Not everyone from Beit Shammai was bad. Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hyrcannus was so knowledgeable on the Torah that they said if you put his knowledge on one side of a scale, and the knowledge of everyone else on the other side, his knowledge would outweigh them all. It is believed by some that he may have been a believer in Yeshua. Jocab, or “James”, the Lord’s brother was from Beit Shammai it is believed. But, Beit Shammai attracted the Zealots more than Beit Hillel did. Josephus calls the Zealots “murderer’s” many times. Rabbi Harvey Falk suggests that these murders at the house of Hananiah were committed by Zealots and not members of Beit Shammai themselves.
These Zealots were also known as “Sicarii” which means “cut throats” or “assassins.” It was noted that swords were present in the house of Hananhiah according to the witnesses that day. Both Talmud’s and the Tosefta state that this day was as bad for Israel as the Golden Calf. Again, arguments Yeshua had with the “Pharisees” were the classic arguments that Beit Hillel had with Beit Shammai. In most cases, Yeshua took the position of Beit Hillel and those accusing him of various things were members of Beit Shammai. When it says “Pharisees” in the Gospels and Epistles we should not assume it meant “all” Pharisees. He is dealing with and directing his remarks towards a particular group of Pharisees in most of the cases. Beit Shammai did not like Yeshua because of this and they were constantly confronting him and arguing about things. So, let’s go back to Matt 26.1-4 where it says, “And it came about that when Yeshua had finished all these words, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man (Bar Enosh of Dan 7) is to be delivered up for crucifixion.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people (members of the Sanhedrin who were from Beit Shammai and Zealots and Sadducees who were aligned with them) were gathered together in the court (courtyard of the Peristyle House of Caiaphas) of the high priest named Caiaphas (Katros), and they plotted together yo seize Yeshua by stealth, and kill him.” So, what is happening?
There is a contingent of members from Beit Shammai in the Sanhedrin who did not like Yeshua and wanted him out of the way. The “elders of the people” included Sadducees and Zealots who were aligned with Beit Shammai. It is not going to be a trial of the Sanhedrin by any stretch of the imagination, even though members of the Sanhedrin were there. This is an important point because people have used the Sanhedrin as a reason not to listen to anything Jewish and they say, “Why should I care about what they say, they killed Jesus.” There is a great move of God going on right now where non-Jews are coming back to believe in the Torah. But a big part of this group says “We’ll do it ourselves because the rabbi’s changed everything.” Well, to be honest, the rabbis did change many things and added onto the Word of God with their “oral” traditions that they say God gave to Moses on Sinai, thus having as much authority as the written Torah. This idea is ridiculous, but it is essential that we have the right information and back-round when reading the Gospels and Epistles and know what was going on, and the Jewish writings like the Talmud, Mishnah, Tosefta, Gemara and the Baraita have much value.
The Sanhedrin was not involved as a group in the trial of Yeshua, even though some members took part. In most churches, the Pharisees are seen in a negative light but that is not an accurate picture and that needs to be understood as we study the Gospels and Epistles. If they were so bad, why did Paul remain a Pharisee after he became a believer (Acts 23.6). Yeshua’s trial involved the chief priests and the elders of the people (some members of the Sanhedrin). We have learned from the Jewish writings that there were strict rules for any trial involving the Sanhedrin, and the Gospels and Epistles gives us the picture that his trial was not an official trial before the Sanhedrin.
There was a plot before his trial even began that shows that it involved some of the same people involved in his trial, but not all of them. Members of the Sanhedrin that were against Yeshua were actually from Beit Shammai and we are going to get into the conflict of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, and the conflict that Yeshua had with the Pharisees. We are also going to get into the Pharisee’s and Yeshua’s parables, Paul and his relationship with the Torah and how Judaism and Christianity see Paul, which will be far removed from reality. All of this together will give us a deeper understanding of the Gospels and Epistles. In order to understand this conflict between Yeshua and Beit Shammai, we are going to go back about 50 years and develop some things that will play a role in all this.
We have talked before about how Hillel was the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin and Menachem was the Av Beit Din (vice-president) in 20 BC. Menachem will leave this position and will go off with 80 of his talmidim on a “mission” according to the Babylonian Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud says 80 “pairs” called “zugot” went with him, for a total of 160 people. So, the question is why did Menachem leave his position as Av Beit Din, and then succeeded by Shammai? Let’s review a few things first. Yeshua’s debates with the Pharisees are the classic arguments recorded in the Talmud between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Yeshua would side with Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai was in control of Jewish life and institutions during most of the first century. The “murderous” Zealots often were represented in the priesthood and they followed Beit Shammai. Beit Shammai was responsible for handing Yeshua over to the Romans and their act violated Jewish law. So, Beit Shammai is working in conjunction with the Zealots, and along with the high priesthood, were responsible for handing Yeshua over. Passages in the Gospels directed against “the Jews” were directed against Beit Shammai and not Beit Hillel, or “Jews” in general.
The controversy between the two schools started over the 18 Edicts around 20 BC. In the Mishnah, Shabbat 7.4, 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 in to visit him they voted, and they of the School of Shammai outnumbered them of the School of Hillel; and eighteen things did they decree on that day.” Rabbi Falk says the 18 Edicts are covered in the Talmud, between Shabbat 13b and Shabbat 17a. If you copied this section, it would be about 24 pages. The 18 Edicts were advocated by Beit Shammai and they were designed to bring a great separation between Jews and non-Jews, and were opposed by Beit Hillel. There was no great love between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. This is brought out in Talmud, Josephus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but there seems to be a lessening of this animosity towards the end of the first century. We have already talked about the the meeting at the house of Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion
In Part 6, we will pick up here and continue to develop who Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion was and what happened at this meeting in his house, and why Menachem left and what happened after that that led to Yeshua’s trial. There is more to this story than meets the eye.