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Dualism in Judaism

Updated on January 3, 2013

The concept of dualism is integral to Judaism though at first one might not recognize how essential it has been and currently is.  From the earliest times, dualism has always been an present as part of Judaism and in most cases these pairs have been antagonistic towards each other.  From its inception we see the twinning of Moses's pysche between that of Egyptian Prince and Hebrew exile.  His division of state and religion between himself and Aaron.  Down to the division of Canaan when the tribes were split between allegiance to either Ephraim or Judah, which later manifested as the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah.  Whereas the north was more integrated into world politics and economics, the south was actually more backward and isolationist.  Everything was reproduced in duplicate from two royal houses to two temples and two priesthoods.  And even more so in the southern Kingdom which was ruled in tandem, by a royal descendant of the House of David and a priest from the House of Zadok, each having vetoing powers over the other. When the exiles returned from Persia, the House of David no longer had any genuine authority and in order to fill this vacuum there arose a group that referred to themselves as the people’s representatives and they became the Yin to the Priesthood’s Yang and vice versa.   When the Maccabees upset this relationship and assumed both Kingly and Priestly duties, they had temporarily eliminated the dualism and their Hasidic supporters quickly restored that imbalance by forming the Pharisee movement which was anti-Hasmonean (Maccabean) to encourage the separation of the Judean State from it Seleukid Greek overlords.  In other words they sought to revive the isolationist policies of the earlier Kingdom even though this was impossible as the world had become a much smaller place.  This eventually manifested itself into to political parties, that being the Sadducees representing the Hasmoneans and Priesthood and the Pharisees, supposedly representing the people. 

But after 1300 years of established dogma, the task before the Pharisees was insurmountable as long as the people held on to the traditional ways.  Therefore it was necessary for the Pharisees to reinvent the 'religious wheel' if they were to wean the people off the past.  With their entire focus on being ways in which to diminish the priestly authority and check their privileges, it meant eliminating anything in the religious doctrines that supported the priests in their recognition of being a separate and aristocratic class.  First to go were personal purity and sanctity, which were attributes of the priests but not the common people.  By adopting the same purity and sanctity rituals, the Pharisees were claiming to be as holy as the priests and in some ways holier by claiming to be more strict in their observance.  Of course they overlooked the fact that priestly sanctity and recognition was ordained by God in the Torah and they had no such claim but that wasn’t about to stop them in their efforts to seize power.  Whereas manhy of the dietary laws were restricted to the priests which in turn released the people from the heavy burden of adhering to them in a world that did not recognize such laws, the Pharisees insisted that all the people must follow all of the dietary laws as well, thereby claiming the Priests have been relieved of that burden and were no longer necessary for that purpose.  They had been made redundant.

In so doing, the Pharisees also ensured that there would never be acceptance of the Samaritans within the fold of a greater Judaism which unification had been gaining momentum since their priesthood was as pure if not purer than that of the Jerusalem priesthood and their Temple on Mount Gerzim was just as sanctified by the ancient traditions.  The Samaritans who stood for priestly prerogative and strict adherence to the Torah naturally allied themselves with the Sadducees within this dualistic framework. 

With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD the feuding continued in the form of two schools of teaching.  Oddly, the Pharisees viewed the destruction of the Temple as a victory.  They claimed it was vindication of their belief in the ‘evil’ of the priesthood and the negation of the effect that the Temple had over the minds and hearts of the people now made them susceptible to their teachings.  It is ironic that their Rabbinic descendants now mourn over the loss of the Temple and talk of its restoration for the coming of the messianic age even thought such events would once again mean that they would be stripped of the power and authority that they had fought so zealously for.   Of the two schools that developed, one was the school of Shammai and was represented by the teachings of Eliezer ben Hyracanus and Jose the Galilean.  They called for adherence to the law as it was before the establishment of the Pharisees, demonstrating that even with the loss of the Temple there was no need for change.  The other school was that established by Hillel, the champion of Pharisaism and the man that began the systematization of an entirely new body of laws.  The Pharisees of the school of Hillel strove to exclude and annul the laws that had any Sadducee overtones.   There was a wholesale rewriting of all the laws into what became the Talmud.  Many of these obvious alterations can be found when one reads intact original documents prior to the Pharisees making their alterations such as in Greek versions of the scriptures, Aramaic versions and the text known as Pseudo-Jonathan. 

But not only can the early Sadducee laws be recovered through reconstruction of these early texts but it can also be demonstrated that the laws as practice by the Karaites are a preservation of this original Halachah and therefore the ancient dualism is alive and well under the Rabbanite versus Karaite beliefs.  Therefore Karaism should not be looked upon as a recent manifestation of a revolt against Rabbanism but as the genuine article; the once original beliefs and practices of the Jews as they were intended to be against those that purposely altered them.  It should be obvious therefore, that the initial claims by the Pharisees that the old laws were only self-serving on behalf of the priesthood so that they could maintain an aristocratic lifestyle to the detriment of the people were completely false since there is no such aristocracy living off the suffering of the multitude now, and Karaism as a viable and practiced religion still exists.  Therefore any Rabbinical argument that supports the ancient Pharisaic claim is just as false and just as hypocritical in its masking of the truth that the entire accusation was nothing more than an attempt to seize power from where it properly rested as ordained by God.   

Dualism is obviously a fact of life in Judaism.  It has existed from the creation of the people up to and including present days.  Philosophically, it was essential for the cultural development of the people and may in many ways explain why of all the ancient peoples and religions, Jews have been the most successful in surviving all the adversities that the world has shunted their way.  By having this seesaw balance between political and religious factions, it has similarly swayed and maneuvered the minefield of religious and cultural intolerance with one sect dominant while the other is in remission and then when circumstances changed the balance may have similarly shifted with a reversal of roles.  So in fact what might at first appear to be detrimental has been a very successful survival mechanism?  With the reestablishment of Israel, perhaps the seesaw once again is shifting and we will see a rise in Karaism with an accompanying intellectual growth that rivals the period of Karaite flourishing experienced during the Muslim Golden Age?


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