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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 13 - A
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    Among the People, and with the Pharisees

    It would have been difficult to proceed far either in Galilee or in Judaea without coming into contact with an altogether peculiar and striking individuality, differing from all around, and which would at once arrest attention. This was the Pharisee. Courted or feared, shunned or flattered, reverently looked up to or laughed at, he was equally a power everywhere, both ecclesiastically and politically, as belonging to the most influential, the most zealous, and the most closely-connected religions fraternity, which in the pursuit of its objects spared neither time nor trouble, feared no danger, and shrunk from no consequences. Familiar as the name sounds to readers of the New Testament and students of Jewish history, there is no subject on which more crude or inaccurate notions prevail than that of Pharisaism, nor yet any which, rightly understood, gives fuller insight into the state of Judaism at the time of our Lord, or better illustrates His words and His deeds. Let us first view the Pharisee as, himself seemingly unmoved, he moves about among the crowd, which either respectfully gives way or curiously looks after him.

    There was probably no town or village inhabited by Jews which had not its Pharisees, although they would, of course, gather in preference about Jerusalem with its Temple, and what, perhaps would have been even dearer to the heart of a genuine Pharisee-- its four hundred and eighty synagogues, its Sanhedrims (great and small), and its schools of study. There could be no difficulty in recognising such an one. Walking behind him, the chances were, he would soon halt to say his prescribed prayers. If the fixed time for them had come, he would stop short in the middle of the road, perhaps say one section of them, move on, again say another part, and so on, till, whatever else might be doubted, there could be no question of the conspicuousness of his devotions in market-place or corners of streets. There he would stand, as taught by the traditional law, would draw his feet well together, compose his body and clothes, and bend so low "that every vertebra in his back would stand out separate," or, at least, till "the skin over his heart would fall into folds" (Ber. 28 b). The workman would drop his tools, the burden-bearer his load; if a man had already one foot in the stirrup, he would withdraw it. The hour had come, and nothing could be suffered to interrupt or disturb him. The very salutation of a king, it was said, must remain unreturned; nay, the twisting of a serpent around one's heel must remain unheeded. Nor was it merely the prescribed daily seasons of prayer which so claimed his devotions. On entering a village, and again on leaving it, he must say one or two benedictions; the same in passing through a fortress, in encountering any danger, in meeting with anything new, strange, beautiful, or unexpected. And the longer he prayed the better. In the view of the Rabbis this had a twofold advantage; for "much prayer is sure to be heard," and "prolix prayer prolongeth life." At the same time, as each prayer expressed, and closed with a benediction of the Divine Name, there would be special religious merit attaching to mere number, and a hundred "benedictions" said in one day was a kind of measure of great piety.

    But on meeting a Pharisee face to face his identity could still less be doubted. His self-satisfied, or else mock-modest or ostentatiously meek bearing would betray him, even irrespective of his superciliousness towards others, his avoidance of every touch of persons or things which he held unclean, and his extravagant religious displays. We are, of course, speaking of the class, or, rather, the party, as such, and of its tendencies, and not of all the individuals who composed it. Besides, there were, as we shall by-and-by see, various degrees among them, from the humblest Pharisee, who was simply a member of the fraternity, only initiated in its lowest degree, or perhaps even a novice, to the most advanced chasid, or "pietist." The latter would, for example, bring every day a trespass-offering, in case he had committed some offence of which he was doubtful. How far the meticulousness of that class, in observing the laws of Levitical purity, would go, may be gathered from a Rabbi, who would not allow his son to remain in the room while he was in the hands of the surgeon, lest he might be defiled by contact with the amputated limb, which, of course, was thenceforth dead. Another chasid went so far in his zeal for Sabbath observance, that he would not build up again his house because he had thought about it on the Sabbath; and it was even declared by some improper to intrust a letter to a Gentile, lest he should deliver it on the holy day! These are real, but by no means extreme cases. For, a Rabbi, contemporary with the apostles, was actually obliged to denounce, as incompatible with the continuance of society, the vagaries of the so-called "Chasid Shoteh," or silly pietist. What was meant by these will appear from such instances as the refusal to save a woman from drowning for fear of touching a female, or waiting to put off the phylacteries before stretching out a hand to rescue a child from the water!

    Readers of the New Testament will remember that the very dress of the Pharisees differed from that of others. Simple as the garb of Orientals is, it must not be thought that, in those days, wealth, rank, and luxury were not recognisable quite as much, if not more, than among ourselves. No doubt the polished Grecian, the courtly Herodian, the wealthy Sadducee, as well as many of the lady patronesses of the Pharisees (Josephus, Ant. xvii, 32-45), would have been easily recognised. At any rate, Jewish writings give us such descriptions of their toilette, that we can almost transport ourselves among the fashionable society of Tiberias, Caesarea, Jerusalem, or that of "the dispersed," who were residents of Alexandria or of the wealthy towns of Babylonia.

    Altogether, it seems, eighteen garments were supposed to complete an elegant toilette. The material, the color, and the cut distinguished the wearer. While the poor used the upper garment for a covering at night, the fashionable wore the finest white, embroidered, or even purple garments, with curiously-wrought silk girdles. It was around this upper garment that "the borders" were worn which the Pharisees "enlarged" (Matt 23:5). Of these we shall speak presently. Meantime we continue our description. The inner garment went down to the heels. The head-dress consisted of a pointed cap, or kind of turban, of more or less exquisite material, and curiously wound, the ends often hanging gracefully behind. Gloves were generally used only for protection. As for ladies, besides differences in dress, the early charge of Isaiah (3:16-24) against the daughters of Jerusalem might have been repeated with tenfold emphasis in New Testament times. We read of three kinds of veils. The Arabian hung down from the head, leaving the wearer free to see all around; the veil-dress was a kind of mantilla, thrown gracefully about the whole person, and covering the head; while the Egyptian resembled the veil of modern Orientals, covering breast, neck, chin, and face, and leaving only the eyes free. The girdle, which was fastened lower than by men, was often of very costly fabric, and studded with precious stones. Sandals consisted merely of soles strapped to the feet; but ladies wore also costly slippers, sometimes embroidered, or adorned with gems, and so arranged that the pressure of the foot emitted a delicate perfume. It is well known that scents and "ointments" were greatly in vogue, and often most expensive (Matt 26:7). The latter were prepared of oil and of home or foreign perfumes, the dearest being kept in costly alabaster boxes. The trade of perfumer was, however, looked down upon, not only among the Jews, but even among heathen nations. But in general society anointing was combined with washing, as tending to comfort and refreshment. The hair, the beard, the forehead, and the face, even garlands worn at feasts, were anointed. But luxury went much farther than all this. Some ladies used cosmetics, painting their cheeks and blackening their eyebrows with a mixture of antimony, zinc, and oil. The hair, which was considered a chief point of beauty, was the object of special care. Young people wore it long; but in men this would have been regarded as a token of effeminacy (1 Cor 11:14). The beard was carefully trimmed, anointed, and perfumed. Slaves were not allowed to wear beards. Peasant girls tied their hair in a simple knot; but the fashionable Jewesses curled and plaited theirs, adorning the tresses with gold ornaments and pearls. The favorite color was a kind of auburn, to produce which the hair was either dyed or sprinkled with gold-dust. We read even of false hair (Shab. vi. 3), just as false teeth also were worn in Judaea. Indeed, as in this respect also there is nothing new under the sun, we are not astonished to find mention of hair-pins and elegant combs, nor to read that some Jewish dandies had their hair regularly dressed! However, the business of hairdresser was not regarded as very respectable, any more than that of perfumer. *

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