Below is an excerpt from a rabbinic Jewish text of the third century CE called Mishnah (repetition). In this volume, the ancient rabbis repeated the things they have been taught to successive generations and this passage turns to the conflict between Sadducees and Pharisees. Considering how little the NT explicitly teaches about these groups Mishnah offers some valuable background.
“The Sadducees say: we complain against you, Pharisees, because you say that the Holy Scriptures defile the hands, but the books of Homer do not defile the hands. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said: Have we nothing against the Pharisees but this? Behold they say that the bones of a donkey are clean, yet the bones of Yohanan the high priest are unclean. They said to him: according to the affection for them, so is their impurity, so that nobody should make spoons out of the bones of his father or mother. He said to them: so also are the Holy Scriptures according to the affection for them, so is their uncleanness. The books of Homer which are not precious do not defile the hands.
The Sadducees say: we complain against you, Pharisees, that you declare an uninterrupted flow of a liquid to be clean. The Pharisees say: we complain against you, Sadducees, that you declare a stream of water which flows from a burial-ground to be clean? The Sadducees say: we complain against you, Pharisees, that you say, my ox or donkey which has done injury is liable, yet my male or female slave who has done injury is not liable. Now if in the case of my ox or my donkey for which I am not responsible if they do not fulfill religious duties, yet I am responsible for their damages, in the case of my male or female slave for whom I am responsible to see that they fulfill mitzvot, how much more so that I should be responsible for their damages? They said to them: No, if you argue about my ox or my donkey which have no understanding, can you deduce from there anything concerning a male or female slave who does have an understanding? So that if I were to anger either of them and they would go and burn another person’s stack, should I be liable to make restitution?” (Mishnah, Yadaim 4:6-7)
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