Pharisee in Hebrew means “separate” or “detach” because this group had separated themselves from the ordinary people in their strict religious observances. They were against the Hellenistic influence of the Jewish religion. Besides the laws given through Moses, the Pharisees developed their own interpretations and applications of the Law. They gave importance to the traditional rituals that were not in the Mosaic laws but were handed over by the elders of previous generations claiming that they were also of divine origin.
This group originated during the post-exilic times when there was a thirst for maintaining the purity of the Judaism according to the written laws and oral traditions. Though some Pharisees appreciated the teachings of Jesus and invited him for dinner (Lk 7:36-50, 14:1), many of them objected him because Jesus did not strictly follow their man-made rituals and traditions.
PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES
The Pharisees, along with Sadducees, were religious rulers of Jews during the public ministry of Jesus. Both Pharisees and Sadducees were members of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-member supreme court that sentenced Jesus. The Pharisees were also leaders of the synagogues and some of them were priests. Though Sadducees were the majority in the Sanhedrin and held the position of chief priests and high priest, the Pharisees were more influential because they had more popular support and they controlled the synagogues. This was because, unlike Sadducees, the Pharisees did not favor Hellenism and the Roman rule. Sadducees ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.; whereas the Pharisees continued even afterwards and became the founding stone for contemporary Rabbinic Judaism.
The strict observance of the Jewish laws and traditions was a superior quality of the Pharisees. However, they failed in their love and care for the less fortunate in the society. Jesus had a human approach than a ritualistic style. Though an elite group, the Pharisees failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. So, they ended up in losing their opportunity to welcome the Savior; and they became his persecutors. Let us be charitable and service oriented while keeping up our religious practices.