes. However, Beit Shammai believed it was only for Jews. That is why Beit Hillel and the Essenes had similarities, and may have been called the same name, “Chasidim.” But, that doesn’t mean Hillel or Beit Hillel were Essenes.
In Part 13, we will pick up here.