The Seven Types of Pharisees

The Seven Types of Pharisees

This excerpt from rabbinic literature (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b – Soncino translation) describes seven types of Pharisees (Aram. פרושין ; parushin – abstentious people). Some are under the impression that the rabbis who wrote the Talmud were Pharisees. That is not exactly the case, as this passage clearly illustrates that they have no problem criticizing the Pharisees, in some ways with even harsher words than Jesus in Matthew 23. The rabbis quoted here lived in the late 3rd century CE. Explanatory notes in square brackets are mine.

Our Rabbis have taught: There are seven types of Pharisees: the shikmi Pharisee, the nikpi Pharisee, the kizai Pharisee, the ‘pestle’ Pharisee, the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’, the Pharisee from love [of God] and the Pharisee from fear.

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1. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem [shechem = shoulder, i.e., the one who carried his deeds on his shoulder for everyone to see].

2. The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together [i.e., finds excuses to delay and not to do good deeds].

3. The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls [walks into the wall to avoid looking at\contact with a woman].

4. The ‘pestle’ Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: His head is bowed like a pestle in a mortar. [displays humility constantly]

5. The Pharisee who constantly exclaims ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’ — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, ‘What further duty is for me that I may perform it?’ [constantly reckoning good deeds vs. bad ones].

6 & 7 The Pharisee from love [serves God out of love] and the Pharisee from fear [serves God out of fear of punishment].

Abaye and Raba said to the tanna [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention ‘the Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear’; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake, because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls. King Jannai said to his wife’, ‘Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites (הצבועין) who are the Pharisees [present themselves as such]; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri (Num. 25:11ff) but they expect a reward like Phineas’” (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b)

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